Quail Island in Lyttelton Harbour could have a future as an MIQ facility, suggests architect Michael O’Sullivan. Åtamahua – a place to gather sea eggs – could once again be dotted with the white “eggs” of accommodation pods.
Architect Michael O’Sullivan suggests we take a cue from our own history to provide quarantine facilities for incoming travellers.
O’Sullivan says Quail Island in Lyttelton Harbour was used to quarantine people with leprosy more than a century ago, and is perfectly located to be an MIQ facility.
The architect, who has an office overlooking the harbour, has suggested with a prefabricated pod design that he says could provide suitable accommodation on the island for travellers. Made from TPO (thermoplastic overlay membrane with a plywood diaphragm), the pods would be lined with native timbers.
The pods would be environmentally and aesthetically responsive to the landscape – his design is not dissimilar to an egg, which references the Māori name for Quail Island, which is Ōtamahua, a place to gather sea eggs.
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The government has previously resisted suggestions that we should develop purpose-built MIQ facilities, including isolating people on military bases or other remote locations, in favour of using hotels.
Minister Chris Hipkins previously told Stuff that “all options” for MIQ facilities, had been looked at, including renting out unused resorts, taking over serviced apartments, building campus or barrack-type accommodation from scratch, and making use of thousands of camper vans.
But in O’Sullivan’s suggestion, unlike the spartan huts provided for quarantining on the island 115 years ago, each pod would provide sleeping accommodation with an ensuite bathroom. There would also be space for easy chairs, a writing station and a deck oriented to the sun and view. O’Sullivan has even included a big skylight so guests can see the stars going past at night.
“People landing in Christchurch could be transported to the island, processed in the existing administration building and taken to their cabin by covered quad bike,” O’Sullivan says. “Instead of being stuck in a hotel, they can be in this magical landscape, feeling a whole lot better about the experience. And we would be reigniting what was once a fantastic facility in this country.
“When people are in MIQ, we don’t want them to feel like they’re locked up or have done something wrong, which is how it feels at present. Most people I have asked about their experience said it was terrible. Instead, they can be celebrating the fact they are back home, resting in this fantastic landscape. They can enjoy two weeks of recalibration before they go back into society.
“They won’t need to go to a community area for exercise; they won’t need to go to a smoking area; and there won’t be that dodgy business of people trying to speak to them through a fence.”
O’Sullivan envisages the army providing the services, including administration, meals, security and health checks. “Everything associated with MIQ would still apply.”
“The pods can be prefabricated in Lyttelton – there is place here that can do this – and lifted onto the island by helicopter. They can be snaplocked onto timber foundations using the mechanism that secures containers onto a ship.”
The architect says the pods could collect rainwater, have their own energy-efficient solar system and eco toilets: “There would be no impact on the land. If needed, water could be delivered daily and waste removed.
“And the really fantastic thing is, the pods are beautiful, and they can be repurposed when the need for MIQ is gone. They could be transported easily to other places and provide additional accommodation in people’s backyards.”
O’Sullivan says he goes to the island “all the time” on his boat, and finds it a very special place.
And the cost? The architect says the pods could be fabricated, transported and installed in place for around $60,000.
“Our MIQ facilities aren’t looking any further than an immediate problem. But with only a bit more investment, and imagination, we could also be testing long-term solutions for a pre-fabricated construction industry, and alternative affordable housing options.”
O’Sullivan is no stranger to building huts on islands. Last year, he won an NZIA Small Project Architecture Award for Raoul Hut, a tiny stainless steel weather station on Raoul Island in the Kermadecs.
The architect has also won the NZIA’s prestigious Sir Ian Athfield Award for Housing twice. It was presented to O’Sullivan for Lyttelton projects.
The Spence family are desperate for family support to cope with their baby’s heart surgery. But there are no MIQ rooms. (First published on July 27, 2021)