Damien van Brandenburg's Dunedin

After a decade away from Otago, I returned and set up Architecture van Brandenburg in Dunedin 13 years ago, along with my wife Ashleigh, and we also developed Object van Brandenburg here too. 

We find Dunedin is not too big that you get caught in big city issues, and not too small that you can't get the resources you need. From our Princes Street studio, we design buildings and homeware for customers all around the world. Prior to Covid, we would often travel to construction sites around the world, but now meetings and site inspections are all done through virtual reality.

Our designs are inspired and informed by nature to enrich our lives in build form and daily experiences. Our studio reflects the rich architectural heritage of the 1860s Otago gold rush. The exposed bluestone and brick walls are a contrasting backdrop to the contemporary architectural prototypes in our high tech studio. Ten minutes from our central city studio, we can hike or cycle in some of the most amazing picturesque scenery New Zealand has to offer.

Take a tour underground

110 Moray Place, Dunedin Central

Dunedin’s underground tunnel network was built in the 1860s for nefarious purposes. Some of these alleyways now give access to hidden gems such as bars, galleries and boutiques. Others are only accessible via a guided tour by Hair Raiser Tours. I’ve done a couple of different tours. They are sold as ghost walks or crime walks, but you do also really get a chance to appreciate the architecture and to get a completely different,  subterranean insight into the city.

A hidden alleway in Dunedin.

Wander the Warehouse Precinct

Vogel Street, Dunedin Central

The Warehouse Precinct, south of the Octagon and where our studio is, was originally at the shoreline. Boats would dispatch legitimate goods into the merchants above us, and our space down below was used to smuggle contraband like alcohol and opium.

Wandering through the Warehouse Precinct’s streets and alleyways reveals some incredible gems - art and architecture and boutique stores as well as street art and sculpture. Layers of history can be seen as our city has been formed. You can even pop in and have a look around our studio and our latest designs.

The tops of buildings inside the Warehouse Precinct.

Enjoy culinary art Moiety

42 Queens Gardens, Dunedin Central

It’s just two minutes down the road, but my wife always remarks when we’re eating in Moiety that we could be in New York, London or Paris. The calibre of fit-out is very high level and the food is mind blowing. The rustic bluestone brick and exposed steel interior is low lit for a moody atmosphere.

The degustation menu uses local produce and changes every week. I’m always amazed by the talent of the chefs to turn these fantastic ingredients into pieces of delicious art. I love that Moiety is walking distance from my studio.

A chef working in the kitchen at Moiety.

Discover Dunedin street art

Dunedin Central

Dunedin Street Art is a self guided tour that helps you discover a different perspective of the city. It’s a great way to look, and look again, at the art on the facades, as well as the other architectural features of the buildings. There is a printed and online guide available.

A silver bull painted on to a black wall.

Soak up the history at Queens Gardens

26/35 Queens Gardens, Dunedin Central

Standing in the centre of Queens Gardens and looking out at the surrounding buildings, is like a lesson in architectural history, covering Neoclassical, Neo Gothic, Victorian revival, Art Deco, Modernist, Neo Chinese Traditional and Modern architecture all in a 360 degree rotation from the Anzac Cenotaph. It was also the original landing site for Māori waka. We spend a lot of time walking through this garden with our dog, Lulu. From here, a stroll into ToiTu expands on Otepoti Dunedin history and the context in which it formed.

Looking towards buildings from Queens Gardens.

Spend a morning at the farmers' market

Dunedin Railway Station, Anzac Avenue, Dunedin

The Revived Flemish Renaissance style of Dunedin Railway Station makes a fine architectural backdrop for the Otago Farmers Market. I love the station for the detail of the facade, a mix of Dunedin’s dark basalt and white Oamaru Stone. The interior hall has an amazing, intricate mosaic on the floor.

The early crowd at the market is made up of those who know what they’re after - they’re in and out. By mid-morning, it’s more cruisy and people are hanging out and listening to the bands. I generally prefer the mid-morning atmosphere. We pick up our fresh produce and grab a freshly squeezed juice and crepes, which are awesome.

The crepes stand at Otago Farmers Market.

Replenish at Orokonui Ecosanctuary

600 Blueskin Road, Dunedin

Wandering through the protected coastal forest of Orokonui Ecosanctuary inspires my work. Leaf formation, unfurling ferns and trees that grow in a spiral, these structures inform our architectural and object designs. This is also a place to replenish your soul, connect with the earth and be reminded of our place and presence in an environment much older than we are. It’s a refreshing indication of how we need to be in the world.

The exterior of the Orokonui Ecosanctuary building.

Find the hidden Tunnel Beach

Tunnel Beach, Dunedin

South of St Clair beach, there is a hidden beach. The access is via a carved tunnel, which is said to have been created by John Cargill in the 1870s after his youngest daughter drowned here. There is also an architectural component created by nature, a spectacular and sculptural rock arch. The rocks are rich with patterns caused by erosion and the sea. We love wandering this part of the coast line, seeing people enjoying the natural setting and taking in the sculptural forms of nature.

People walking the track at Tunnel beach.

Admire the First Church Spire

415 Moray Place, Dunedin Central

The Neo-Gothic spire of the First Church of Otago is an architectural feature of Dunedin’s skyline at 65 meters, that can be seen from various vantage points around the city. It’s like a beacon for me, which I always take note of and admire in the way it changes when the sun strikes it and the weather changes. From some first perspectives, the spire seems to wisp into the sky and dissolve depending on the weather.

The First Church Spire in Dunedin central.

Eat mindfully at Catalyst Kitchen

286 Princes Street, Dunedin Central

Catalyst Kitchen is all about mindful eating and conscious consuming. This café backs onto our studio building and I love that I can start my day with breakfast at Catalyst and know I’m getting the right nutrients. I always go for the green bennie and the raw Snickers bar, which is like a chocolate bar but healthy.

I like to sit in the upper courtyard space that looks up to the innards of the buildings. You get glimpses through to High Street and to Princess Street. It’s cosy and protected with the blue sky above.

Food and coffee on a table at Catalyst.