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Behind the design


In developing the design of Claudelands, the design team consulted with key ecological and cultural advisers to ensure that the project reflected and celebrated its unique sense of place and incorporated elements of Claudelands’ natural and cultural heritage into the architecture, interior and landscape design.

To ensure the technical aspects of the design stood up on a world-wide scale and reflected international best-practice, Chow:Hill, a company that specialises in large complex design projects, brought in Brisbane-based design partners Populous (previously known as HOK Sport Architecture) – an architectural firm specialising in the design of sports facilities and convention centres.

“Our brief was, within budget constraints, to design a world-class venue and we were determined to make sure we delivered a facility for the city of Hamilton that could lay claim to be the best in Australasia,” said Flannery. “The city has been an integral part of the whole project from its inception and the fact that Hamilton can now boast a facility that stands comparison with the best facilities in the world is tantamount to the talent, creativity and passion of a wide range of fantastic people in the city.

“With the location being a short 10 minute walk from Hamilton’s central business district part of the brief was to develop the design in the context of a wider strategy that would improve connectivity with the heart of Hamilton city,” he added. 

“We were also passionate about sustainability and the importance of integrating the natural landscape of Claudelands Park into the development. We also wanted to find ways to weave aspects of the area’s unique ecological and cultural history into the design.”

Claudelands represents a unique spectrum of Hamilton’s ecological and cultural history including Jubilee Bush, which in pre-European times was one of the largest remnants of indigenous Kahikatea/Tawa forest that once sprawled over a considerable area and where now stands the modern suburbs of Ruakura, Claudelands and Fairfield. 

Known as ‘Te Papanui’ (a bird snarer’s seat or large flat land) the area was renowned as a native bird hunting ground for Ngati Wairere and other related hapu who resided in this area since the 1600s.

Wiremu Puke, cultural adviser to Hamilton’s Urban Design Panel, related how the area used to echo with the song of birds and how “the deafening sound of flocks of birds, largely Kuku (native pigeons) could be heard from miles away”. 

Birds were caught using Korapa (nets), Wai tuhi (water-filled Totara troughs with nooses) or the more commonly used technique of Tao – long spears that were used to stab or jab birds perched or nesting in the tree tops.

Most of the principal design elements of Claudelands are animated by ‘design narratives’ deriving from the culture and heritage of Te Papanui.  The first two elements include the Kahu huruhuru, or feathered cloak, which greets guests in the conference centre foyer and the wall and floor treatments, within the main conference room, that celebrate the ‘weaving together of people’. 

Following this, stained and layered concrete panels reflect the underlying geology of the land and incorporate colours drawn from the traditional earth-based ochre pigments (Kokowai) used by ancient Maori for body adornment to denote tapu (sacredness). 

Painting carvings and carved structures, along with paving and carpet patterns throughout the concourse, are reminiscent of Te Papanui’s traditional hunting trails.

The principal façade of Claudelands comprises the ‘Arena Veil’, a semi-transparent enclosure framing the main concourse areas on the upper floors of the arena that filters natural light into the concourse and provides sun shading and protection against solar gain. 

The design concept for the ‘Arena Veil’ reflects the narrative of the forest canopy, and the various layers of the façade depict characteristics specific to Te Papanui. The structural columns are reminiscent of the indigenous trees that characterised large parts of the Te Papanui forest, and the ‘dancing spears’ recall the form and movement of the Tao or hunting spears. 

The artistic composition of the ‘flying sun shades’ on the main façade recall Kukutaruhe, the name given to the main gully that runs near Bankwood School with its various capillary arms reaching into present day Claudelands. Kukutaruhe means “pigeon flight” - specifically the manner in which the native pigeon would migrate from bush to bush in huge flocks and the colours of the sun shades are drawn from the plumage of the Kuku, New Zealand’s native wood pigeon. Similarly, the accent colours used on the window film reflect the flashes of colour that are distinctive to Te Papanui’s other native birds, including the blue of the Kokako, the red of the Kaka, the distinctive orange feathers of the Tieke and the bright yellow feathers of the Hihi.

Overriding all this has been a strong commitment from both Council and the design team to sustainable design. Specialist consultants were engaged from the outset to establish specific sustainable design criteria for Claudelands and these have been used to evaluate all aspects of the design and construction methodology as the development has progressed. Hamilton can now proudly and rightfully lay claim to possessing one of the best and most sustainable events centres in the whole of Australasia.