Pre-fabs? Dismantling? A Wellington architectural firm are thinking outside the square.
Sustainable design is a term that’s often applied to architectural moves that are either totally unexceptional – orienting houses towards the sun, for example, and maximising natural ventilation – or self-consciously extraordinary – specifying straw bale construction, green roofs and self-composting toilets.
But between the poles of what, in the second decade of the 21st century, should be commonplace and what is still weird or wonderful, there’s plenty of room for innovative design that makes efficient and economical use of resources, that’s fit for purpose and not surplus to requirements, and that’s resilient enough to endure over time or adapt over the years. Sustainable design, in other words.
Assembly Architects operates in this sustainable territory. The young Wellington-based firm headed by husband and wife Justin and Louise Wright works across a design spectrum that ranges from furniture to commercial buildings, and new houses to marae alterations. Two characteristics in particular distinguish the philosophy of the practice: a pronounced interest in materials and the ways in which they are put together and, eventually, taken apart, and a determination to reconcile the bespoke standards of architecture with the mass production methods of pre-fabrication.
“Our practice didn’t get its name by chance,” says Justin Wright. “You could say we have a strong predilection to assembly, in both a construction and a process sense. We like to work out the details of how buildings are put together, and we also believe in the importance of assembling the right teams to work on projects.”
While some architects might be content to draw up a building and leave the nuts-and-bolts tasks of its construction well alone, Assembly Architects are keen to forge close relationships with fabricators, engineers and builders. The practice boldly goes where architects have learned to fear to tread – into the domain of pre-fabricated construction. The practice has worked with Matamata-based modular construction specialist, Stanley Group, on several projects, including sophisticated pop-up stores in downtown Auckland and the refurbishment of a number of marae buildings in the central North Island.
“We’re interested in the concept of sufficiency,” Wright says. “Prefab or modular construction eliminates waste because the design has to incorporate factory-produced elements with standard dimensions. Building this way is also relatively quick and easy – again, it’s really a matter of assembly.”
At the same time, Wright is keen to note that there is more to architecture than putting things together and more to sustainability than economy and adaptability.
“The most sustainable buildings are those that are going to be around for a long time,” he says. “They’ll be around for a long time if people like them, and people will like them if they’re well designed.”
Left: Justin and Louise Wright. Photo: Mike Heydon. Below: The pre-fab pop ups at Britomart. Photo: Jeremoth Toth Bottom: Wellington Zoo Hub. Picture Mike Heydon
Bottom Left: Kakahi Marae design presentation day. Photo: Assembly Architects.