DOC Office "green life" revamp

25 July 2009

When I was in Wellington I met with Janey Christopherson at the recently completed Department of Conservation office in Manners street. Janey's work as a designer is evident from the interior entry at street level, where she has 'landscaped' the glass-fronted reception desk, to the rooftop gardens.

"It was not an easy project as the DoC had financial constraints ... and what budget there was could not be spent on (perceived) luxuries." The structural hardscape was part-funded by the building owner who required economic and multi-purpose solutions - conference room users can spill outside from the adjacent rooms; staff can eat lunch, work, socialise and entertain guests in the garden. Other Government departments, regional DoC staff, international visitors and curious architects and 'greenies' have come to see New Zealand’s first 5-star rated 'green' building.

The rooftop presented many challenges. From privacy, glare and shading issues caused by overlooking adjacent office blocks to the drainage and depth of soil limiting plant selection. There were also local conditions to contend with; drying salty wind, sunlight/shade, heavy rainfall impact ... and 'green' issues. We have had some problems with water clarity in the pools (which are collected rainwater ‘tanks’ recycled to flush the loos and used for irrigation).
In order to disperse water from the roof the pavers and timber flooring is raised above a sloped impervious sealant and the planter beds are similarly lined ... but we have had a few unwelcome breakthroughs.

As DoC's national HQ the building houses research scientists, law, publishing, accounts, policy management and administration staff.

Democratically, "Every staffer got their say via a detailed questionnaire and every process and material had to be justified, accountable and greener than green!" Requests ranged from petanque, climbing walls, BBQs and bats ( and wetas and frogs and butterflies and ... ). "Every effort was made to include flowers and fragrance and colour ... and there was never any doubt that the garden would be New Zealand native species. I worked closely with architecture+ to organise vertical screening for shelter, enclosure and a verticality... and planted vines (Clematis paniculata with fresh white flowers and the scrabbly Muehlenbeckia) softening the timber screens to separate areas and 'green up' walls".

Apart from site suitability, Janey also selected plants that represented features unique to NZ and that represented the work of DoC ... once rare plants such as Tecomanthe speciosa and Muehlenbeckia astonii ... unusual features such as the upward facing flower on Fuchsia procumbens ... strongly divaricating Sophora and Coprosma, ... neat balls of Hebe topiaria, the horizontal ribbing in Apodasmia (OiOi), the orange and olive stripe in Libertia, the touchable bump of Scleranthus ... the firm arch of Xeronema ... tomentum on Pachystegia and tight flat Raoulia ... .all beautiful plants with stories to tell.

Janey came up with an innovative way to decorate the public entry reception counter. Hundreds of dried toetoe were sewn in curtains and suspended in curvaceous sweeps in the long thin glass box. Another Wellington designer, Irene Walshe helped with that construction. A second box was filled with pumice stones and Spinifex seedheads, and the counter in the lunch room was filled with coiled Cordyline and Phormium leaves, dried purple and green Akeake leaves, flax flowerheads and Whau seedheads. "Yes, a permit was required for all the collected materials and members of the public wanted to site that when we collected dead drifts of Pingao at Lyall bay". Janey separated the bright green and dark brown Whau seeds ... and was disappointed and puzzled when the green ones 'disappeared' ... they'd dried to brown overnight of course. Designers eh?! What do they know!

It is a piece of work that represents the need for a designer to problem-solve- often on the spot with few resources and work with the client(s)! "I am proud of what we've achieved at DoC and Naturally Native can be too as the plants all look wonderful and have survived all manner of crises!"

The building (and the garden is an important part of the function / beauty) won a 'Supreme' National at the 2008 New Zealand Institute of Architects awards.



"The design includes small and larger work places, open to the air ... with a glazed skin on the outer wall, so some wind protection.
You can see from the pictures that I've used plants that are tough and you can see how well they have grown in just a year ... squeezing through the screens and softening the hardscape."

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