Life in the Antipodes

A conversation with Kate Pleban and Guy Hohmann, Associates from our Melbourne and Auckland studios.

What prompted the establishment of studios in Melbourne and Auckland?

Kate: Both Guy and I began working at Maynard in London. Guy was a key member of the Crossrail architectural components team, and I worked on a number of wayfinding projects focusing on the transport and public realm sectors. Six months after I returned to Melbourne, Julian contacted me with a proposition; an opportunity had come up to join a consortium putting together a bid for the Melbourne Metro project, and he wondered whether I’d be interested. That was the beginning. Julian had always had a soft spot for Australia, particularly after he’d spent a period of time in Sydney working with Transport for New South Wales in 2012. Something about the warm weather and beautiful beaches had him wanting more.

Guy: Having moved from Auckland to work for Maynard in London, I had always kept an eye on what was happening ‘back home’. In the years between 2011, when I left, and 2016, when we made the decision to open the new studio, Auckland’s urban realm had blossomed under the stewardship of enlightened council design teams and development agencies. The public transport system has improved, and serious infrastructure upgrades have been planned to cope with demand. The time was right to make Maynard part of the vibrant design community in Auckland, as the type of work going on in the built environment was something we felt we could make a genuinely useful contribution to.

How has the Maynard team grown and evolved since then?

Kate: Throughout the entire Melbourne Metro bid process, we had our heads down. There was little time to think about the growth of the studio beyond the confines of the bid. After we found out that our team had won the Melbourne Metro project, everything started to feel a bit more real. We suddenly won a few more projects in quick succession, and so we had to build the team. Getting Finn Butler on board as director was fundamental to the smooth and sustainable growth of Maynard in Melbourne and our expansion to Sydney. In just two years, the team “down under” has grown steadily from just Guy and I to the establishment of three new studios.

Can you talk about the expertise Maynard brings to Australia and New Zealand?

Kate: Both Melbourne and Sydney are currently investing in major transport and infrastructure projects. The Metro project is Melbourne’s first major investment in rail infrastructure capacity since the City Loop was completed 33 years ago. Maynard’s experience in delivering large-scale transport infrastructure projects across the UK, including Crossrail and London Bridge station, has put us in a great position to utilise our long established skills and expertise, share our knowledge and really add value to these projects.

Guy: The situation in Auckland is very similar. The city has grand plans for expanding their rail network. In addition to our transport expertise, clients are coming to us to draw on our knowledge of wayfinding in the public realm. An aspect that clients have responded well to is our experience in industrial design and manufacturing. I think Maynard is also a good cultural fit here. The DNA that Julian has developed in the company - that mix of creativity, high quality design thinking and no-nonsense engineering, making and getting things done - resonates with the Kiwi way of doing things.

Why is Melbourne/Auckland so exciting for you right now?

Kate: As a born and bred Melbournian, the chance to work on the city’s largest transport infrastructure project since 1985 is incredibly exciting. I have always felt that if we are to genuinely accept our claim as ‘the world’s most liveable city’, then something must be done to offer a realistic alternative to the car. Melbourne’s population is now forecast to double by 2050, so the necessity to fill the missing pieces in our transport system has never been more critical. Playing a part in the positive growth of my city is a privilege and something I can be proud of for the rest of my life.

Guy: The Te Reo Maori name for the Auckland region is Tamaki Makaurau, which can be translated as ‘The place desired by many’ or ‘The place of a hundred lovers’. It has always been blessed by natural resources – a volcanic isthmus stretched between two beautiful harbours, next to a glittering gulf filled with islands. Its city, though, has suffered from an image problem. It was seen for many years as little more than a commercial centre doing the banking for an agrarian nation. Now, it has hit its stride. Auckland has flourished over the last decade into a small but confident metropolis, with the willingness to tackle its structural problems and a population that knows how lucky they are to live here. The design community is enlightened and passionate about creating a built environment that reflects our unique Pacific context and rich indigenous heritage.

What about the Sydney/Melbourne rivalry?

Kate: (laughs) The Sydney/Melbourne rivalry is a bit of a joke really. Whilst the two cities are quite different in terms of their natural landscape setting, climate and sporting preferences, they are, in fact, similar in many ways. Both are experiencing substantial growth and development, which brings a similar buzz. It makes it hard to not want to be in both cities at once. Fortunately, we have the ability to work very closely with the Sydney studio, as the 1.5 hour commute utilising the world’s second busiest air route means that there is no shortage in flight options. Where Sydney may be lacking in street art and laneway, it gains in a solid programme of music, dance and theatre events throughout the year. Just don’t mention the coffee, because Melbourne will always come out on top!

Guy: They are both lovely cities, but if it’s a flat white you’re after, you want Auckland (or Wellington!).