26 April 2016

Innovative design and visionary partners.

It’s all about people – and the designers of the visionary New Zealand International Convention Centre in Auckland have placed people at the heart of their mission. The innovative design has harnessed smart technology and thinking to focus on how best to make the NZICC not just a convention centre, but an experience.

But first, a few facts might help you realise the scale of the building. Designed by Warren and Mahoney, with support from Woods Bagot and Moller Architects, the 32,500sqm centre will be capable of hosting conferences for 3,150 and one-off events for 4,000 – that’s plenty of room for those large-scale integrated international conferences. In fact, it’s so big you can drive B-Train trucks straight on to the exhibition floor to deliver goods.

One of the hallmarks of the NZICC is its flexibility and adaptability, the 8100sqm exhibition space can be divided up into three column-free spaces so a number of gatherings of varying size can be held simultaneously. There will be 2,700sqm of configurable meeting spaces for a range of pre and post-function events and a plenary theatre which seats 2,850 people. That too can be divided into two theatres for 1,200 people, each with its own stage area.

Innovation has also been woven into the very fabric of the building – before the laying of a single brick. The project team has focused on making the NZICC an accessible, open, people-friendly space for all, including the increasing number of people worldwide who suffer from sort of impairment.

Barrier Free New Zealand Trust is a charitable trust that was set up in 1993, with the mission to influence the creation of built environments that are usable and universally accessible.

Barrier Free NZ Trust Technical Manager, Jason Strawbridge, is full of praise for the design team.

The first thing they’ve done right is to design a building around people. Which is a thing many designers don't seem to do. Sometimes the best thing in a building is just getting the basics right. The NZICC has got the basics nailed so far, and it's going above and beyond in a lot of cases to meet its goal of providing the ultimate user experience,

he says.

The NZICC’s approach of early engagement with us, along with continued collaboration as the design develops means they are on track to achieving a welcoming building that is going to work for people.

One example is the proposed six to eight metre wide revolving doors in the main Hobson Street entrance. Not easy to negotiate for many people, but especially so for those with impairments. But new technology has advanced a lot over the past years and made advances in terms of accessibility, usability and safety of these doors, and Barrier Free was able to test out the technology, enabling them to make suggestions and iron out any problems.

The revolving door they’re proposing for the Convention Centre has different operational modes and can actually cease revolving to function as a standard automatic sliding door, or be set to slow down when people are in it.

Once through the revolving doors, customers will be greeted by a beautiful natural light-filled space. The highly-glazed facade is designed to be transparent, with views across the harbour, so the inside can see out and the outside can see in – making it very much a part of the city of Auckland and its fabric.

Keeping people well once they’re inside the building is paramount to making the NZICC a unique experience. Sherryn Macdonald is a principal of Experience Place, a boutique consultancy that specialises in creating an experience in spaces. Rather than start with a building – as you’d expect – Macdonald starts with people who will use it.

Architects Warren & Mahoney brought her into the NZICC project early on, and Macdonald and her team asked professional conference organisers, delegates, audio-visual producers, caterers and members of the Auckland public, what they looked for in a building, what would make it a good experience for them.

Macdonald says it’s particularly important in the case of international visitors – what would make them fly halfway across the world when they could just catch the speakers on the internet?

As the project moves through various stages, from construction to fit-out and then operation, the principles established by those very early interviews will continue to guide the project, helping to determine things as varied as the variety of food-and-beverage options to a lighting system that mimics daylight as closely as possible so that delegates need never feel fatigued by too-bright fluorescent lighting.

As far as Macdonald is aware, no convention centre anywhere in the world has ever conducted this extensive kind of research, and none of them have focused on the experience of the end users.

NZICC General Manager Callum Mallett says,

The whole focus of the NZICC is to deliver an outstanding end to end experience for our customer. Our core principle is ‘our customer is our compass’ and this inclusive design process really will help us realise this vision.

This connection to people also extends to the NZICC’s physical position – it is connected to the heart of Auckland. An adjacent public laneway with retail, food and beverage outlets will allow international guests and Aucklanders to mingle. The NZICC itself will adjoin the new 5-star Hobson Street hotel.

Unlike many convention centres, the NZICC is within walking distance of 4,500 hotel rooms of more than four stars, as well as Auckland’s stunning waterfront, galleries, restaurants, bars and shops, and a wide variety of off-site attractions and activities.

So how do you help visualise the NZICC design and showcase it to the world? The NZICC team turned to some of New Zealand’s best and brightest – in this case, a small Auckland-based 3D visualisation company.

Buildmedia created an interactive platform to showcase the NZICC development. The result is an extraordinarily detailed presentation displayed on a large touch screen, embedded in a table of aluminium, glass and Corian. It allows prospective customers to truly experience the NZICC by looking down, onto and into each of the 3D floor plates.

Buildmedia Creative Director, Gareth Ross, says, “The aim was to allow customers to experience the sheer scale, innovation, flexibility and configurability of the NZICC building’s design, while keeping it transportable and foolproof.

It was a massive challenge for our team but it’s been one of the most ground-breaking projects we’ve completed to date. We’re really proud of what has been achieved. It’s an awesome way to present a complex design,

says Mr Ross.

Buildmedia has developed a truly immersive solution for taking the NZICC story to the world. It has been very well received by the industry, it was a challenging brief but the touch table really supports the NZICC’s approach of being innovative, bespoke and digitally-advanced. Being mobile, the technology also allows us to go to our customers, rather than them having to come to us,

The touch table installation was unveiled at the Asia-Pacific Incentives and Meetings Expo (AIME) in Melbourne, in February and it was again on display in April at the Worldwide Exhibition for Incentive Travel, Meetings and Events (IMEX) in Frankfurt.