Cedric Firth, perfectly preserved

One of the real gems in our upcoming issue is the Wellington home of architects Alistair Luke and Sharon Jansen and their two daughters. It was designed in 1958 by Cedric Firth and has remained blissfully untouched since. In fact, the previous owner only decided to sell the home to Alistair and Sharon because unlike many other potential buyers, they felt it should remain just as it is - which is to say, almost perfect.

Paul McCredie took these excellent photographs. In this one, the girls sit on the front deck:

Here's a view through the living room to the entry atrium and the stairs leading to the upper level. Note the beautiful built-in furniture, which includes a stereo connecting to built-in speakers in the living room, dining room and kitchen (yes, in 1958). The buddha head sculpture at right is by Miriam van Wezel.

This photo shows the view through the northwest-facing living room to the dining room.

And here's the entry atrium. The blue chair is by the Danish firm France and Daverkosen and was purchased for the home by its original owners. The artwork at far left is by John Pule, while the work further up the stairs is by Reihana MacDonald. The paper lamp is by Isamu Noguchi.

Cedric Firth was in partnership with Ernst Plischke from 1948-1958, but this house (which was originally commissioned by Ian and Gladys McKenzie) is attributed to Firth alone. We talked to Alistair Luke and asked him to contextualise Firth's work for us. Here's what he had to say:

HOME New Zealand: Who was Cedric Firth, and what makes him an important New Zealand architect?

Alistair Luke: Cedric Firth was an intellectual and socially minded architect, he was also a prolific writer. His primary cause was to deliver affordable architecture to all rather than an elite few. In 1947 he worked for the UN in their housing department. His importance in New Zealand architecture resides in his passion for the “International Style”, something he pursued throughout his career. This was a philoshopical cause rather than a fashionable affectation and he shared it with his practicing partner, from 1948 to 1958, Ernst Plischke. In many ways - though controversial at the time - Plischke Firth introduced New Zealand to this style and demonstrated how it could work within our context.

What are Firth's best-known buildings?

With Plischke, Firth worked on Massey House in Wellington's Lambton Quay and on St Mary’s Church in Taihape. Amongst others, his own projects include his own house, the Ward House, the Vance House and the McKenzie House. He also was the architect for the Memorial to Sir Peter Buck, Urenui. His master work is the Monro Building in Nelson.

He was dedicated to bringing some of the International Style to New Zealand – how well did that style fit the context of the New Zealand sites he worked on?

Firth was very much a contextual architect in that he designed houses and buildings that respond directly to their sites. The stylist overlay, which was an intellectual pursuit, advocated this and fit with his care for the fundamentals of orientation to sun, protection from wind, fit wth contour and the amenties of living. His (and Plischke's) houses contrasted dramatically with their neighbours but that was intentional.

Which parts of your house do you like best?

The serenity - we are surrounded by bush and our house extends well beyond it's physical boundaries with floor to ceiling glass. The built-in furniture is a joy too - very much a part of the philosophy of its style - it is extremely well designed and we have much more storage than we can usefully use.

What attracted you to your place in the first instance?
The spaciousness, the natural light and sun, the built-in cabinets and furniture, the bush setting... but mostly we straight away realised that it was a very clever design perfectly attuned to its setting and extremely cool to boot.

How difficult is it for two architects – in this case you and your partner, Sharon Jansen – to live in a house and not meddle with it?
Before we put in our purchase proposal we revisited the house several times and played around with the plans to see how it might be improved. We quickly realised that it was pretty well perfect just the way it is and that alterations and/or addditions would only be ruinous to its essential character. Living in it for the last four years has borne that out and neither of us is tempted to fiddle. We are instead content to restore its more tired aspects back to their original glory.

If you were to design your own home, what lessons would you take from this one?
Perversely, perhaps, we really enjoy the separation of the kitchen from the living and dining area. The kitchen has two built-in tables - one with a banquet seat, the other used to be for sewing (now used for the computer) - and so it functions like a family room as we can all comfortably, and often do, occupy it at the same time. The other feature we'd repeat (actually replicate in every detail) is the tiny TV room, separating that function from everything else. So, I guess, the big lesson would be that open plan living would no longer be the design route for us.

Worth seeing

On now at Auckland's Jensen Gallery is 'Naked', a show we highly recommend.
It features work by Marina Abramovic (her video, 'Nude with Skeleton' is in the image below, along with Winston Roeth's 'From this Moment on"), Tracey Emin, Jude Rae, Robert Mapplethorpe, Louise Bourgeois, Man Ray, and more. All of it a fascinating meditation on the human body and much more. You can see more images at the link below, but if you're in Auckland, all the works are much better in the flesh...


Installation View - EXHIBITION

Design Awards 2010 - Behind the Scenes

Our June/July issue - which will be on newsstands on June 7 - features our annual furniture Design Awards. We were delighted with the individuality and all-round pizzazz of this year's finalists, and can't wait to show them to you in the magazine (where you'll also be able to find out who the Design Awards 2010 winner is).

For this year's Design Awards shoot, we had all the finalist pieces shipped to Auckland and photographed at the Union Fish Company building in the Britomart area, where the rough concrete floors and exposed brick walls made a fine backdrop for the very polished entries. Our stylists Tanya Wong and Jessica Allen worked with photographer Toaki Okano and his assistant Lorna to photograph the pieces.

