Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt. This week he talks to Nat Cheshire, self-described ‘fake architect’.
About ten years ago, something very special started to happen to Auckland.
It went from a place of natural beauty with some people living in it, to a city. From somewhere where visitors would come and you’d apologise for what it lacked, to a place with small emergent pockets that felt international. It’s possible now to get off the train at Britomart, walk through the retail pavilions there, head to lunch at Cafe Hanoi, go to a meeting at City Works Depot, pop up to Ponsonby Road to Saan and feel like you are in any great city, with special spaces people love and beautifully crafted retail and hospitality, where every detail has been sweated over and thought through.
And if you’ve been to any of those places, you have Nat Cheshire, and his and his father’s studio to thank. They’ve been responsible for making – out of pretty much nothing – some of Auckland’s most vital and interesting spaces, ones that have set off a new wave of confidence and creativity in the city. Nat Cheshire is fantastic at many things, without ever being confined to one discipline, instead cross referencing and cross pollinating to make things that are special yet humble, unapologetically ambitious but always generous. He is a wonderful writer, speaker, self-described ‘fake architect’, product designer, branding practitioner, and optimist, and it is a pleasure to have him join the podcast.
You’ve written and talked before about the circumstances that came together to allow there to be that possibility. Particularly the global financial crisis – meaning there was a change in who gets to do things and who has the appetite for risk – and the global citizens returning home.
In a perverse way, it was one of the best things that ever happened to Auckland as a city, though it was incredibly painful for us commercially. But it toppled and reversed the hierarchy of change in the city – all of a sudden a kid with a really great food idea could get their hands on some of the most promising real estate in the city and make something of it. And all of a sudden the men and woman at the top who owned and controlled that stuff weren’t able to set a direction to employ some consultants and go and do it; they had to get granular. And as you said, that was amplified influx of reversing the brain drain.
And the pockets then set off other pockets – and this is a funny way to use ‘only’ – while you only might have developed nine blocks of Britomart, that nine blocks of Britomart meant that those people in the pockets all around the city were like ‘wow we need something that is as cool and vital and international as that’
Yeah, and look the first thing to be clear about is that the nine blocks are not ours, you know Britomart is an enormous part of my story but I’m only a bit part of its.
In my mind it was never about fighting for Britomart itself, it was about fighting for Auckland. The idea was that Britomart would be epicentre the city just couldn’t ignore. And essentially that’s what happened – by the time the full potential of Britomart was manifested you couldn’t really be a developer in the city anymore and not take note of that. The thing had reconfigured the market and that was what was most exciting all: the metrics had changed and once you’ve changed that kind of market behaviour the thing becomes self-sustaining.