It’s been a tough couple of years for Wellington architecture with the significant losses of architectural giants such as Gerald Melling and Bill Toomath, and now today Ian Athfield.
There is no doubt Ath’ was a polemic figure, and is probably New Zealand’s most talked about architect. He certainly was the most written about and the most filmed, with Julia Gatley’s comprehensive cataloguing of his work following monographs in the 1990s and 1980s as well as films by Sam Neill (Architect Athfield (1977)) and Ian John (Ian Athfield, a work in progress (2004)). It would be scary to list all of his award-winning buildings, and all of the honours earned by himself and his practice – but no doubt highlights would include his life membership of the Architectural Centre (since 2000), and the firm’s cleaning up of awards at our 60th anniversary in 2006.
I think everyone has some kind of connection to Ath’ or to his work. Replies to the news of his death inevitably include disbelief and a personal link: “I was just telling my four year old this morning about the flats at Hopper street, and about Ian Athfield” … “we were texting just over a week ago.” The most concise – and perhaps commonly felt – was “Shit!”
Our condolences go out to Ath’s family, and the huge community of his friends and fellow architects.