Architects Jeff Fearon and Tim Hay on transforming pockets of inner city Auckland into beautiful work, dining and living spaces
Fearon Hay Architects showcase Auckland’s heritage in cool new space
Architects Jeff Fearon and Tim Hay started out designing sleek, luxurious homes. Their firm, Fearon Hay Architects, still creates breathtaking baubles of this ilk, but has recently acquired a broader focus: redesigning chunks of Auckland, piece by small piece. They’ve done restaurant interiors (Clooney and Ostro) and, more importantly, public projects that have changed the way Aucklanders think of their city, like the sheds on North Wharf and the once-decrepit cinema now known as Imperial Lane.
Now, after 18 years working together, they’ve raised the stakes further, purchasing their own little pocket of Auckland in order to do urbanism their way. “This new wave of apartment and commercial development means a lot of old buildings are getting knocked over and replaced with shiny, glass, new,” says Hay. “We’ve wanted to lean away from shiny, glass, new, to have a place that has a sense of history and heritage.”
In January, the duo left their Freemans Bay offices (now demolished to make way for a shiny, glass, new apartment tower) for a 1,500 square-metre group of 1940s brick warehouses in Parnell’s Faraday Street, just off St George’s Bay Road. They bought the building (with the help of a commercial partner) because they saw the opportunity to do something different on their own terms.
“Rather than just being an office in a neighbourhood, we had 60 metres of north-facing street that we could actually do something with,” says Hay. “The core of this was actually still us wanting a really good office. There were some fundamentals to our daily life that we wanted, [like] a great place to have coffee and meetings, to maybe have a beer or wine in the evenings. Then, people: like-minded people, all in business and design and different fields.”
The building had hidden its potential, but then so had much of the rest of the neighbourhood. “It was roller doors and painted-up windows,” says Fearon of the street when they arrived.
It’s hard to know why this might be. Advertising agencies had migrated to the area’s lofty spaces decades earlier; some of them, such as Saatchi & Saatchi, remain. Furniture designers IMO are in an elegantly renovated former garage nearby, as are furniture stores such as Matisse and Dawson & Co, as well as a clutch of other architecture and design firms.
The Axis building, with its beautiful courtyard, is just up the street. Tech juggernaut Xero operates from the Textile Centre, a block-sized building purchased by Phillimore Properties (the company behind the refurbishment of Imperial Lane) in 2014 and now undergoing gradual renovation. All this sounds like the recipe for a great neighbourhood, and makes you wonder why, until now, the streets of this promising little pocket of Auckland have felt a bit dead.
Fearon and Hay have made changing that and other parts of the city a priority, a significant development from the focus on upmarket houses they started out with. In the mid-1990s the duo worked together at Patterson Associates before resigning to form their own firm. These days, they speak across each other like brothers, finishing each other’s sentences and interjecting at will.
“You get a few opportunities that present themselves when you’re working for other practices, and we knew our practice wasn’t going to let us do any private work,” says Fearon. “These opportunities were around and we decided that they were good enough and interesting enough that we would have a go at working together on them.”
So Fearon Hay was formed in 1998 with three commissions, one of which – a sleek beachfront house in the Bay of Islands that combined existing boatsheds with an open, modernist pavilion – won HOME magazine’s Home of the Year in 2000.
Other spectacular dwellings and copious international coverage followed. For a while it looked like the pair might be typecast. “We did get very well-known for doing that type of housing at the beginning of our practice,” says Fearon, “but one of the things that we’re probably proudest of in terms of what’s happened since that time is that we’ve developed a hugely diverse body of work in terms of location, project type, project scale and design approach.”
For evidence of this diversity of work, look no further than their new Faraday Street premises, where the duo is showing that the reinvention of a city street may not require gigantic transformation, but just a few tweaks. Their building now holds Red Rabbit, a cafe and roastery, in a generous space on the building’s western edge with high ceilings, a few tables and chairs and a big roasting apparatus. Doran & Doran is a small, bespoke tailor and men’s clothing retailer with a luxurious ground-floor retail space.
Datamine, a tech and data analytics consultancy, leases the largest space – an office with a spacious mezzanine filled with desks, computers and circles of comfortable-looking chairs. A bistro named Barulho with a rear courtyard and streetside tables will soon occupy the building’s eastern wing. And then, of course, there is Fearon Hay’s office, which occupies a large mezzanine area above an internal carpark, a space with rough brick walls and criss-cross beams erected by American servicemen in the mid-1940s.
It often seems strange that more architects don’t step into developers’ shoes, but this project has, at times, shown Fearon and Hay how challenging juggling both of these roles can be. “[It was] really difficult,” says Hay. “It was the worst thing.
It’s a discipline that I think, going into the next one, we’ll be a lot stronger on, but it’s just the three of us around a table and we’re all very strong minded. Jeff and I have sort of always relied on a client as an adjudicator to steer our design ideas. When we didn’t have that, we spun for a long time on what was the right proposition.”
Now their office and their carefully selected tenants are open for business, this oddly neglected part of Parnell is suddenly starting to seems interesting again. “There’s a lot of noise and attention over on the city’s western fringe,” says Fearon, “and there are skyrocketing values, but that attention leaves a void or a vacuum in its wake.
I think there is a lot of interest in what the potential of the eastern fringe might be, because the pendulum is swinging back this way.” And now, thanks to the duo’s sensitive update of a faded building in an almost-forgotten pocket of the city, that pendulum will probably swing a lot faster.
Words by: Henry Oliver. Photography by: Simon Wilson.