Friday, November 02, 2012

BIG HOUSE small house - launched by noted architect Julie Stout

Julie Stout's launch address:
As an architect, I must admit to days of feeling caught between economic black holes, a mountain of regulations, a stream of professional development obligations demanding we must know more about…everything, and clients who can’t believe it costs “How much?!”. There are dark days when you can’t help but believe that architecture’s craft is threatened. That good architects are heading the way of the Swiss watch makers; smart, well-dressed but increasingly squeezed out by the larger forces at work.
However  I read this book …. and I feel optimistic again!
This book is a portrait of the blessed.

Firstly what hits you are the spell-binding images of the country. No wonder holiday homes feature so strongly. From the mercurial seascapes of Northland, the pohutukawa swing on the Coromandel, the red pointillism of Hawkes Bay apple orchards, the spume swept roughness of Punakaiki to the magisterial Southern Alps, the landscape is the silent star of this book.

In Patrick’s eye the buildings and their settings are transformed, not merely recorded.
I asked David Mitchell, my resident Methusla, “What did architects do before Patrick?”
“We took our own photos” he replied,” or if it was a big job there was always Sparrow Industrial Photography”
I can’t see Mr Sparrow taking these pictures.
I know a scheduled visit from Patrick (right) strikes terror in most. The messiness of daily life that an architect has to accept, nay, nourish, in a house has to be purged out of sight only for Patrick to arrive, comment on your paintings, put half your furniture out the door, frown and mutter, “Well we will see what we can do.” like some psycho-spatial plastic surgeon.
But ladies, it is all worth while.  You will never look so good.
In a book that has a staggering number of good recent work, (60 buildings!) Patrick manages to portray the individual character of each project and its place. He gives dignity to the everyday and a wealth of complexity is relieved along the way with simple plays of light and dark and detail; a deckchair in the snow, a plane overhead. I am particularly beguiled by the double page portrait of Bergendy Cooke’s house on p 143, subtly different to the one on the cover. The brooding brown  presence of the house nearly full frame, the monochromatic mountains with their wintery windswept streaks of snow , the bare trees,  the bleak composition counter pointed by a golden square of light in one corner, a glowing Chinese lantern in the dark centre and a pale yellow ball left out in the cold.

On explaining the challenge of architectural photography in New New Zealand Houses Patrick summed it up thus;
“half-showing/half-hiding the object, struggling to make hard matter sing, wrestling with the medium to make something interesting, something beautiful, perhaps even truthful, go on in that little place in the dark.”
And that is what Patrick does so brilliantly, he captures that something – with all the nuances of light time and serendipity - that escapes the rest of us amateurs.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just another picture book! No no no. Have a good look through it first to satiate the eyes then sit back and READ it.
John Walsh (right) is not an architect- John Walsh is a writer.
He sets out in his foreword.  “Some dwellings were designed by big practises which employ dozens of architects and others by small firms whose principals spend their working day with only the cat for company.”
I found myself laughing out loud at the little riffs John would get into at the beginning of his accompanying essays; the link between black boxes and Nubian cattle herders, the sartorial habits of architects, flying into Wellington.
He is on his own journey with architecture literature and he is taking us along too. Alberti’s sage advice from the 1400’s “ Do everything possible to obtain commissions only from the most important people, who are generous and true lovers of the art”  is woven into the story of the serenely simple Waipatiki Beach House, Hawkes Bay.
And John has made sure he is in good company. To round out the delights of this book, he has along top writers from academia – Andrew Barrie, Bill McKay, Tommy Honey, Tony van Raat, Sam Eichblatt, Min Hall, Michael Barrett, and the consistently good architectural commentator Jeremy Hansen, who each bring a fresh insight to their project.

Houses are only extensions of people. They are nothing in them selves” wrote my particular favourite writer, Robert Woods-Kennedy in 1953. And so it is to the people involved in the contents of this book that we turn.
I quote again from Woods-Kennedy
“Because the upper-middle class is the only group which build large numbers of houses, it is obvious that modernists must be upper-middle class. And this leads to a view of that group as split- as containing a large conservative sub-group, and a small INNOVATING sub-group. The upper middle class family in the innovating sub-group is responsible for most of the progress in architecture” It forces the expression of new patterns of living, and of new technical advantage. It is the fashion of architects to conceive of themselves as leaders in this respect. But an honest examination of their role would seem to place them in the category of a partner in a team composed of client and architect. Where fine architecture is the goal, the client is exactly as important to the result as is the architect.” 
No pressure. So thank you for playing your part in advancing modern civilisation.
In the land of the blessed, I am heartened to see that in the main, people (that’s you clients & architects ) are striving to live in some harmony with the land as borne out in this book. The majority of the houses in this book are still very much landscape orientated, be it beach side or in sub-urban arcadia.
In his foreword, John Walsh discusses the architectural shifts from 5 years ago with its predecessor New New Zealand Houses and I look forward to a future volume displaying more urban residential architecture and innovative technology as we start to tackle the challenges of urban density and sustainability.
But for the moment- we are still able to bask in arcadia
And this book is a great record of this slice of time we all share.
I heartily commend Random House for continuing to publish these books and am delighted to see the publishing collaboration with the Architectural Publications Trust, of whom I was an inaugural member.
Big House, small house is first rate book
I would like to declare this book OPEN!

Coxs Bay House
Architect: Jeanette Budgett
Photo credit: Patrick Reynolds

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