Playing the field

106 Architects URBIS Magazine Interview

This article was written by Justin Foote and originally published by AGM and Urbis magazine, 23 November 2015.

The transition from medal-winning hockey player to registered architect may have taken a few years, but, as Dion Gosling tells Justin Foote, flexibility in all aspects is the key to success.

Urbis: You set up Studio 106 in 2009, is this your first foray into working for yourself?

The tiled floor provides a graphic edge that complements the marble panels.  Image:  Supplied

Dion Gosling: During my sporting career I did contract work for the flexibility it offered. That gave me the opportunity to work on a whole range of projects. There was a connection between sport and architecture initially. Then there was a transition to doing retail and a bit of commercial or office buildings relating to those sports-aligned organisations. Through those networks, the residential commissions started coming in.

Urbis: How would you define your architectural practice?

DG: I wanted to create an environment that was really flexible. We’ve ended up with quite a flat organisational structure and, being small, we can work that way. It’s been positive for everyone’s interest, rather than getting stuck on one project. That collaborative approach is also something we take forward into our larger sports-related projects where we pair up, usually, with a local practice and deliver it together.

Urbis: In terms of the residential work you’ve done, has that been primarily Auckland-based?

DG: We’re doing a lot of villa work in the inner-city area as well as a renovation in St Heliers. We’ve got a two-stage new build in Taranaki, also, so there’s a bit of a mix. The other work we do – the sports stuff and the like – is nationwide. We’ve become quite adept at remote delivery.

Urbis: How is renovation design changing? Are we moving away from the contemporary box on the back of the villa?

Natural materials of marble and timber provide a sense of calm. Image:  Supplied

DG: I think there’s more consideration of context. Our St Heliers project, for example, where we’re working with one in a row of three units – that project is all about peering through the surrounding building stock to open up the views. We set up the idea of moving through the house, and what you experience as you move into some common areas and how you create multiple uses out of individual spaces. Is it just a hallway or can it be a playroom as well? What other purpose can these spaces serve?

Urbis: In a rural setting, where views are not an issue, do you find you tend to design something more enclosed?

DG: It’s about a sense of scale and intimacy. In Taranaki, we just did a simple box with a low-pitched roof and large eaves. Glazed walls and set-backs meant we could open up the view from the courtyard to look right through the open-plan living area, giving the client that connection to the outside while still having an intimate space that was protected from the wind.

Urbis: What’s the process for you when working with a residential client?

DG: It comes down to understanding what the homeowners’ rituals are and what their daily patterns are and how they might use the space during the week versus the weekends. We use cardboard models as a part of that process; it’s amazing what that can do for understanding. It really facilitates discussion, you can remove walls if you want to and, at that initial concept stage, it doesn’t feel as fixed as a computer render might. I’m a big believer in using models.

Urbis: Do you find being able to look at a 3D model is beneficial for the client?

DG: Absolutely. There’s a lack of preciousness at that stage, when ideas can still be tested. Once it sinks in that it’s a collaborative process and that everything is up for grabs, is when you get true results.

Urbis: In terms of spaces such as kitchens and bathrooms – the rooms that get updated the most – how do you ‘build in’ an element of future proofing?

The kitchen connects spaces while also remaining highly functional. Image:  Supplied

DG: The key with those rooms is the experiential aspect of them – the bathroom, in particular. When you enter a bathroom you want it to be a place of rest, almost like an interior oasis. We recently undertook a renovation of a 1960s townhouse. The idea was to go back to a simple shower curtain, but then you get that awful image of a mouldy plastic shower curtain.

So we looked for something you could draw open and which would dry easily. We ended up with a piece of linen that we just looped over the rail and is really easy to wash. We incorporated sauna spruce – a contemporary way of getting some warmth into the space.

With the kitchen, it’s about connection to other spaces and to the outdoors. Gone are the breakfast bars that seal off the living or dining room, and those awful corner cupboards – both of which were supposed to be about added functionality, but I’d argue how true that was in reality.

We’re seeing a trend towards the galley kitchen as a means to open up the spaces and improve the social flow around the kitchen. That’s not to say that the current mode of thinking won’t change; but certainly the ability to connect more spaces, rather than having the kitchen as a barrier, really makes sense at the moment. Also, a kitchen that is simple and functional and not too precious is a big part of future-proofing.

The 1st Step to Building – Understanding your Needs and Options


Summer. Wasn’t it glorious! A great time to think and relax. And be inspired.

As summer has drawn to a close so we thought it is a good time to share some insights to what we’ve learned from our sports projects, and how they could apply to your house and home project.

What’s the problem?

It is not uncommon for people to know they want to do a project – and have given it quite a bit of thought – but just don’t know how best to start…

Or worse, launched into an expensive design service without establishing the client-designer relationship, or worse still, not carefully established the groundwork for the project.

In recent months, we’ve seen the number of building permits and consents being processed by Council reach new highs. This has helped us get more feedback on what the market is doing, and what thinking people are doing at the moment.

The Scenario:

We’ve found an initial Needs and Options Review is the architect’s best ‘pencil’ for good early groundwork. It works as a diagnostic tool for your project – and can save a huge amount of heartache. It allows you to start with an exploration designed to precisely understand your requirements and potential roadblocks are, and gives you:

→ Needs-based findings and recommendations;

→ High-level design options;

→ A Plan to move forward;

→ A Timeline and rough order of cost for budgeting.

The Process

We’ve used this process on a much larger scale while doing our sports projects – which typically involve a large number of groups and a diverse range of people. We saw an issue in these projects, of people starting design and construction before they had fully done their research and homework. BEFORE they had critiqued their ideas and assessed their needs.

These projects can have several conflicting groups – all locking heads on which way to go. So what better way to bring them together and moving in the same direction, than each understanding what the other needs?  It’s on this basis that everyone sees a different perspective, and actually, the group gets a much better outcome.

Our view is this applies across the entire construction industry – it’s not limited to designing sports facilities. It also happens in residential projects … People are trying to run before they have mastered the walk or set the training programme (sports pun intended!).

The consequence of inadequate upfront research and discussion of needs and options is like… building a house on bad foundations.

The foundations are the most important part of the whole house because everything is built on top. It’s very expensive to change the foundations once you have started to build. But it’s very easy to change them if they are simply lines on a plan.  It’s amazing what comes from sketch lines and diagrams, rather than hard-and-fast computer models.

Ultimately, a little more time spent upfront on research and assessment will yield a better result – economically and design-wise – long-term. Be careful about entering the design phase too early.  There are snags if you’re not prepared, and you might just pull a hamstring on the final straight!

What makes a good brief?

A good brief is gold.

There are five important steps in building:

→ Needs and Options Review – which is the first step

Design phase

→ Construction Document phase

Building and Contract Management

→ Completion phase

If you want to learn more about our Needs and Options Review and how we can move you through the five important steps of building seamlessly, get in touch today with the 106 Architects residential experts!

106 Architects | Your Residential Build Road Map