Having sound architectural credentials is a given when you’ve been in business for 21 years. Interviewing the two partners at DCA Architects in Rotorua, I am on the hunt for the thing that sets them apart from their peers.

WORDS JENNY RUDD / PHOTOS TRACIE HEASMAN + GRAEME MURRAY

Darryl Church founded DCA in his garage in Rotorua after a bit of encouragement from his wife 21 years ago. In 2016, Werner Naude, a South African with a German forename, a French surname, and a refined brain, joined Darryl as partner. The pair have great professional chemistry. They look at each other and listen carefully when the other speaks. Early in the interview, Darryl said, “I have practiced on my own, as well as in a group. And there is no doubt that having more minds on a job means you come up with a better solution for the client. Especially if you’ve selected those minds carefully from the outset.”

And that’s what sets DCA apart from their peers. They are expert problem solvers. And that enables them to outperform a brief given to them by a client.

Darryl explains, “We have six core values. These values were crystallised when we thought about how we work. By analysing our most successful projects, a pattern emerged. We now use those core values to guide our employment choices and the way we work, and that drives success for our clients.”

The six core values are: open ears and open minds, design is in our DNA, lifelong learners, quality relationships, we see things differently, and design for the future.

I ask for some examples of how their core values appear in their work. Werner gestures to the wall behind us, which is covered in technically brilliant photographs, a visual CV of recent work. There are some immediately recognisable buildings from the Bay: the Lakesyde Business Centre in Rotorua, the apartments under construction on Pilot Bay, Golden Sands Primary School Gymnasium, the Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology in Rotorua (in partnership with MOAA Architects in Hamilton), and some beautiful, luminescent cylinders of light amongst trees – the toilets in the Redwoods, Rotorua. It’s not often you are able to comment favourably on public loos. But it’s worth drinking plenty of water as you walk through the woods, so that you have good reason to check them out.

The Redwoods toilets, Rotorua

Darryl: ”Our client – Rotorua Lakes Council – was willing to take a design journey with us and rise above the mundane. It would have been far easier to build another concrete block of toilets. But as we went through the process, we could see a better outcome if we brought an artist on board. Our client was receptive to the idea. Collaborating with screen artist, Kereama Taepa, brought a special narrative to the project, which captures the spirit of The Redwoods Forest with the designs laser-cut onto the corten steel cylinders. The toilets are now a contemporary piece of art, sensitive to their environment and the people of Rotorua.”

The Redwoods toilets, Rotorua: artist Kereama Taepa’s designs glow from laser-cut steel shrouds

Toi Ohomai Centre of nursing, Health and Science, Rotorua

Werner: “Part of our brief for this project included a 200-seat, tiered lecture theatre and auditorium. During a full review of their facilities, we saw there were already two theatres like this, and they were already underutilised. We knew they were having art exhibitions that year, and fashion shows which would need a catwalk. So, we suggested a flat-floor space, which had much more flexibility, and could still be used as a lecture theatre. Similarly, we were briefed to provide six nursing wards for training purposes. Once we started researching, we realised that the health system is moving away from ward setups. We decided to pull back, not wanting to build something that would soon be outdated. We were able to buy back floor area to provide more space for socialising. Other than an old cafeteria, there was nowhere for students to stay on campus and hang out, socialise and study.”

Toi Ohomai Centre of Nursing, Health and Science, training space: modern, multi-functional, smart space, allowing students to socialise