Monday, 13 August 2007

Local architecture awards

Five houses were selected as finalists in the Home & Entertaining magazine's House of the Year competition, and I confess that to me they all appear to come from the same design brochure, and I find it difficult to care about the few small differences between them. They're mostly either derivative of something better, or just another variant on a box.

Each time I open a local architecture magazine I'm hoping that this time there'll be something there to inspire me. Sadly, perusing this list of finalists, I'm once again disappointed. It seems to me that nearly Identikit decorated boxes are still the name of the game with local magazine architecture, but clearly not everyone agrees with me.

Architecture lecturer Bill McKay for example is quoted in the Herald's story of the awards suggesting the awards signal "a dramatic shift" from "big, brassy and glossy" to something different, whatever that might be. The winner for instance, says McKay, represents "a shift from big flat-roof, glass boxes" to something more "private." Judge for yourself. It looks to me like a big flat-roof, timber box. If you think that's a big shift, then I have a bridge I can sell you.

Here's the winner:It's a house on a Westmere sea cliff by Stevens Lawson Architects. The judge's declared it "a contrast" to new homes of recent years. Well, it does have round corners and vertical shiplap timber cladding, but in all other respects it seems to me it's the same old box seen around these parts for years, or if you look at that plan to the left, a series of boxes.

Here's the other four finalists:

Lance & Nicola Herbst: bach on Great Barrier Island.

Pete Bossley: Westmere house.

Christopher Kelly: Wairarapa house. (Perhaps any awards here should go to Louis Kahn, whose Kimbell Art Museum seems to have been on someone's mind?)

Max Wild: Arrowtown house--for which I can't find a link. Please feel free to let me know if one's available. In the meantime, here's a quite charming recent story about Max and his work [pdf].


  1. "Five houses were selected as finalists in the Home & Entertaining magazine's House of the Year competition, and I confess that to me they all appear to come from the same design brochure, and I find it difficult to care about the few small differences between them."

    Yes, I heartily agree. Those trifling matters of materiality, massing, and sympathy with site should be ignored as mere bagatelles! Where's a good Bruce Goff-looking masterpiece when you need it, eh?


  2. boring!

    like an award-winning bunch of hoppy pale ales...

    How about giving us a buch of alternatives? The "Not PC Architecture Awards".

  3. Sorry, Den, are you saying that all or any of these five exhibit the qualities of "materiality, massing, and sympathy with site"?

    Or are you just being snotty?

  4. PC: It's Monday, so obviously I am being snotty to some extent. However, it rankles that someone from within the profession would try and convince an essentially lay audience that there are only a few small insignificant differences between these houses.

    How does a building not demonstrate the quality of 'materiality'? Do all the featured houses have the same quality of materiality? What is the effect of the differences in chosen materials?

    Is the massing of the forms similar? Does the rectilinear nature of three of them have bearing on how the massing is read? If not, why not?

    Do the building forms appear to relate to the site? Does their relation or lack of relation to the site have a bearing on how we read the house as a product of it's environment?

    Etcetera ad nauseam. There is plenty to say about the architecture if you dip deep enough, but it tends to only be the experts/enthusiasts that bother. I thought you were in that subset!


  5. Den, all the houses pictured here are either so unutterably banal or derivative that analysis to the extent you're after would be insulting.

    But you go right ahead if you think there's anything either original or unique or worthy of an award about any of them.

    To use Stu's metaphor, if this was a beer award then these are all either Steinlager or Otahuhu-produced Heineken.

  6. I very much like Stu's suggestion though. You should show us what constitutes a fine, lovingly-crafted Trappist beer in your esteem!

    This is not intended as inflammatory (although I disagree entirely that the houses shown are banal or more importantly entirely similar as you maintain) - I think it would be great to feature what you think has been the cream of this year's residential crop. Even one house that demonstrates what what constitutes great architecture for you.

    That informs the debate far more colourfully than boring back-and-forth about what is or isn't good about these particular houses.


  7. They all look the same to me - if only on a superficial level, but even at a superficial level, exciting architecture should be somehow... different. Otherwise, it just looks like following a trend rather than starting one.


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