Roger Hay, Architect, long time Arch Centre member, recent Fellow of the NZIA, tireless battler for the rights of the disabled and a scourge of incompetent officialdom everywhere, has died aged 76. Roger will be missed by many for his tireless championing of the rights of the disabled and for his work on revising the building code. Suffering from bad emphysema, and with his partner Valerie disabled as well, he knew first hand how hard it is to be disabled in the modern world.

Roger Hay, photo by Bob Simpson
Roger Hay, photo by Bob Simpson

Born in 1934, and gaining his degree in Architecture at Auckland in the 1950s, he worked for / with Ministry of Works on projects such as the massive South Island hydroelectric dams, and their powerfully massed structures housing NZ’s turbine power, including the mighty Benmore power station. He was taught in the days when every standards were set, firmly, by the MoW, and this continued on in his time with the NZ Standards Association. His love of getting details correct, and of setting out his argument in a logical, numerical manner, probably was generated in this period of his life. He continued his work with IBS in the 1960s, and still had a passionate fervour for systems to logically industrialise buildings – the photo above by Invercargill architect Bob Simpson, was taken in February 2010 at the PrefabNZ building symposium. Hay wrote a lengthy, detailed and carefully structured appraisal of Invercargill in 1963 “The Face of Invercargill – A Critical Survey” for the NZIA Journal, which probably still stands as one of the better discussions of architecture in our southernmost city (NZIA Journal, vol 30, 9, 1963 pp188-207). Other written works for the NZIA journal include an article on “Professionalism” (NZIA, vol 37, 7 July 1970, pp 216-217), on “The Fire Bylaw – a Trojan Camel…” (NZIA 4. 1981 p48), on “Two for Te Aro” (NZIA 6. 1983 pp21-27), and “Control Debate” on the battle with the law over Building Standards (NZIA Mar/Apr 1990 pp39-42).

Roger Hay was an active member of the Architectural Centre, being the Secretary in 1961, and on the committee in 1967 – 68, where he was responsible for the newsletter. In recent years Hay has been a guest lecturer at both Victoria University and Weltec, where his knowledge and entertaining storylines will be sorely missed. Gill Matthewson, at Weltec, notes:

“Roger used to teach for us at WelTec. When I told some students that he had passed away they said “Oh no – he was so cool; he had great stories.” And it is that repository of great stories and experience that we’re going to miss from Roger. His mind was sharp and he remembered from way back everything that has happened in the profession and why. He had clear ideas about what had all gone wrong. One of those was the dismantling in the 80s of the Ministry of Works where he first worked and received training of the kind that no school could replace and nothing has replaced the MoW. Another was the incorrect application of research about building performance badly implemented in the various Building Acts since the 1990s. His knowledge and skill in these areas stemmed from a period when he worked for New Zealand Standards working on the Fire Code and Timber preservation.”

Hay positioned himself as an Architect & Policy Advisor, with particular regard to Building Codes and Standards, in his later years, and never ceased to rain invective hell upon those he saw as less disciplined than himself. Over the past 10 years subscribers to the NZIA Chatlist have watched with intrigue and respect as Roger would proceed to launch into every mismanagement of the Building Code, and set his points out in terrifying, logical, numerically rigid manner. People on the receiving end of one of Hay’s missive’s certainly knew when they had been Rogered. Increasingly restricted in mobility over the last couple of years, Hay had restricted himself to desk bound activities where he could concentrate his rigorous mind on tasks at hand.

Hay’s unbridled desire to give others a ticking off for their incompetence deserves special attention, reaching back as far as January 1953 where he wrote to Design Review and rebuked them for being too pessimistic.

“Intuition is perhaps a gift given to very few people, but it nevertheless does exist and there is no reason for pessimism. I dislike pessimism—there is far too much of it in New Zealand at the moment.”

There have been a number of other letters in the intervening years, including several to the Listener about the Leaky Building debacle and the ensuing Building Code revisions. But my favourite of all the Roger Hay comments was the one he posted on the Arch Centre website in November 2009, where he exploded in wrath at what he saw as the sheer stupidity and incompetence of the City Council planners over the resource consent for the Johnsonville Mall.

