Cheshire Architects: In pursuit of the extraordinary

From Standing Room Only, 1:47 pm on 26 October 2014

Nat Cheshire
Left: Nat Cheshire. Right: The Pavilions.

Arriving at Cheshire Architects, I step out into an awkward silence. The staff seated in a neat row of desks lining the middle of the room, stop and stare for a brief moment. Someone has arrived.

I feel  increasingly awkward as I scan the room in search of a  reception area, but nothing is to be found. “ You’re right in the thick of it and that’s intentional,” says Nat Cheshire,  co-director of Cheshire Architects along with his father Pip. “It’s not about the niceties of receptionists and PAs …the minute you’re here, you’re a kind of player in the studio,  you’re not an outsider to be serviced.“

Nat doesn’t take the responsibility of co-directing the business lightly. Established ten-and-a- half years ago  his father had been running a practice of 160. “It is on his shoulders that I stand; an incredible privilege and an empowered place to start from.” He adds that joining forces provides the necessary motivation to work harder and to achieve even greater things.  

Together, Nat and Pip direct a small team of 25, many of whom are straight out of architecture school. Their fresh eyes and perspectives are valued, alongside those who have honed their skills and plied their trade through decades of experience in the  industry. The creative brief expands well beyond  designing buildings alone; they have a vision that encompasses design in its totality; from industrial and interior design, through to creating websites, branding and even helping new restaurants to come up with a menu  that will help create an overall cohesion.

When getting down to brass tacks, putting the needs of people first is imperative and this applies not just to their clients, but also the needs of the people who will inhabit the space. As far as Nat is concerned, they want to help bring people’s ideas to life and that must also fit within the constraints of their budget. No project is ever too big or too small for them, but the key is creative collaboration rather than dictating and pushing their own aesthetic.

“We don’t get out of bed in the morning to generate profit so that we can retire when we’re 50. This is about changing the world, so we don’t do projects that don’t have really intense creative potential.”  


In running a small team, Pip and Nat can hand-pick their talent. Dajiang (Dj) Tai, who won Emerging Design Professional at the Interior Awards, (2014) has been with Cheshire Architects since graduating seven years ago, and Nat readily praises both DJ’s creativity and his work ethic. “ He has developed a way of working  and a kind of ideology that is beautiful and beautifully rare….achieving astonishing things by any means necessary.” 

It is clear when speaking to DJ that he is passionate and committed to his work. He dedicates twelve hour days to this profession that he loves, reinforcing that working at Cheshire Architects and heading home at the end of the day is like living between two worlds. During any spare time he squeezes in other creative projects, one being a beautifully collated bi-lingual zine which showcases his diversity as an artist. And when asked why he chooses to add more work to his already full load, “It helps me to expand my mind,” he says.

Born in Liaoning Province in Mainland China,  DJ arrived in New Zealand at the age of 15 and immediately fell in love. But despite being a Kiwi, DJ is convinced  he is more Chinese than ever before, and his cultural background filter through into his visual aesthetic.  

Watercolour concept  image by DJ Tai.

Within his design process DJ chooses the use of watercolour over computer-generated designs.

“Watercolour is a way for me to communicate. English is my second language and drawing and architecture is like another language; it’s very direct. I don’t just draw the architecture itself, there are plants, humans, [and] particular gestures of the human figure that communicates something else.”  

The Chinese strongly believe in the melding of poetry, writing and art, and DJ says that above all else he hopes to become a “poet” one day through his architecture and design; art being his way to communicate with the world.

Images Courtesy of Cheshire Architects (Auckland)

Dajiang Dj Tai
Watercolour concept  images by DJ Tai.