Places where memories are made: Re-imagining the DOC Hut

February 27, 2023
DOC (Department of Conservation) Huts are much loved icons on New Zealand’s national heritage. For over 100 years, the huts have exemplified the lore embedded in our beloved ‘tramping’ culture. And because DOC huts are always open and accessible to everyone, they become places of connection and self-reflection. Places where memories are made and simple pleasures savored.

So when the Department of Conservation (DOC) were seeking proposals for the re-design of the Oturere Hut located in Tongariro National Park – New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage area, as a practice we jumped at the challenge!

Principal and Wellington Head of Design Rodney Sampson says Warren and Mahoney saw the opportunity to celebrate creative culture, local identity and re-design an experience that captures the spirit of both its users and surroundings.

“The opportunity to reimagine such a foundational part of our local and international identity is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the project was naturally aligned with the three strands that form our creative foundation - sustainability, culture and innovation.

“Seeking collaboration and creative excellence, we started the process with an open call to our studios across the practice to enter an internal competition for the re-design of the Oturere Hut. We briefed our designers with the task of re-imagining what a highly sustainabile wilderness hut that celebrates Aotearoa’s identity could look like.”

Running an internal competition for the project meant employees at all levels could deliver a design response that drew on all possible strengths from right across the business.

The final proposal combined three finalist concepts into one submission, comprising ‘Taputapu’ designed by Fiona Short and Fritha Powell; ‘The Bivvy’ designed by Joseph Hampton, Sam Rollinson and Peter Dick; and ‘The Loop’ designed by Emily Dalley and Ariana Faulkner.

“Embedding itself into the landscape, not above it, the design concept for Oturere Hut ruptures within the ground surface connecting visitors to the warmth of the underground fire, a place that protects, and welcomes.

Representing the familiar traditional bivouac, the form pays the ultimate respect to the pure conical form of Mt Ngauruhoe, the mountain it sits directly beneath. The radiating glow of light draws and invites trampers into their wilderness refuge.”

Rodney says the process was a true representation of the breadth of talent across the practice, and provided an opportunity for skill sharing which he looks forward to replicating.

“There was a true sense of pride around this piece of work which spotlighted an array of exceptional design skills and aligned directly with our values at Warren and Mahoney.

“It was a unique opportunity to conceptualise a beautiful structure that is accessible to a hugely diverse group of New Zealanders – it’s a stunning and democratic design.”