Solari Architects Transform Part of Art Deco Building into Stunning, Sustainable New Office


Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, boasts the lively Cuba Street, known for its cultural flair. Solari Architects recently joined this hub, which already houses the School of Architecture from the esteemed Victoria University of Wellington. Cuba Street is fast becoming an architectural landmark in the city.

Solari designed the fit-out (including interior architecture and interior design) of their new two-storey office, located at 191 Cuba Street. Associate Director Cushla Thurston was well qualified to oversee the project. She has over twenty years’ architectural experience including extensive design work for commercial and hospitality fit-outs. “We secured this property because it presented us with an ideal ‘blank’ canvas,” she says. “The site’s corner location and rooftop terrace opened up some exciting design opportunities.”

Solari’s new floorplan cleverly leverages the space’s curved configuration. Their 22-person team now have desks dotted along the perimeter — taking full advantage of the natural light streaming in from the building’s large art-deco windows. Meanwhile, a spacious meeting room and the Director’s office are both new additions, located in the centre of the space.

“We’re a very transparent and collaborative workplace so we’ve incorporated glass walls in these rooms to represent the way we work,” says Cushla. “It signals to clients and colleagues that all are welcome here and ours is an ‘open-door’ policy!” The expansive use of internal glass also captures reflections from the façade’s beautiful heritage windows. Brushed brass door handles and black framing on the glass provides the perfect complement to some of the building’s original art-deco features.

Cushla and the team were also determined to retain the office’s original ceiling height. The challenge here was achieving acoustic and thermal insulation, and concealing electrical cables and other services, without inserting a ‘false’ ceiling. The solution involved searching for and securing a suitable insulation product that could be adhered to the underside of the roof, alleviating the need for a new, lower ceiling.

The second challenge — concealing electrical cables and other services — was also resolved. “From one end of the office, we designed a simple straight run of track lighting and inflatable mechanical ducts so we could retain clear lines of sight to the existing beams and heritage windows,” Cushla explains.

Prioritising Sustainability

The new Solari office features sustainably produced and manufactured carpet tiles known as the ‘inside shapes’ range from commercial flooring company, ShawContract. This cradle-to-cradle (c2c) certified product puts Solari on the map as the first New Zealand office to feature them! Solari Architect Milla Saris used a wide range of the carpet tiles to create the office’s new eye-catching flooring. Thanks to a variety of configurations and colours, Milla was able to use the carpet tiles to distinguish different zones within the office, such as the kitchen and lounging area, reception and meeting rooms. The carpet’s circular patterns mirror the curves of the building’s arched window frames, as well as the circular motif in Solari’s branding.

Reuse was another sustainable strategy deployed on this project. Cushla describes it as “responsible” designing — not discarding old items for new ones, but rather ascertaining what can be redeployed. Timber panelling, cabinetry and desks are among the fixtures and furnishings that made their way from Solari’s old office to the new one.

The design also incorporates two storerooms for bikes — making cycling to work an easy option for clients and colleagues of Solari. Plans are also afoot for planting on the rooftop terrace, to provide habitat for local birds and insects. An ‘edible’ garden is also soon to take shape, so the Solari team can begin growing (and cooking) seasonal vegetables. Thanks to a clever new fit-out and top-shelf location, Solari’s all set to reach even greater heights!

Commercial Capabilities

The design of Solari’s new office is just one of several commercial projects the team is progressing.  In Wellington’s Garrett Street, just around the corner from their new office, Solari is designing the refurbishment of a three-storey art deco building for developer Tim Prescott. Responsible for the architecture to strengthen and refurbish the existing building, the team is helping reimagine the site for commercial and hospitality use.

Meanwhile, Cornerstone Partners, a prominent commercial property manager, has enlisted Solari to design the fit-out of the ground floor and first storey of Wellington’s 161 Victoria Street — a Green Star building. Here, Solari’s design will deliver flexibility for event space on the ground floor and co-working upstairs.

Mixed-use projects on Wellington’s High Street and Moxham Street round out the studio’s impressive portfolio of commercial work to date.

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