Ignite – thirty years of excellence

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Growing from a small, new office set up in Auckland by Brisbane-based firm Anderson Street Architects back in 1987, Ignite is now celebrating 30 years in the design business. Through the early struggles of the ’87 sharemarket crash, and highs of planning Auckland’s Viaduct Basin for the 1995 America’s Cup, one thing has not changed: creating good design which stands the test of time.

When we designed Chancery Lane in Auckland’s CBD at the turn of the millennium, it was completely revolutionary in this part of the world – pedestrianised lanes and boutiques surrounded by open squares, wide steps for sitting on and outdoor dining. It was a mixed-use experience built when shopping centres were supposed to block out all sense of time passing outside. Now “experiential shopping” has become the norm, as online shopping challenges traditional practices.

We’ve learned that a design’s flexibility to be whatever people need it to be gives Chancery and others, like the Gold Coast’s Oracle precinct or Christchurch’s forthcoming Entertainment Exchange, the potential to stay relevant for years to come. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines”. Fortunately, we haven’t had to resort to greenery over the years, instead ensuring our design is forward thinking enough to adapt to the times.

After many shopping centre reconnaissance tours over the years from the Midwest to Las Vegas, accumulated jetlag and some minor photographic trespassing, our retail design has significantly shifted to be more centred around the community and people. These design trends are mimicking changes in our lifestyles. Back in the 80s, retail and business districts were kept separate from where we lived – usually in cookie-cutter brick and tile suburbia. We’ve seen major revolutions in master planning and the rise of mixed-use developments weaving the threads of our lives together, so we work, live and play all in the one space. Developments that only serve one need are often short-lived, so our thinking and approach has adjusted to meet as many individuals’ different needs as we can.

Our residential practice has evolved too. As a society, we have increasingly embraced the idea of apartments as homes offering a high-quality lock-up-and leave lifestyle, where once there was little choice between a quarter acre dream and a low-budget shoebox. Likewise, as the baby boomers who grew up in those quarter-acre paradises have reached retirement age, they want better choices. Now they can opt to spend their retirement – if they retire – in apartments, villas or modern communal living with the feel of a family home, without that old “institutional” feel. Nowhere is this better exemplified than our Huapai Country Club north-west of Auckland, which combines all three.

As people have become more aware of their impact on the world, so design has changed to become more sustainable, using fewer irreplaceable resources and around network hubs so we don’t have to hop in our cars. Even the technology we use would have been unimaginable 30 years ago. Innovations like Building Information Modelling software allow us to adjust designs as we go – and better still, we can show our clients and contractors exactly what a building will look like in 3D, or let them walk through the site using virtual reality. Instead of being general practitioners like we used to, young graduates now specialise, having to know so much more about technology than before.  

When we started out designing supermarkets and Georgie Pie restaurants, we couldn’t have imagined the changes the next 30 years would bring to our business – such as creating a venue in Papua New Guinea to meet the standards of visiting APEC 2018 leaders – but we’re really excited to see where we’ll be going next. Ultimately, we’ve learned success comes down to innovation and flexibility – being willing to change, to adapt to new technologies, to better understand how people are living and working, and of course, create good, sustainable designs. If there’s one thing that’s certain, there’s a lot more change ahead – and we’re here for the long haul.