Pacific Environments


Warkworth based architect Grant Neill has witnessed some huge changes on the Matakana coast since setting up his business 25 years ago, but he says the biggest shifts in building design have been steps in the right direction.

There’s obviously some trepidation around the rapid growth predicted for Warkworth, particularly for Grant, who, as a qualified architect and urban designer, realises the importance of high level planning for the overall impact.

When Grant first came to the area Matakana sported a gas station, a sawmill and not much else. Homes for another 20,000 people in Warkworth over the next thirty years will undoubtedly present challenges, but Grant says people are much more design savvy these days.

“There has been a huge shift towards sustainable design in houses. Clients are thinking about natural light, energy saving technology and solar power is far more mainstream,” Grant says.

He joined forces with Auckland based firm Pacific Environments (PE) almost five years ago. Since then he has been involved in some very cool projects. ‘Cool’ is not often a word bandied about in architectural circles, but the company designed the tiny house for the Mitre 10 Tiny House television programme, filmed in Raglan. In fact Mangawhai was just pipped at the post as the preferred location.

“We have such beautiful environments and landscapes across this area that a tiny house is the ideal way of enjoying it without having a large impact. They’re perfect for weekend getaways, and being transportable, they alleviate logistical problems, which opens up more inaccessible locations like Kawau island.”

The whole concept of transportable housing has become a bit of a global phenomenon recently. With first time buyers struggling to get on the ladder, tiny houses could be the way of our future. It evokes a lesson from the humble Hermit Crab, take your home with you and expand only when you absolutely need to. Grant says the obvious design challenge is to make use of absolutely every available space; he draws parallels with boat design. He is also quick to add a cautionary note about consents and building regulations for those thinking of embarking on the tiny house journey.

After so many years behind the ‘drawing board’ (in reality a 3D digital model on a computer) it’s a wonder that Grant still has so much enthusiasm for the job, but it’s the transient and diverse nature of the role that maintains his passion. He has designed everything from elite beachfront pads at Omaha, to care facilities for seniors. The company was also involved in an international competition to design a living environment for a person with autism. They came up with a clever design based on sustainable modules that are attached to the main family house and then move with the child as they get older, allowing them to move on in life but still be connected to the personal space they grew up with. Grant realises the power that a well-designed and built environment has to enhance a person’s emotional wellbeing.

“Delivering a building that satisfies a person's needs, delights and often surprises them is what it’s all about. On-going feedback over the years has enabled me to tweak and improve designs.”

He is also justifiably proud of the group’s design for the Housing New Zealand Luke Street emergency housing village. Over 40 ‘pop-up’ homes were designed and built to house homeless families in South Auckland.

“The social agencies took families off the streets, out of cars and away from damp and unhealthy homes. We were told children with a history of hospitalisation because of breathing difficulties were fit and healthy within three weeks of moving into one of the new warm and dry homes. That gives me a real sense of achievement and it’s hugely rewarding.”