Roger Hay. Photo credit to Jim Chipp, The Wellingtonian
Roger Hay. Photo credit to Jim Chipp, The Wellingtonian

Hay lived in Johnsonville for much of his life, and is survived there by his partner Valerie. He cared, passionately about the suburb, and submitted strongly on the proposals for the mega mall redevelopment in Johnsonville. His submission undoubtedly made more sense than most, as it looked at the centre of Johnsonville in a full three dimensional manner that had escaped the keepers of the District Plan, but was ultimately unsuccessful against the commercial might of one of NZ’s largest property developers. But, that was the character of Roger Hay – never one to bow down and be beaten by officialdom if they had got it wrong. As with the Building Code, where he took on to have the Building Code not just revised, but completely repealed and started again, Hay saw nothing wrong with that approach, and undoubtedly was a thorn in the side of those who did not have the sense to listen.

Perhaps the only way to end this obituary is to, as always, give the last word to Roger himself. The following is taken from his comment on the future for Johnsonville:

“I have just put in my formal submission on WCC’s Suburban Centres proposals (DPC 73) : What a ghastly and complex set of documents ! Why can’t our planners explain themselves clearly and simply, as well as fully ?
Only now have I found that WCC has NO PLAN AT ALL for the Johnsonville Centre : just one miserable little map with bloody silly height limits that totally contradict its own Design Guides. I.e: once the debacle of the J’ville Shopping Centre redevelopment was won by the DNZ developers and their Oz architects, WCC seems to have been left without a single idea on what to do with the rest of the Centre.
Turns out that WCC’s Johnsonville Town Centre Plan was not a statutory document, so could not be enforced. I.e, WCC had no formal design criteria by which to evaluate the grossly out-of-scale DNZ re-development, so the DNZ developers simply walked all over the J’ville Town Centre Plan and blithely ignored its Key Point – which is the need for a pedestrian Street / Place connecting the J’ville Rd on the east to Moorefield Rd on the West, along the alignment of Hawea St (which WCC seems to have sold off some time ago).
The obvious objective was a two-storey pedestrian Mall on that line – but DNZ came up with a totally pathetic and obviously false argument that left the existing east-west blind-ended ground-floor mall in place, and then added a notional first floor mall (with no lift access) displaced to the South. What an utter Shambles of a design !
Yet WCC’s planners did not put up a single argument against it !
Now we have a bloody great blind building, with car-parking desert at its roof, (contrary to the new Design Guides) squatting on the urban centre of Johnsonville like a bloody great white toad, with its arsehole onto Broderick Rd, opposite the pub and the library.
So much for Urban Design !
The only thing left to do is to create a new urban pedestrian space on J’ville Rd itself by curving the Road sharply east into the wasteland of the Woolworths carpark. But, are WCC’s urban designers now proposing that ? NOT AT ALL: THEY ARE PROPOSING NOTHING WHATSOEVER !!!
What the hell is going on ?”


16 responses to “Roger Hay”

  1. Some more comments from students Roger taught at WelTec:
    Dear Gill

    I am very sorry to hear about Roger. I am sure he will be missed very much. I had never considered the importance of accessibility until I had Roger as a tutor!

    Pass my condolences on to his wife – who we heard a lot about!


    Hi Gill,

    Sad to hear about Roger, he was a ball of knowledge!


  2. Roger was evidently a gifted man of integrity; intelligent, determined and independent minded. I only met him once close to the end of his life. I hope that others take up the campaign against the stupidities of the building code. I just love the quote, “Squatting on the urban centre .. like a bloody great white toad, with its arsehole onto …”. Seems to describe most malls in the country, just fill in the dots

  3. I would be interested to know what buildings Roger designed, other than just the work he did on Benmore all those years ago. If anyone has any information on Roger Hay designs, please feel free to post it here.