Here's Toaki behind the camera, with Jess and Lorna setting up a group shot of the finalists (Tanya took these pics). In this shot, you can see Jamie McLellan's yellow 'Flyover' table, Andy Irving's 'Matchstick' stools (at left), Nathan Goldsworthy's 'Historian' bookshelves, Stephanie Donald's white 'Tangent' coffee table, and Sam Lennon's red 'Inverted Cube' coffee table:

And here's Toaki again, this time photographing Tim Wigmore's 'Pil' light:
The chair in the image below is the 'Starling' by Cameron Foggo:
Here's Toaki in a lighter moment:

And some more of the finalist objects, waiting for their close-ups. The pink 'Hostess' table at right is by Katy Wallace, and is made of pieces of junk-shop furniture. Beside it, the blue 'Table/Cloth' table is by Juliette Wanty.

The Design Awards 2010 winner was chosen by designer Humphrey Ikin and Michael Lett (of the eponymous Auckland gallery). Remember to watch out for full award coverage in our June/July issue - we just sent the final pages to the printer yesterday, so it won't be long until it hits the shelves.

Mountain Landing sketches

Posting the previous item made us think this was also a good opportunity to publish some of Pip Cheshire's early sketches of the house at Mountain Landing. You can see from these why, in the era of the digital rendering, a good drawing still has an unbeatable allure.

Cheshire Architects at Northland's Mountain Landing

A sneak preview from our June/July issue, which will be on newsstands on June 7. In it, Pip Cheshire, the designer of this lodge/getaway at Mountain Landing in the Bay of Islands, ponders the question of bigness in residential architecture, and the consequent fear of botching a beautiful landscape with an architectural intervention. Here's an image of the lodge he designed, photographed by Patrick Reynolds - as you can see, the landscape around it is extraordinary and, in our opinion, the house is a suitably strong but respectful presence in it:

Mountain Landing is a private subdivision at the northern end of the Bay of Islands. Once a run-down farm, the developers have invested heavily in the creation of wetlands and vast new planted areas. This is a view of the house from down at the bay - it's one of the first homes to be built in the development.

And here's a view of the bay from the home's terrace:

In the magazine, we ask Pip if the prospect of building on such an amazing site was intimidating.

"Yes," he says. "The nervousness here stems from two aspects, that I might stuff up a great opportunity and a nice paddock and, more importantly, that the site is so loaded - high landscape and heritage values - that the building couldn’t blink, it needed to be strong without dominating."

We also asked about his decision to adopt a very different strategy from "touching the earth lightly", Glenn Murcutt's famous architectural dictum.

"I think that Murcutt line of touching the earth lightly is great and certainly fits Australia’s history and landscape," Pip says, "but we are a land of major earthworks, of trenches, palisades and ramparts. It's not a universal: I have some lighter projects but where its a big project, a big brief, then I guess I would usually dig in if there was some sort of slope."

You can read the full Q+A with Pip and the story he's written about the property in our next issue (it isn't often that architects are also authors - in Pip's case, his recent book Architecture Uncooked - so we took the opportunity to commission him to write about his own project for this issue). Keep an eye out for it on newsstands soon.

Marshall Cook's Gold Medal

Congratulations to architect Marshall Cook, who has been awarded the NZ Institute of Architects' Gold Medal for 2010, given to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the practice of architecture. You may remember Marshall's own house in Auckland's Freemans Bay as a finalist in HOME New Zealand's 2008 Home of the Year award.

His awards citation made special mention of his house designs:

"The whole body of his work is characterised by a complete and exhaustive knowledge of materials, technology, colour and space placed at the service of a liberal, generous and humane design philosophy. The result has been a series of houses of the first quality. They form memorable and delightful environments within which domestic life in all its aspects is both celebrated and nourished. These houses represent high-water marks of contemporary New Zealand domestic architecture which will continue to be valued and studied by their future inhabitants and by architects."

These photographs of Marshall's own home in Freemans Bay were taken by Patrick Reynolds. This shot shows the confident mixing of materials - terracotta tiles, marble, timber fins - facing the street.

Inside, the house centres around an exceptionally comfortable kitchen and dining area that opens onto a small courtyard. This whole area feels remarkably spacious, especially when you consider that the home has been designed for a relatively compact inner-city site.

At the end of this bright, open space is much more snug and secluded living room. The stairs at the rear of this shot lead to Marshall and Prue's bedroom. All of it feels deceptively casual, but as with all apparently effortless structures, a great deal of consideration has gone into the creation of each of these spaces.

Charles Renfro on The Nation

Our visiting guest star Charles Renfro of New York's Diller, Scofidio + Renfro was interviewed by TV3's The Nation when he was here recently (thanks again to First Windows & Doors, who made Charles' visit and his Auckland and Wellington lectures possible). The TV piece is at the link below.

Visiting New York architect Charles Renfro

Also, DS+R's latest work at New York's Lincoln Center was reviewed in the New York Times this weekend by Nicolai Ouroussoff. This is the second stage of the redesign of the Center DS+R are leading, part of what will be a billion-dollar redesign. Ouroussoff seems less pleased with the firm's work on this stage than he was with their earlier redesign of the Center's Alice Tully Hall, though there is high praise for the new structure DS+R have inserted at the Center, with a sweeping grass roof from which to overlook the plaza, as you can see in this image by Beatrice de Gea for the New York Times.

Here's the link to the New York Times slide show; you can also click through to the accompanying article.

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