One block off Ponsonby Road – right at the top of Williamson Ave – The Greenhouse is rising out of the ground. Ockham Residential’s Mark Todd talks about his “once-in-a-lifetime project”.
It starts with the glazed brick that changes colour a thousand times a day. Under morning sun, it’s gleaming emerald- green, like a summer walk to Karekare Falls, but as the day unfolds it shifts to forest-green, then dark olive, then almost to black—the colour of a midwinter slog through Great Barrier bush. There are glimmers of Whatipū greys, fleeting moments of Waiheke navy and indigo.
A hundred-and-fifty-thousand of these iridescent, green- glazed bricks will adorn the walls of The Greenhouse.
“Reverence for Tāmaki Makaurau infuses our work,” says Ockham captain Mark Todd. “We strive to make thoughtful, distinctively residential buildings that are as beautiful as the landscapes they sit within.
"The Greenhouse is our expression of the Aotearoa aesthetic. It is Ockham down to its last brick—all the design and architectural principles which underpin our developments are here, only more so. It is architecture reimagined as art.”
From Huntly to Palmy and beyond
The green brick that gives the building its name makes The Greenhouse iconic; immediately recognisable as something that belongs here. But getting the glaze right took almost four years. “It’s been a circuitous journey to find the perfect brick,” Todd says. “Slightly obsessive if I’m honest.”
Hundreds of brick samples have been stared at, caressed, held up to the light.
“We were eager to buy locally if we could,” Todd continues. “We talked with brickmakers in Huntly and Christchurch, a glazing specialist in Palmerston North. We tried Australia, tried the Netherlands. We unearthed some beautiful bricks, saw some glorious glazes.” But none were The Greenhouse.
“Then we got these amazing samples from the UK—from the company who made the iridescent turquoise bricks for Damien Hirst’s memorable Soho HQ. They were stunning — absolutely beautiful. Very close...very nearly what we wanted.” But still not right.
Finally, Ockham arrived at the Sant’Anselmo brick factory, 20km inland from Venice. Finally, they’d found ‘The One’.
“They’re not cheap,” Todd says. “Each brick costs more than $10 — and there are 150,000 of them. But when you see how the colour changes subtly as the light shifts through the day, you’ll understand why only they could be the bricks for The Greenhouse.”
The perfectionism, he says, was necessary. “This is Auckland’s most irresistible neighbourhood and a building has to be exceptional to belong here.”
A once-in-a-lifetime project
At 10 storeys, The Greenhouse will be the tallest building on the horizon — and the views expand as you ascend. Look west; look down Williamson Ave, past Grey Lynn Park, and you see the Waitakere Ranges in entirety. You see the parapets of Ponsonby Road, the fingers of the inner Waitematā; now look north, look east, to the city’s great towers and, beyond, Devonport, Rangitoto. Auckland, Tāmaki Makaurau.
“Buildings like this matter,” Todd continues. “People are proud of landmark buildings in their cities — the collective effects they have on atmosphere, energy and identity. The Greenhouse will convey identity to its neighbourhood and city; inside it’ll become known as an excellent place to live, covetable for its amenity, location and character. It’s a building that will age gracefully.”
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime project, he says of the building that will become his home. “I’ve spent 25 years in construction, reimagining urban communities, learning what’s possible when one acts with aspiration. With The Greenhouse, every detail, every finish — every brick — has been thought, and sometimes fought, over.
“The ambition is to build one of Auckland’s most beloved buildings. The Greenhouse is the very best Ockham can imagine.”
A DINNER PARTY FOR THE AGES
Of all gentle pleasures lost to lockdown, the dinner party with friends and (friendly) foes – and sparkling, spikey conversations which enliven the mind – might be the most missed. The Greenhouse has a residents’ lounge with a 10-seat table as its centrepiece, ideal for a green light gathering of kindred spirits. Join us for the ultimate (imaginary) Ponsonby dinner party.
Earlier in the day, the great table had been used for meetings, unravelling large maps, and reading newspapers of record, but as evening nears, it has been set for dinner. Although the sun is only just slipping over the Waitakeres, the lounge walls, lined with American Crown Cut Walnut panelling, are exquisitely lit by an Orion Globe light. The carpet — Mist by Shaw Contract — is woven in an array of greens with twists of pale grey, like the underside of a leaf. The floor beneath is engineered European oak, like a stage arranged for a performance.
Equipped with a kitchen, the lounge opens to a balcony which allow guests to indulge in a favourite ritual of the neighbourhood — perusing Ponsonby passers-by.
We established strict criteria for The Greenhouse’s inaugural dinner: this was to be a gathering of imaginary friends, late legends with a connection to postcodes 1011 and 1021 (lest an overlooked invite or inadvertent snub cause a ruckus). We’re also ignoring that ludicrous Aotearoa axiom that one doesn’t discuss religion, politics or sex at the table. What else to talk about!
Down one end is a face familiar from the photo that hangs above so many mantelpieces in the neighbourhood. It’s a beatific Michael Joseph Savage, who once delivered seditious blasts up the road at the Star Newton Hotel. Down the other end, a voice booms: “We are living in an ethical twilight, with the ideals of the new in our hearts and the pattern of the old upon our minds.” It’s John A. Lee, soldier, socialist, one-armed writer; one-time Grey Lynn MP and Savage scourge.
Thankfully any glare-off has been avoided: Lee is mesmerised by Freda Stark, of nude dancing fame. However the golden dancer is more interested in Florence Keller— doctor, social reformer, feminist and vegan. The dedicated Dr Keller saw patients six days a week until she was 92; here, she has struck up an unlikely rapport with Graham Brazier, rebel with a cause, Imperator of the Gluepot. And one-time winger for the Mt Roskill Red Devils. Yes, Brazier was an out-and-out leaguie — and finds himself beside his boyhood hero, Kiwis’ legend Bill Sorensen, from that most royal of rugby league families.
Hordes of neighbourhood artists could join the party: Colin McCahon and Charles Blomfield were serious cats but Tony Fomison would be more fun. Alongside Tony, Vaitulutu Purcell, whose family home at 28 Scanlan Street became a de facto community centre for scores of Pasifika families.
Vaitulutu has connected with Whāea Betty Wark, founder of Arohanui, mother to thousands of young, urban Māori.
The evening’s MC? Peter Taylor, equestrian and father of much-loved local bar Surrender Dorothy, can be counted on to bring the fabulosity. “I stomp on mediocrity with a tall pair of riding boots caked in horse sweat,” he said at the launch of his memoir ‘Don’t Postpone Joy’. “I plan to go out that way, too.” Meanwhile, capturing everything, the unmatched documentary photographer Robin Morrison.
Oh...what a night! The formal part of the evening concluded, whereupon Freda Stark hauls Messrs Lee, Brazier, Taylor and Fomison off to karaoke.
When dinner parties return to the menu, there’ll be no venue statelier than The Greenhouse. Give Ockham’s Joss Lewis a call to find out more about Auckland’s most exquisite apartment building (and, in the meantime, devise your own Top 10 dream dinner guest list!). Contact Joss on 021 245 5155 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Published 3 December 2021