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Where We Work: Mark Newdick Landscape Architects

The office of Mark Newdick Landscape Architects on Egmont Street, Wellington

Welcome to this week's Where We Work profile. This time we are taking a peek into the office space of Mark Newdick Landscape Architects. Mark and I have occasionally ended up working on the same projects in Wellington over the years and I previously featured him here on the blog in 2013. Since then there has been many changes for Mark, including taking a huge step forward in going out on his own. And it has clearly paid off as he goes from one success to another.

Congratulations on your first year since you have branched out solo! Could you briefly tell us how MNLA came to be? Thanks! I started working for myself in 2005 – Hamish and I formed a practice which ran for 10 years and slowly built up from small scale residential work, to the broad range of projects we do now. Hamish relocated to the Wairarapa in October last year and I essentially stayed in the office, retained the staff and its gone from there. Initially I wasn't sure I had enough work to retain everybody but we're now looking for more people to service the workload. It's very exciting and affirming.

Was it hard to develop the business you have created? Yes and no. No, in the sense that it worked. We've never had to worry about where the next job was coming from or how to pay the bills. But yes, in the sense that it's hard work which I take very personally. I'm passionate about what I do and what goes with that is stress and pushing too hard sometimes. I can't help myself. I’m busy and often will have 30 projects on the go at any one time. You learn what you can delegate and what you can't.

The other thing I’d say is that its taken many years of slowly building my practice up to where it is now. I've had to be patient and have done my time doing less than thrilling projects. Winning a major award for Pipitea Marae was a game changer. It showed we could do large scale complex work of national significance and some great projects have come from it.

Egmont Street, Wellington

Your MNLA office is in a shared space on Egmont Street - how did you find this office space? We love our office and almost everyone who comes here remarks on it. We found it by seeing a note in the window walking past one day. Melling Morse architects designed the fit-out in what was an old carbonated water factory/warehouse and worked in the office next door to ours for many years. They moved on when Gerry Melling sadly passed away a few years ago. We've been here 11 years now and are starting to outgrow it but I don't want to leave. Apart from loving the space I love the community around it. From my local coffee maker - Milkcrate, to the noodle house that just starts making my favourite dish as soon as I walk in, my acupuncturist down the lane, gym across the road, collaborator architects all within a block or two. It's very handy and I feel grounded and connected here.  

What was it like at the beginning? Did you have to change it much to suit your business? Not at all. We did nothing to the space. At first it was a case of filling it up so the two of us didn't rattle around in it. Now it's a case of emptying it to fit people in.  Fortunately the paperless office is now a reality and all we really need are computers. 

Do you enjoy being based in the Cuba/Te Aro precinct? What's great and not-so-great about this area and community? See above. Love it. Can't think of anything I don't like about it. The wind whistles down our laneway a little more than I'd like but such is life in Wellington. 

Tell us about the courtyard - not many offices have a lovely green space like this. Melling Morse planted the pohutukawa tree 20 years ago when they did the fit-out. It's pretty unique to have a large tree growing through the trusses of the former roof outside our window.  It's our only view so it adds a lot to the character of the space. We've added lots of plants and some seats which get used in summer. It's very quiet so we can leave the doors and windows open in summer. I'm not sure I'd cope with an air conditioned office with fluorescent lights now! We also have a car park in the building which makes life very easy. I only live 5 minutes away but it's still nice to have car park and base in the city. 

Due to your business being successful, I know that you are expanding - how are you adjusting to suit extra employees in your office? Will this space be suitable for you in the long run? I don't know. I always thought we'd just stop once we got to a certain size. I want to be a designer not a manager. But it just keeps growing. We have room for one or two more and then we might have to look at options. I'm not into growth for its own sake but if good work keeps coming then I find it hard to turn it down. 

What would be your dream office space? My current office but with a view of beech forest. If you know Melling Morse's Samurai house, that's it! But in central Wellington.   

Where do you draw inspiration for your work? Very very broadly, anything from the world of architecture, the natural world, music, art, abstract concepts like social and environmental justice, equality, diversity.... I first trained in ecology which is all about interrelationships between diverse communities and niches, and that really has underpins my work. I love themes concerning finding our identity as a nation and in New Zealand, the landscape is a very potent medium in this respect. My design process is the primary driver though, every project is a different combination of the client, their brief, the landscape context, the surrounding architecture etc. and I pride myself on creating unique response every time. 

What are your favourite type of projects? The ones where people are nice to me. Seriously. I’d rather work for someone nice with a small budget and difficult site than have the perfect project and a grumpy client or design team. Life's too short. I also prefer it when we are not an afterthought. Landscape is a much misunderstood profession. A lot of people think we just do come in and do the planting after the architect is done but it's much much broader than that and the earlier we are involved, the better the outcome. But really, as I get older, all work is about relationships. I’m lucky to enjoy fantastic relationships with the vast majority of my collaborators and clients. 

Mark has been incredibly generous to share a completed project with us here on CMID for your viewing pleasure. This project is yet to go live on the MNLA website so this is its first airing. Mark noted that this is one of his more traditional projects and thought this palette suited the aesthetic of this website. Enjoy!

The Roxburgh Street garden was built in 2013 in conjunction with a complete renovation of the house by Philip Porrit which, amongst other things, created a basement level underneath the heritage house and extended the rear facade slightly, which made the courtyard at the back slightly smaller.

The clients wanted space and a restful vista from the house so simplicity was key. An old raised lawn was to be removed to make more space at the ground floor level and retaining provided along the boundaries to achieve this. Drought tolerant, easy care and vertical planting like corokia and thuja was used to provide maximum greening or softening with a minimum of space. The corokia hedging was layered to provide a sense of depth and structure and allow ease of access for maintenance. The ivy and rear fencing was existing but it was out of control and extensively cut back. The client already had the two sculptures (by Rebecca Rose) and asked that these were incorporated into the hedging beside the fire.

The fire was intended to provide a focal feature from both inside and outside the house. Like most elements in the garden, the fire was kept deliberately simple to reduce clutter and reflect light into the rear facade of the house. Together with an automated gas fire, up-lights set into the cantilevered concrete hearth on either side of the fire provide a convenient but dynamic feature at night.

A glazed pergola was constructed along the facade facing the rear courtyard to provide a generous covered area which allows the doors to be open and barbeque access in all weather. A slim zinc-allume emergency water tank which is fed by storm water collected on the pergola roof is located on the northern boundary.

The front terrace is built over the garage and therefore had no soil to plant in. Bespoke timber planters were made to house thuja and westringia balls around the edges with further softening provided by tall concrete planters and smaller square pots at the front door.

Thank you Mark for taking the time to be a part of this profile and for sharing with us your office space, your business and this project. May the good times continue!

All photographs courtesy of MNLA.