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BreakFree on Cashel

The Story Behind the Design

The $30 million development offers a new breed of hotel for travellers to the garden city, and with 90 per cent of tourism activities back in operation after the canterbury earthquakes, the 263 room hotel fills a gap in the market for the modern traveller.

BreakFree on Cashel is a welcome sight on the Christchurch skyline following an extensive refurbishment and structural upgrade. The $30 million development offers a new breed of hotel for travellers to the Garden City, and with 90 per cent of tourism activities back in operation after the Canterbury earthquakes, the 263 room hotel fills a gap in the market for the modern traveller.

Behind the new two-toned fin screens lies the former Inland Revenue offices which prior to the Canterbury Earthquakes was transformed into Hotel So by local developer David Henderson. It was purchased by The Russell Property Group in early 2014 and they set about strengthening and refurbishing the hotel over the following 12 months. Is was opened in April 2015 as BreakFree on Cashel – part of the New Zealand hotel network of the Australian based accommodation provider Mantra Group.

Dalman Architects was engaged as architects and interior designers to create a new look both inside and out. Their first act was to modernise the front façade with a series of aluminium fins. Expressed vertically, these create an interesting pattern and give the building a stronger presence and modern look. This is an important consideration as the building will sit alongside a very large new glass building and the largely monolithic in appearance fin cladding will help the hotel to “hold its own” in this new streetscape. When seen from an oblique view the fin “wall” appears solid, but as pedestrians walk along the street they look through the fins and see the original building with its white painted GRC panels revealed. Walking from west to east the building changes in colour from yellow to orange, as the fins have a different colour on each side.

The retention of some original building elements not only connects to what was on the site before, telling a story about the history of the building, but is also a cost-effective way to create a new contemporary look with much of the existing fabric remaining the same.

Michael Moret-Lalli, Director of Acquisitions for Mantra Group says “We are excited to be involved with the reintroduction of one of the Pacific's most architecturally unique hotels. “The contrast between space, light and technology has been carefully engineered by Dalman Architecture to rebirth one of Christchurch's most well-known hotels.  Additionally the architects have displayed their understanding of the need to blend form with function by delivering a well-conceived back of house plan that maximises operating efficiencies,”

Moret-Lalli adds “Christchurch CBD continues to enjoy a strong return of business from both corporate and leisure sources with BreakFree on Cashel performing strongly since opening. The hotel will certainly be an important element in the rejuvenation of the city.”

To enhance the sense of arrival, the low height entrance was visually opened up to two storeys, with the construction of a Corten clad “portal”. Under this on the ground floor a new wind lobby and glazed doors open the interior up to the street to attract not only house guests but the public, critical for the success of food and beverage in modern hotels.

The wind lobby incorporates a ceiling that changes colours, a nod to the multi-coloured perspex boxes that featured on the old Hotel So façade. To continue the glowing light theme, two long glowing white counters – one for the bar and one for reception – are a feature of the space drawing people in.

Above the entry and within the new Corten portal, a new balcony has been cantilevered out from the first floor function room. This provides a canopy for pedestrians and activates the street with conference goers popping out to view the street activities.

The entrance has been repositioned to the centre of the façade to open into a large lobby that serves as reception, lounge, bar and restaurant all in one. This is a space where guests can connect with colleagues and friends as well as IT devices. Dalman Architects Managing Director Richard Dalman says “This new “blended” lobby follows similar trends from overseas, and provides a bar and cafe, relaxed spaces for coffee meetings, free Wi-Fi and more intimate spots for individual work while making guests feel part of the hotel’s vibrancy.”

Dalman adds “The investment to develop lobbies into multi-functional spaces with accessible technology can be commercially astute as it reduces the overall amount of space required and therefore capital costs. It also enhances revenue streams – not only from food and beverage spend but from room revenues because modern travellers like to stay in vibrant hotels where they feel comfortable to socialise, work or just hang out.”

A series of full height in-situ concrete shear walls designed by Ashley Wilson from Lewis Bradford Engineers, were constructed to achieve the A-grade structural rating required in post-earthquake Christchurch. Consequently a continuous look was achieved up the western and eastern exterior of the building with a formwork pattern and texture cast into the concrete. 

The concrete surfaces were continued inside the hotel where they have been exposed in the lobby. The raw concrete shear walls and Corten steel has driven the use of ‘raw’ materials that also includes metal, demolition timber, new timber and wool carpet. Sculpture metal artwork from a local artist Jane Downes is featured.

The recycled interior timber has been salvaged from Christchurch buildings that have been demolished as a result of the earthquakes, as well as some timber from the old stands at Lancaster Park. This not only provides an interesting texture and colour to the space, but also links the hotel to its place in time. Dalman says “In creating a successful hotel the essence of the place has to be understood with the architecture responding to this, resulting in a building that is authentic to its location.”

Russell Property Group Owner and Managing Director Brett Russell says “We wanted a building that would stand out even after the development of the area is complete. It also needed to meet a budget that allowed for the extensive seismic work to be done and the returns on our investment to be maintained. The overall design with its textures and colours both inside and out have lifted the presence of the hotel from its previous budget persona to be a hotel of modern class yet still highly affordable. “

Dominion Constructors were engaged to undertake all the structural and fit-out works. Brett Russell says “This has certainly been a challenging project but the experience of both architect and builder, collaborating to achieve our vision, has assisted in making the transition of this hotel a successful one.”

The last word goes to Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism CEO Tim Hunter who says “The BreakFree on Cashel is a very pleasant break from the norm in hotel design. The mix of materials, unabashed use of colour and chic furniture makes it feel like you’re in the newest pad on the block. This hotel is a class act with a striking new external façade in a very handy inner city location. Dalman Architecture Richard Dalman is one of New Zealand’s premier hotel architect and interior design companies.  They have achieved an outstanding result that will entice tourists to stay in the heart of the city.”