Alongside his father Pip and the team at Cheshire Architects, Nat Cheshire has been laying the groundwork for The Hotel Britomart for a decade and a half.
The architectural team behind the hotel's design has been working on the patient regeneration of this historic area for over 15 years. The Hotel Britomart is just the latest element in this incremental revitalisation of place.
Cheshire Architects, one of New Zealand’s leading practices, are the master-planners of the precinct, and the designers behind many aspects of the nine blocks that make up Britomart, from the light-strung walkways of The Pavilions to world-class restaurant interiors and now, The Hotel Britomart. As Nat Cheshire – principal at the firm alongside his father Pip – puts it, for nearly 15 years they’ve been making “a really big thing out of lots of really carefully crafted small things.”
Those years of thoughtful work mean that when it came to The Hotel Britomart, instead of carving out room inside the building for restaurants or a beauty spa – all of which are already right on the hotel’s doorstep – the team could dedicate every inch of space to creating an exquisite accommodation experience.
Their guiding mantra for the hotel came from the minimalist artist Robert Irwin: simple needs, lavishly met. “Each room is small, but every millimetre is crafted. And we're able to do that because it's not too big,” says Nat. “Craft implies a kind of fingerprint; that you have your hands intimately in touch with shaping something at a granular, idiosyncratic level. So staying at the hotel will be a bit like going to stay in the beautiful apartment of an absent, generous friend; a beautiful place to wake up in the morning, and a sharing of the keys to this city."
For Nat, crafting first the precinct, and then the hotel has given his team the opportunity to take everything that Britomart stands for – the collision between old and new, beauty, generosity, the energy of urban living and a sense of community – and concentrate all those values into one experience in one place.
“Hotels are incredibly romantic things,” says Nat. “They're the carriers and amplifiers of the ideology of the place they’re in; great hotels are in part the physical and experiential manifestation of our values and hopes for ourselves. The hotel is Britomart.” A heart, in other words, for a place crafted with love.
JEREMY HANSEN Pretend I’m a person who knows nothing about The Hotel Britomart. How would you describe it?
NAT CHESHIRE The Hotel Britomart is 99 rooms and five exquisite rooftop suites set in the heart of the neighbourhood which is itself the leading edge of Auckland as a city. It is a contemporary building amongst buildings 140 years older than it. It’s a pair of thin towers made entirely from brick, brick that’s rough and small and irregular and at the scale of fingertips, and those bricks are perforated with a constellation of windows that are as precise and flat as iPhone screens.
Why did you choose brick to clad the exterior of the hotel?
The Hotel Britomart is made from brick because Britomart is made from brick, and the trick has been to take that almost archetypal building material and to jump it forward into the 21st century so it feels like it belongs to this time but is leading somewhere new.
What are the rooms going to feel like?
Just as essentially the building is made from mud and fire, the rooms themselves are designed by texture and with natural materials. In an increasingly kind of neutered, synthetic, technologised world, these rooms are intended to be the opposite. They’re intended to be rooms that you can run your fingertips over.
You mentioned the heritage buildings around the hotel, which are part of the Britomart neighbourhood, an area in which you and your colleagues have worked for a long time on everything from master plans to restaurant interiors. How would you describe Britomart itself to a first-time visitor?
The Britomart neighbourhood in my mind is a prototype for the future of Auckland, a kind of Auckland that is incredibly engaged in what it is and where it comes from and what it cares about, and considers itself holistically as part of the city instead of a collection of individualised fragments. It has this wonderful collision between fashion and commerce and food and the street, and all the adrenaline and surprise that comes with it. That’s what the city is about – it’s what makes the city different from a mall. It just feels real.
So how will The Hotel Britomart relate to that?
We hope that The Hotel Britomart will have a profound sense of place. The hotel is Britomart. Britomart is nine city blocks and this building is a beautiful welcome to that place. It’s highly specific in a way that hotels often are not – there is just one of these and it could only be in this place.