Creative teamwork delivers on challenging site

Creative teamwork delivers on challenging site
The design and construction of the property drew on all of Urban Function Architecture’s expertise and experience with hill sites.

When architect Aaron Jones returned to New Zealand in 2009 to attend a friend’s wedding he wasn’t planning to stay long.
But when that couple asked Aaron to design their home, the resulting house quickly led to a number of other commissions.
Aaron made the decision to remain in Christchurch, and his architecture firm, Urban Function, was born.
At the same time, he also launched a reusable bag brand, Zerobag.
Both companies will celebrate ten years in business this year.
Aaron grew up in Christchurch and did his architecture training at CPIT, before gaining early work experience with reputable construction company Luneys Construction, working alongside notable architecture firms Warren and Mahoney, Athfields and Architectus.
This solid grounding took him to Melbourne, where he worked under the design directors of premiere Melbourne firm Neometro.
He credits much of his approach to architecture to Neometro’s innovative design ethos.
From Melbourne he moved to London, where he worked for a major firm specialising in large-scale housing developments and educational facilities.
It was in London that Aaron had the idea for Zerobag.
Appalled by the amount of disposable plastic littering the city, he began to investigate ideas for a hard wearing reusable bag – an idea that was ahead of its time, given subsequent moves to replace single-use shopping bags with reusable alternatives.

Creative teamwork delivers on challenging site
The home design is stepped across multiple levels, including three separate levels on the ground floor.

Zerobag now offers two options, both of which retail throughout New Zealand – the original upcycled bag made here from skydiving parachutes, and Zerobag 2.0, made from 100% recycled plastic bottles.
The creative problem solving that made Zerobag a reality also played a major part in the design and construction of a project in the Christchurch suburb of Sumner.
The Heberden Avenue site was advertised at sale as “an architect’s dream,” however Aaron jokes that the numerous challenges it entailed could just as easily have created a nightmare for someone more easily daunted.
The significant site constraints had already seen it branded “unbuildable” by some of the companies consulted by the previous owners.
The design and construction of the property certainly drew on all of Urban Function’s expertise and experience with hill sites, as the land was prone to slip, had no clear fl at surface to build on, and had significant access issues, as well as numerous planning and height constraints.
“There were major technical hurdles that had to be thought through carefully before we could even begin to formulate a design response,” says Aaron.
He is full of praise for structural engineers Engco, and builders Parsons Construction, both of whom treated every difficulty as an opportunity for innovation and creative thinking.
“The structural engineering aspect was massive.
A 30-metre retaining wall had to be core-drilled into bedrock and anchored to the hillside and it’s a huge credit to Engco’s team that they found such creative solutions.
And Parsons put incredible attention into detail and accuracy.
“The joiners said it was one of the straightest, truest builds they’d seen in terms of overall precision, and to achieve that degree of accuracy in such challenging conditions was incredible.”
A 5-½-metre existing driveway excavation was discovered in the project’s early stages, and the decision was taken to use this as the base for the dwelling.
As the homeowners’ have Australian and Maori heritage between them, the angled nature of the building form informed Aaron’s design response, which references the shapes of a boomerang and a taiaha.
The resulting design is stepped across multiple levels, including three separate levels on the ground floor.
This creative solution enabled the driveway to be built at an acceptable, albeit steep, gradient.
The property also features a roof terrace, another clever solution to the site’s challenges.
“There was no other space for outdoor living, so we designed an open living area on the roof level that is 100% usable space for the family to be outside in, enjoying their view.”
The majority of Urban Function’s projects are high-end residential, however Aaron has also collaborated on the design of a number of commercial and public projects.
These include the iconic design for the redevelopment of the Spencer Park Surf Club, and, more recently, the conversion of the old Waikuku primary school into a hospitality and retail development.
Regardless of the type of project, Aaron is driven by the need to meet – and exceed – client’s expectations.
“You collaborate with them from the discussion stages, through sketches, design and construction, till finally you’re sharing a beer in a physical space. That always feels hugely rewarding.”
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