  4. From Valerie Smith, Roger’s partner
    Thank you all of you for your support and love over the last couple of eventful weeks. It has meant a lot to me and Roger’s family, as we struggled to come to grips with his short illness, death and funeral – all in one week.
    A special thank you to those of you who spoke at his funeral – David and Rachel, Eleonore and Timothy, Matthew ter Berg, Bill Toomath and Dennis Chippindale, and Wendi Wicks. I think we were all talking about the same person.
    I have written a letter (see below) about that eventful week – some of you will know some of this and may have been at Roger’s wonderful funeral or seen me and other members of his family since, but others of you will not have.
    Please forward this email and attachment on to others who will want to see it.
    While I am technically challenged, as many of you will know, computers and cell phones are worth their weight in gold at times like this.
    Today the sun is shining, and David, who is down from Auckland for a work conference tomorrow and the next day, and I have been sorting things – right now a full load is on its way to the dump. We did warn Roger! However, we are keeping some of his precious files for the architects etc to go hrough.
    I wish them luck.
    Please keep in touch. I know that I will need all of you in the time to come.
    Valerie and Roger’s family

  5. from John Sutherland
    I’m sorry I could not get down and hope everything went well. I’m sure there were many friends there. I’m so pleased that NZIA got in a Fellowship just in time. I know Roger would have appreciated that well deserved recognition. We are just going to have to keep on as he would have wanted us all to do.

    Kind regards, John

  6. I think the NZIA understood Roger a whole heap more when the AGM motion went through with a huge popular support…..
    ……We now really need someone else with his in-depth knowledge and understanding of the formation of the Code to stand in Roger’s shoes -This will be difficult at best.

    Dennis Chippendale excerpt

  7. from Jiom Dawson
    Thought that I would drop you a line so that you might see another side to Roger.
    Roger and I, along with others, went thru the S of A together back in the 50’s.
    We have been friends ever since our student days, many of our spare hours in those days spent in the Lawery house on Cornwall Park.
    One of the significant attributes that Roger had in his early days, especially at the school, was that he was a particularly gifted designer though it is my belief that he was never really given the opportunity to use these talents. Pound-for-pound he was as good a designer as any graduate of the day.
    In the early 70’s, Roger joined the IBS group to work on panellized building; he also did a stint at JASMaD Info working on the original JMF details.

    When on Standards Council we managed to get him join the staff to take on the fire code, chapt 5; it was much more of a challenge then than it seems now, looking back. Roger became the master at handling all the factions which included the Fire Service, Local Authorities and Insurance Council……what a difficult and thankless task.

    On a personal level Roger and I have corresponded frequently by email, mostly off the Chatlist, over the last ten years or so and while we have not always agreed on every thing we did have a strong alignment of agreement the direction that building legislation should take. The one sad thing for us is that we were never able to get him to come up north here and chill-out…..we often talked about it. Roger was a loverable character and we will miss him.
    Kind regards, Jim Dawson,

  8. from John and Clare Bowes
    Earlier this year Roger and Valerie stayed with us in North Canterbury during their car trip around the South Island. The visit brought back all the extraordinary personal qualities that have been an inspiration to me over many, many years.His intelligence, energy, and wit, even in the face of personal tragedy and his own fragile health. His disdain of stupidity, and total denial of the ‘too hard basket’. But above all his wonderful humanity. Architects often talk about their empathy with, and compassion for others. Roger actually lived those things.

    – John and Clare Bowes

  9. from Rod Harvey
    I am stunned as many of us are on learning of Roger’s death.
    I do not have any recollections of Roger’s life except what we read of him and of his thinking. But thank you in advance Dave for letting us say a few words if we may – perhaps not as eloquently though and in this he will be missed.

