“As a studio, we are not bound by typology, particular aesthetic or scale,” says Cheshire Architects Director Dajiang (DJ) Tai. “Our approach is more about leveraging architecture and design opportunities to push boundaries and create very holistic spaces.”
In his 15 years with the practice, DJ has become a critical collaborator in almost every hospitality project that Cheshire Architects undertakes. “I studied Architecture at Auckland University and came to the practice not long after I graduated in 2007. Although the studio has a wide range of project types, my role have primarily been in the commercial and hospitality side of the business. There has always been a broad range of projects that we’re working on simultaneously – from a small restaurant to a master plan. This all-scales approach means that we’re always looking at the full customer experience. When we’re designing a restaurant, we aren’t just looking at the build. We’re working on uniforms, branding, font, anything and everything that a customer might see or touch or experience when they enter the space. We want them to be transported to a different world as soon as they step inside.”
This is a critical point of difference for Cheshire Architects, DJ says, which allows the practice to explore different fields. “We make our own furniture and lighting; if required, we’ll make our own fixtures and handles. Our work extends to whatever will make a space cohesive. That’s the environment I’ve always learned in at this studio and how I was taught to design.”
Photo credit: Sam Hartnett.
This holistic design experience has come to full fruition in DJ’s work with The Hotel Britomart. Situated at the centre of Auckland’s dynamic nine-block Britomart precinct, The Hotel Britomart is surrounded by plant-lined streets, historic warehouses and one of the city’s most well-known shopping and hospitality areas. “This is the largest heritage precinct in Auckland with two major public squares and the main transportation hub in the central business district. At its centre is The Hotel Britomart, a 10-story object which has been crafted from hand-made clay bricks and glazed windows, appearing weightless as it hovers over an urban tapestry of cobbled lanes and dockside warehouses.”
Over the last decade, Britomart has become an incredible destination in Auckland, with a huge population working in the area and even more transiting through every day. Cheshire Architects’ brief for The Hotel Britomart was to create a space that would allow people to sleep and wake up in the precinct as well and, in doing so, further transform the area. “For me, everything in our tool kit lent itself to this project and the timing couldn’t have been any better. We were literally outputting everything we’d learned over a number of years into it. The result is a commercial building which, outside, has a 10-story scale but, inside, can be interrogated right down to the teaspoons. The whole spectrum of detailing and experience is covered. It opened in 2020 and has been thriving ever since.”
DJ says that the practice brings this holistic approach to their design process as well, supporting clients from conception right through to completion. “We have a very special culture here where the person who starts a project sees it straight through to the end. That’s the only way to channel continuous conceptual consistency through the project. We find the same in our client relationships which are very intimate and provide opportunities for deep trust and courage on both sides.”
Photo credit: Sam Hartnett
The methodology is more circular than linear, DJ says. “We circle ever inwards towards a final result, rather than following a streamlined trajectory. We touch everything to do with the project. Without realising, we often become the best of friends with our clients because we have fought together through the emotional, physical and costly construction process. Every project that we are really proud of could not have been done without a brave client beside us.”
DJ’s passion for design started with an aptitude for drawing and an appreciation for art, he says. “I’ve drawn a lot since I was a little kid, but I didn’t realise that I was very good at it until university, when most of my peers were using computer software to design but I was still drawing. It was that skill that first got me a job at Cheshire Architects. Pip Cheshire and Nat Cheshire are still some of the best drawers I’ve known.
“I have great admiration for artists and how they create. What they’re doing is creating a bridge to transport ideas to paper, without any compromises. Architecture is very different, with an end result that might not be a direct translation of the original idea. I want to be really skilful at my architecture so I can be masterful at efficiently executing and short-cutting my original aspiration in the same way as artists can.”
Curiosity informs the work across the Cheshire Architects portfolio, DJ says. “Fundamentally, we are curious human beings who want to perfect our craft and exercise that daily. We want to step further and further into the unknown with every project. I might liken it to astronauts who, using science and knowledge as a little rope, allow themselves to climb into the vast uncertainty of the universe. For us, the studio is the platform that allows us to feel safe as we venture into the unknown.”
DJ takes inspiration from Auckland city and an exploration of its full depth, but also from global design leaders. “I came to New Zealand from China in 1998, and I brought with me a desire to compete with projects in major cities like New York or Shanghai. When we look at our work, we want to be comparing it to others on an international level; each project that we’re proud of feels like making a personal dialogue with our architectural heroes.”
With The Hotel Britomart gaining international attention, DJ is hopeful that Cheshire Architects can create further opportunities to test their learnings on bigger and more complex scales. “I want to be doing extremely complex projects, taking everything we learned from The Hotel Britomart and applying it to an even bigger scale. I have a real admiration for those who can take great, philosophical concepts and translate them into a rich architectural language that engages and is appreciated by people.
“Project-wise, we are committed to shaping every project into great architecture as best as we can, while at the same time committing to working with great human beings. Maybe the end goal isn’t just great projects but also to be associated with great people. I hope that I can help to deliver that important responsibility with a culture that creates both the best projects and cares for the best human beings. It’s a big aspiration, but I should still have another 50 years or so to work on it.”
To learn more and connect with DJ, visit https://www.cheshirearchitects.com/ and follow Cheshire Architects on Instagram.