A passion project for the local community gives Chow:Hill director, Stuart Mackie, a different design perspective.
With an 80-year-old window, a love of books, an irresistible idea and an impulse to act upon it, Chow:Hill Director Stuart Mackie embarked upon a weekend project.
The challenge? To build a weatherproof, free-standing and engaging outdoor community library/book exchange.
Ever the realist, Stuart quickly recognised the project could not be built overnight, nor in a weekend in fact. So began a self-imposed project of goodwill that spanned a few months. On reflection, he notes philosophically, “blind enthusiasm at the outset obscured the number of steps involved.’’
A challenge readily accepted
In keeping with Chow:Hill’s principles of sustainability, no opportunity to recycle materials was wasted. Short house piles and leftover timber from the community garden became the foundations. Surplus timber just waiting for a good use became the structural frame and was enclosed in a waterproof wrap with treated plywood, for strength, durability and economy.
The roof was made from spare fence palings, treated structural plywood, underlay, and felt roofing tiles. “In terms of waterproofing,” says Stuart, “it was belt and braces and another spare belt!’’
Stuart admits he could never understand how people built wooden rowing boats in their basement, only to discover there was no way to get the finished craft out. Now he can. Stuart had elected to build the community book exchange in easily transportable pieces on the outdoor deck at home. Although he could get the initial stages of the work down the staircase, the final bulkier version was 20mm too large. “Plan B was the temporary removal of an outside gate; Plan C, was exiting through the entire house, which would have entailed wholesale shifting of indoor furniture,” recalls Stuart. Fortunately Plan B sufficed. “That was a relief and a lesson in humility and pride for an architect accustomed to precise measurement!”
Experience evokes industry insight
While something of a hobby project for Stuart’s church congregation and wider Kohimarama community, the outcome ensured some practical lessons along the way. “I learned how challenging it is to achieve perfect right angles everywhere, especially with a material like timber, which can warp and twist, never mind how good your tools are,” says Stuart. “While a bad workman may blame his tools, a skilled workman can accommodate the idiosyncrasies of natural building materials on uneven ground. In my daily life in architecture, this exercise has probably given me a much greater appreciation of the efforts of the builders we work with.’’
The now well-stocked Book Exchange, designed to complement Kohimarama Presbyterian Church’s community garden and other outreach initiatives, is proving to be a valuable touchpoint for the wider community.
A committed bookworm himself – Stuart has more design books stashed in Chow:Hill’s studios than anyone else - Stuart can reflect on a project that was never about perfection, but one done for the utmost pleasure to provide a valuable community touchpoint. “I think of it as a very large model kit, rather than a very tiny building,” he says.
Read more about Stuart’s personal commitment to community outreach as he shares his account of the 2019 Lifewise Big Sleepout.
August 19, 2021