Kōrero: Domestic architecture

Whārangi 4. Late modern domestic architecture

Ngā whakaahua

Christchurch school

National interest soon shifted from Auckland to Christchurch and to the work of a number of architects who together became known as the ‘Christchurch school’. First and foremost among them were Miles Warren, who was soon in partnership with Maurice Mahoney, and Peter Beaven. The houses – Warren’s were dubbed ‘pixie’ houses – were often broken down into two or three smaller pavilions. They featured pitched roofs, tightly cropped eaves and exposed concrete-block walling, sometimes in conjunction with concrete beams and lintels, and windows and doors terminating at eaves level. Internally, exposed timber roof structures were stained dark, contrasting with clear-finished timber sarking and some brickwork and/or clay tiles.

Examples include Warren and Mahoney’s M. B. Warren House in Fendalton (1960) and the Broderick Townhouses in Merivale (1961–64). Beaven was adept at developing this language into medium-density housing schemes, notably Tonbridge Mews in Merivale, Christchurch (1971–74), and the Habitat complex in Thorndon, Wellington (1971–76). McCoy and Wixon produced related work in and around Dunedin.

Wellington dissidents

Next it was Wellington’s turn to dominate New Zealand domestic architecture. Ian Athfield and Roger Walker gave the country what architectural historian Russell Walden described as a ‘healthy and personalized kick in the pants’.1 Early buildings by both architects attracted nicknames like ‘Disneyland’ and ‘Noddy houses’. They were immediately distinctive, dispensing with the open planning of post-war modern homes, reintroducing multiple small spaces and then giving architectural expression not simply to different functional zones, such as public and private, but seemingly to every room, space or volume. Athfield’s own house, designed and built from 1965, is the best known of these, although it has been transformed by later additions.

A big house

The architectural critic David Mitchell described Roger Walker’s Park Mews as ‘a pop assemblage of Colonial peaks and Walker circles … the last thing Walker would let any building of his design say is “this is a block of flats” … so Park Mews looks like a large Walker house.’2

Others include Athfield’s McIntyre House in Plimmerton (1969–72), Logan House, Eastbourne (1974–78), and Cox House, Horokiwi (1975–77), as well as Walker’s Britten House in Karaka Bay (1974). Both architects also pursued opportunities for medium-density housing, with Athfield producing Pearce Apartments in Mt Victoria (1968–80), for example, and Walker designing Park Mews in Hataitai (1974).

New Romantics

A 1972 exhibition at the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt presented the work of Beaven, Athfield, Walker, John Scott and Claude Megson under the banner New Romantics. Common attributes included the use of picturesque massing and asymmetry, but there were also differences in the work of the five architects.

John Scott, of both Māori and Pākehā descent, is said to have drawn from both the whare and the woolshed in his architecture. He was also interested in geometry and luminosity. Diagonal circulation routes are recurrent in his houses, the best of which include the first Patterson House, known as The Brow, at Waipukurau (1966–67), the Martin House at Bridge Pā (1968–69) and Ngamatea Homestead in the Kaweka Range (1981–84).

Creative connection

As artists themselves, potters Bruce and Estelle Martin felt they should allow another artist, architect John Scott, to have free creative reign over their house design. This was music to Scott’s ears. He accepted the commission and began visiting the Martins at their home to see how they lived, discussing plans and ideas. As Bruce recalls, John ‘educated us really, so we stopped thinking of a house as a kind of box-like thing and came to understand open planning.’3

Like Athfield and Walker, Claude Megson broke his houses down into their smallest constituent parts and gave architectural expression to each, often with mezzanines allowing interpenetration across different floor levels. The best-known example of his work is the (later altered) Wong House in Remuera, Auckland (1965–67).

Auckland paragons

Two more of the country’s best houses of this period are in Auckland: the Mike Austin-designed Chapple House at Milford on the North Shore (1966–68) and the Ron Sang-designed Brake House at Titirangi (1977). The Chapple House appears as a collection of small shed-like pavilions stranded on rocks, with the sea lapping at their foundations, while the Brake House – for photographer Brian Brake – rejects the new romantic approach and is comparatively austere, floating in bush and demonstrating the architect’s and client’s shared interest in Asian cultures (it includes a Japanese tatami room).

Kupu tāpiri
  1. Russell Walden, ‘The rise of the personal in New Zealand architecture: complexity and contradiction in Athfield, Walker and others.’ New Zealand Architect 4 (1981), p. 30. Back
  2. David Mitchell and Gillian Chapman, The elegant shed: New Zealand architecture since 1945. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1984, p. 70. Back
  3. Peter Shaw, ‘A shared aesthetic.’ Home and Entertaining, December 2003/January 2004, p. 62. Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Julia Gatley, 'Domestic architecture - Late modern domestic architecture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/domestic-architecture/page-4 (accessed 23 September 2019)

Story by Julia Gatley, published 22 Oct 2014