2019 Melbourne Design Awards

spaces, objects, visual, graphic, digital & experience design, design champion, best studio & best start-up, plus over 40 specialist categories

accelerate transformation, celebrate courage, growing demand for design


Project Overview

Aroha Café and Bar is the first of three F&B tenancies designed for Emirates Leisure Retail as part of the upgrade of the international departure experience at Auckland International Airport. ‘Aroha’ means ‘love’ in Mãori and the name corresponds with the aim of the completed design, which is to provide a serene, relaxing space where passengers can unwind and recharge before their flight.

The design was developed by merging modern and urban elements with hints of land, sea and sky to create a 3D-experience. Key features in the concept includes abstract tree arches and portal finish of diagonally routed panelling, illustrating how something authentic, like a tree canopy, can be developed into an interior feature that is visually powerful and fits perfectly into the design in its entirety.

The blend of finishes – mesh, concrete texture and white penny mosaic tiles – were chosen to represent urban landscapes, these elements were juxtaposed with the rustic middle earth tiles and raw Glulam finish, resulting in an robust and striking combination. The diagonal routed panelling to the portal serves as a bridge between the two themes as given in the brief, where the diagonal relates to the urban, and the blue and green hues reference land, sea and sky. This contrastive merge resulted in an overall harmonious and beautiful space for travellers to enjoy.

Project Commissioner

Emirates Leisure Retail

Project Creator

Greater Group

Project Brief

The project brief was to create a fresh, modern and urban design that is compatible with the airport’s overall theme of land, sea and sky – a reference to New Zealand’s natural landscapes.

We had to create a presence in the 9-metre-high space, flanked with a full-height glazed curtain wall on the right of the tenancy. To accomplish this, a 6.3-metre-high portal clad in diagonal routed panels was included and finished in different hues of blue and green to allude to the sounds and bays surrounding Auckland and the rest of New Zealand. Extending out of the portal are timber arches, for which the design intent was to evoke the feeling of tree canopies found in the national parks around the country. The arches are a valuable asset in flawlessly connecting the various spaces. These features not only assist in demarcating zones for queuing and seating, but also serve as a visual separation between Aroha and the general food court, ensuring a seamless connection between these two areas.

Hugging the tree arches are two bespoke black lineal lighting beams that provide an area to place a plant canopy. The finished result is a stunning café and environment that persuades you to order another espresso martini even if it might make you miss your flight!

Project Need

An innovative aspect of this concept was the design and build of the tree arches, which were a labour of love due to restrictions on floor fixings and length of materials that were allowed to enter the facility. Consequently, this meant the large glulam beams and posts had to have a splice detail. This unique design formed the foundation of the overall structure that supports the feature canopy and all relevant services.

The black lineal light is a concealed structure that support the tree arches, resulting in a finish that creates the freestanding effect that the arches appear to be floating.

As discussed above, the tree arches proved to be a highly advantageous feature in ‘organising’ the space. The practical value in facilitating a smooth transition between the different zones of the space, combined with the fresh visual element it brings to the design, makes this feature a definite highlight of the design concept.

Design Challenge

Working in an airport environment, and the fact that there were no detailed building drawings, proved to be quite a challenge. The concept design was completed along with the structural design intent for the feature of the tree arches. However, this had to be checked out once building started and walls could be removed to confirm the existing base build structure that we could fix to.

We also had to create a real presence in the 6.3-metre-high space. To accommodate this feature, we had to ensure that the customer would only be able to see the blue diagonal cladding, thus keeping all services for the fully-functioning kitchen hidden inside of the portal. In turn, these kitchen features needed to be easily accessible by the airport maintenance staff.

Despite these challenges, the overall result is an attractive cafe with a seamless appearance, while the portal masks the service-related structures from the customers’ view.


At greater group, we deliver efficient design solutions that address operating costs and emissions. By providing solutions that re-use and re-program materials and spaces, we suggest design elements and specification options with the implicit intent of making stores greener. Our designers actively specify and look for products and fittings that promote energy saving and/or carbon reductions.

For Aroha Café & Bar we looked to spec all local materials and fixtures where possible. The stunning feature tiles on the bar and café counter are from a local tile supplier called Middle Earth. The timber frames, blue diagonal cladding and all joinery were made by a local builder, assisting in our mission of reducing our carbon footprint. By using locally sourced materials, international shipping and its environmentally hazardous effects are altogether cut out of the equation.

Open to all international projects this award celebrates innovative and creative building interiors, with consideration given to space creation and planning, furnishings, finishes, aesthetic presentation and functionality. Consideration also given to space allocation, traffic flow, building services, lighting, fixtures, flooring, colours, furnishings and surface finishes.  

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