    Roger was a purist in many senses of the word in that Roger sought and strived for a truth of life and law which could fit easily upon all of our shoulders – such a truth that could fit all of our human and work efforts to several common embraces. Of all the lamps to best describe Roger I think it is the truth lamp.
    Roger’s honesty was an anathema to the political view and more so to the unthinking view – both of which sought the expedience of convenience – His view was the opposite of the political view the latter seeking the most propitious course for the most propitious event – His ideas instead were in many ways the antithesis to the rule by numbers – of the surreal and of the seemingly inhuman and unjust – His ideas instead sought the old comforts of the homes of joy and discovery. I think in this respect his next best lamp was his lamp of life.
    However, to struggle against political tides takes many tears and much heart and a willpower to go on and yet be successful as he was in many cases on behalf of others and which is so rare. Many of us ascribe – especially as artists and scientists – to Roger’s purist views and we rail against the political view not because we are not political ourselves, nor tending to be crass – but because we don’t want to let politics dominate us like it dominates others and prevent us from glimpsing the reality of our works and what that work might really mean to others. Roger really has on our behalf earned his lamp of sacrifice in the way he was always trying to open our eyes.
    In many ways Rogers views were derived from the precious customs of our forbears protecting us from the disasters of the unknown, tempered by those customs with an even greater contemporary experience and knowledge and human wealth from all the faculties of the best of thoughts. Roger was the most generous of minds with the most generous of tempers of kindliness to his fellow beings and in this his lamps of memory and of beauty are well earned.
    And we, his contemporaries, will struggle to replace his ideas of obedience to colleagues and clients and to the public and to the popular but his concerned smiling face will always be with us in our minds. To us perhaps he might have left the lamps of power and life – lamps which again perhaps never sit comfortably with any of us in this earthly society of today of the internet – perhaps his thoughts will last far longer in this modern medium of word than in those of eras gone by.

    Rod H

  10. from Bob Simpson.
    I took this photo of Roger at the “Kiwi Prefab” Workshop at Victoria University on 25 February 2010. He is lobbying for better buildings.
    After the workshop we went to a nearby bar for a chat and then to his home for a meal with his partner Valerie Smith. I really enjoyed the time I spent with Roger and the phone calls and emails we shared.
    Roger had an amazing knowledge of and involvement in innovative things in the building industry and was enthusiastic about prefabrication.
    Roger worked for the Ministry of Works in Invercargill well before my return to Invercargill in late 1974 and he told me he wrote an article in the NZIA Journal about Invercargill buildings.
    Roger was competent, confident and had the courage to promote his views on the Chatline and in the media. Roger made a great contribution to our profession and to the building industry.
    I would appreciate a copy of any obituaries or other media comment about Roger.

  11. from Graeme North
    I did not know Roger terribly well until recently, but he was amazingly supportive of me while I was on the NZIA Council. He kept an eye on very important information that no one else was looking at, and that was an amazing contribution as it freed us up to do other things, knowing that we would be kept up to date by his analyses.
    I know that myself, and the rest of the profession will miss him very much

  12. From Graham Spence.
    We all will pay the price of his passing. A tireless worker for us all and undoubtable the person with the most knowledge and history of the building act including the politics surrounding it.
    My heart felt sympathies go to Rogers family.
    RIP you have earned it

  13. from Terence Broad.
    His early days were as Railways cadet. May have also been MOW?
    John Bannatyne was a railways cadet under him and was very fond of Roger and his design skills. Phone John.
    I also remember Roger in a dark cubby hole at Standards in the World Trade Centre between Cuba and Sturdee Streets in the 1980’s writing passionately for bloody years and years the definitive treatise on Fire. Got scuppered by the 1st building Act approved solns.
    He had a articulate passion that wise people like you and me treasured

  14. from Patrick Clifford.
    Really shocked and saddened to get that news Dave as I am sure we all are .

  15. Thanks Dave for posting those tributes – much appreciated. Good to hear that he was such a tireless worker and such a methodical brain – but also, as from Jim Dawson’s comments, that he was a good designer as well. I’m sure he was – I’m still hoping to find out what buildings he may have worked on over his years.

  16. Michael Smythe Avatar
    Michael Smythe

    While sad at losing the erudite Roger and not seeing his letters in the Listener any more, I have to admit to surprise and delight that he made it to 76! Around 1970 I shared an office with him at Environmental Research Ltd (set up by JASMaD). One day he returned from a visit to his doctor and told me he had to give up smoking. “I’ve only got one lung, you see, and the doctor is telling me that smoking is simply suicide,” he said. “So Michael, you must be my conscience. You must stop me from smoking!”

    Well, this was a bit of a burden to impose upon a 24 year old but, as it was a life-and-death situation, I took it on. It was a hopeless task. As soon as Roger was talking on the phone an unconscious ritual would unfold despite my gesticulations. I got grumpy with him. He got grumpy with me – so I officially resigned from the position he had appointed me to.

    I far prefer to recall the wonderful parties at the old Lowry homestead on the side of One Tree Hill where Roger played the role of gracious host and bon vivant with aplomb.

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