Understated and uber-cool, the Morningside Precinct is arguably Auckland’s hippest new hangout (and certainly home to its most cleverly-named drinking den: Morningcider), a contemporary suburban hospitality precinct designed by the same studio that led the redevelopment of Britomart. The band includes Pip and Nat Cheshire of Cheshire Architects, and Britomart Hospitality Group’s Rod Ballenden and Nick McCaw. Verve caught up with Nat, who also co-owns the site.
“Morningside is my backyard,” he says. “It’s this little part of the city that was overlooked. We all just thought it was about time that we put our money where our mouths were, owned some risk, and did it ourselves.”
Brilliantly-named cideries aside, the precinct houses a bounty of other socialising establishments such as Electric Chicken, where you can opt for whole, half or quarter birds—cooked five ways—as well as heaps of other food, booze, milkshakes and merchandise; Bo’s Dumplings, an exquisite Asian street food-inspired hole in the wall (their dumplings go very nicely with a tasting paddle from Morningcider next door); luxury dessert restaurant, Miann, where intricately crafted sweet treats are displayed like works of art; and the fashionable Morningside tavern with its bare brick walls, 20 tap beers and wonderful wood-fired pizzas.
Morningside Precinct’s centrepiece, The Glasshouse, an “oasis of calm and serenity”, is a 12-metre-high venue lined with olive and oak trees, hosting everything from photoshoots to weddings to market days and community events, with space for up to 400 souls. A sense of community was very much in the designers’ thoughts when creating the precinct, inspired in part by the success of collective-owned Crave café, who inject profits back into local projects, that sits next door.
“My mother has taken my daughter to Crave for the whole two-and-a-half years of her life, every Wednesday when she comes to babysit,” says Nat. “Crave paved the way. They’re the beachhead for Morningside as a community, I think. All we did was recognise the potential that signalled and doubled down on it. Just as much as Britomart was not simply about building a bunch of shops and cafes, as it was giving the city centre some sense of a heartbeat which a decade ago it didn’t feel as though it had anywhere, this was about doing the same thing for Morningside. We changed the design approach to be less flashy and more lo-fi, to predominantly serve the people that live there rather than be sat on the front cover of a design magazine.”
Has it become your niche, to breathe life into former industrial city sites?
“Our studio is abnormal in that it’s almost aggressively anti-niche. We do almost everything, but our projects are all cohered by having clients with an appetite for the extraordinary rather than the safe. Although we have, over time, certainly worked on a series of projects that are this kind of urban transfiguration, and it does feel as though we have some momentum behind us.”
The $10 million project springs from a former drapes-making facility on McDonald Street, and its industrial past is still very much on show by way of the likes of brooding alleyways and striking bare brick walls. “Because we were dealing with this ad hoc collection of mid-20th century buildings intending to house sewing machines and bolts of fabric, we didn’t have the benefit of the hardwood timbers of the 19th century or the strict building codes of the 21st century,” continues Nat, “so, much work went into stabilising the structures, waterproofing and making them seismically robust.”
Most of the precinct’s 20 lots were leased out long before completion owing to relationships established via previous projects with operators who absolutely trusted Nat’s and his team’s direction. The tenants were also “carefully curated by co-owner Jeremy Priddy to ensure that nobody would cannibalise anybody else” and more than that, “to ensure everybody supports each other”.
“You know, if you said to somebody a year ago, ‘I’m going to go down to Morningside’ they’d either look at you quizzically or ask where the hell is that!” chuckles Nat. “So to turn up there and collide with hundreds of people and see all these things going on is just so satisfying. The opportunity to completely reconfigure a way a bit of the city thinks about itself, and the way other parts of the city see it and perhaps think about their own potential, is really exciting. It’s still early days and we’re looking forward to watching how it goes, where the strengths and weaknesses are, and then continuing to evolve and grow it from there.”