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Homes with heart

Cultural values and diversity in architecture design

  • 29th Jun 2024

Homes with heart with Designgroup Stapleton Elliot

Cultural values and diversity help inspire the design process for one of New Zealand’s top architecture studios.

There’s a common misconception that architecture is exclusively dictated by place and purpose.

While those elements do have influence in the style and structure of a building or object, it’s often the people involved in a project who can elevate architecture from ordinary to extraordinary. 

Multi-award-winning architecture studio Designgroup Stapleton Elliott (DGSE) is a big believer in drawing inspiration from people. Considerations such as understanding the lives and backgrounds of the people who will enjoy the building, how a structure will impact their lives, and cultural aspects that can be reflected in a more personal design.

Michael Dong

DGSE Managing Director and Architect, Nigel Dong says designing a building can have a lasting impression on multiple generations, therefore it’s crucial to make the right decisions.

“We acknowledge the weight of our responsibility as architects,” he says. “We approach every project with manaakitanga – care and respect. What is the spirit of the place? Who are the people? How will our designs balance with nature?

“Exceptional architecture has the power to improve the daily experiences within our homes, workplaces, and the public domain.”

With roots reaching back 50 years, the practice specialises in architecture for both residential and commercial buildings, as well as interior and landscape design.

Bayview House 05

They have led the design of high-profile projects, including Rocket Lab’s headquarters in Auckland and Los Angeles, as well as beautifully designed homes throughout Aotearoa, including Waiheke Island, Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay, Kāpiti Coast, Wellington, and Central Otago, many of which are award winning.

DGSE operates across six studios in Auckland,Tauranga, Napier, Palmerston North, Wellington and Queenstown, with 135 staff nationwide.

“People, place and culture are at the heart of our design processes, and it’s with a deep understanding of each that we create architecture that enriches lives,” says Nigel.

“We strive for diversity with all our project teams. Varying perspectives add to the design outcome through a wider pooling of ideas, experiences and cultural backgrounds.”

The Indigenous Design Rōpū is DGSE’s in-house collective of indigenous architects and designers who ensure cultural integrity prevails in the design process, in partnership with tangata whenua and indigenous people.

“We are passionate about architecture that has wairua/spirit and is connected to its tūrangawaewae; a place to stand, a home,” Nigel says. “This understanding is at the heart of our cultural design process and is strengthened by building genuine relationships with tangata whenua, our clients, and all project partners.”


Three residential highlights

Keryn Wear Resized
DGSE Queenstown Studio Principal and Architect, Keryn Wear says collaboration and open communication between an architect and a homeowner is just as important as creativity when designing a contemporary abode. Here, she explains some of the company’s most recent residential success stories.

  1. Whakarire and Waipatiki, Queenstown
    “Without a doubt one of the most coveted locations in Queenstown, this central site has phenomenal views of the surrounding landscape. Whakarire is the main villa, located on the upper levels, and Waipatiki is nestled on the ground floor. The bulk and form of the residence closely follows the steep contour of the Man Street site. Two wedge forms cascade down the site, allowing for extensive glazing and deck areas at each level to frame the views of the majestic Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu. Materials for the exterior were selected for both durability and low maintenance as the residence is only periodically used by the homeowner. The interior finishes and colour palette were selected to provide a feeling of luxury and comfort, while complementing the alpine environment.”
  2. Sunset West Apartments, Wellington
    “Sunset West is a modern housing development that breaks the conventions of its apartment neighbours. The developer specified that an “iconic” building was required to provide 64 apartments, each with a balcony and high-end kitchens and bathrooms. Bulk, form and siting has been carefully considered, while the building height relates to the scale of the adjoining buildings. Bulk is minimised where possible by setting the building back from site boundaries on all edges to accommodate landscaping and a faceted façade activated by balconies, and cradled by white monolithic concrete bookends which create an interesting play of light and form. The design achieves seamless integration of bedroom and living spaces, extending outwards onto private sundrenched balconies. The balconies, generous stud height and floor-to-ceiling glazing together with breathtaking panoramic views contribute to a sense of understated quality in Wellington’s CBD.”

  3. Takahē House, Kāpiti
    “The site is located on the edge of a protected coastal reserve, supporting many animal, insect, and plant species not found further inland. The materials for the exterior were selected for durability and robustness in a severe marine environment, while the interior finishes complement the exterior with a relaxing and warm, homely feel. The design plan was organised around a central ‘boardwalk’, creating a spine that links the garage, bedrooms, and living areas. The kitchen is centrally located in the plan, acting as a hinge and focal point of the house, while the dining and living zones share views of the sea and Kāpiti Island.”