Leading architect Noel Lane has established a reputation for cutting-edge, contemporary architecture, but when it came to designing Matakana Village he took a rather different approach.
In 1992, local investor Richard Didsbury purchased the land where the Matakana Village project now stands. A few years later, Richard began kicking around ideas with Lane about what to do with the old sawmill site at the Matakana crossroads.
Didsbury’s vision was to establish a market for locally grown produce- now the thriving Matakana Farmer’s Market- and to re-invigorate the area with a boutique retail and cinema complex.
Concepts for a contemporary development were shelved early on in the project when historical research revealed that Matakana was much older than nearby Warkworth. Matakana was an early trading port with one of New Zealands’s earliest water-powered sawmills supplying timber to local shipwrights.
“Richard’s research actually shifted the way we were thinking about the development.” says Lane. “Our ideas just slowly morphed to become more historic in aesthetic and detail, and we ended up feeling if we were too contemporary, it would be like storming the original village.”
Both agreed that they were taking a big risk in going for a historical approach. “We didn’t want to do some sort of twee American historic replica which the public would see through in five seconds.,” says Didsbury. “We aimed to give the buildings some quirkiness so that people would inherently know when they stepped back and looked at the detail that these were not old buildings- that there was something unusual going on.”
The overall design of Matakana Village takes its cues from nearby historic buildings- the old dairy factory, St. Leonards Anglican Church, Matakana House, and the existing colonial wooden houses nearby. But Lane has also used a myriad of creative devices which draws on aspects of New Zealand’s cultural heritage, to give the buildings a modern twist.
Lane broke down the project into a series of individual components. The original plan, which had been conceived with only one building, was changed to incorporate three freestanding buildings of an intimate sociable scale. Each building was designed one at a time and is unique, using a mix of different materials and decorative elements.
The resulting new ‘villa’ where the Matakana Pharmacy store is, and the two-storey vertical facade of the main-street retail building, smoothes the transition from the historic wooden buildings to the more modern cinema complex. Figurative decorative elements in relief at the top of the street-front facade of the main street building depict dancing children.
Along the back are dancing men. The idea came from a frieze of dancing cats on a turn-of-the-20th century building in Symonds Street in Auckland City. “It’s a real mix of folk art and a naive expression of our culture. The dancing children at the beach, the play of water- and then the over-scaled ‘koru-Walters’. The dancing figures at the back are about rhythm and formality,” says Lane. “We also used leadlights and stained-glass to add another layer of personality- another layer of complexity to the village design, and to indicate that the village is all contemporary.” (Please see the section ‘Leadlight’ in the ‘Art & Design’ section of the website.)
Touches of kiwiana and links to the past abound in the complex, not least the street-front ‘trambarn’, reminiscent of beach communities in small-town New Zealand. Built from macrocarpa milled at the Matakana Sawmill, the large rough-sawn planks of the exterior wall on the Leigh Road frontage also speak of another era.