Book Review and Launch: 4 Architects

Bill Alington, Jim Beard, Bill Toomath and Derek Wilson (ABT&W) have undoubtedly been outstandingly influential on Architecture in Wellington and in New Zealand.  Their body of work, extending from the late 1940’s to the 1990’s typically exhibits a modernist style, largely inspired from their education and work in the UK and the US.

The book “4 Architects” attempts to catalogue the key work of each architect and provide some insight into the inspiration and creative thinking behind each of the Architects and their works . 

The book begins with an interview with ABT&W which gives a sometimes amusing look into the background and education of each of the Architects, what makes them tick and what they were trying to achieve with their architecture.  The interview also describes their work in the Architectural Centre including the disappointment when their discussions were often laughed at by the up-and-coming Ian Athfield and Roger Walker, with note given to Roger Walker’s “phallic-symbol letter box with two big balls”.

The main section of the book illustrates key work of each of the Architects.  The mark of a good book of this style is the “coffee table” test: whether the book can simply be picked up, opened at any page and immediately engage the reader.  This book certainly has this quality.  An interesting variety of old and existing photos, both black and white, as well as plans and sketches, helps keep the reader engrossed. 

The work of these Architect’s was simple and clean, where materials were left largely untampered with and structure was expressed.  At times, however, the structural solution seemed scarily lean.  For example, the Upper Hutt Civic Centre, where some very long-span (and lean) reinforced concrete moment frames appear to be solely responsible for the lateral support of the Council Chamber building.  Or, the Toomath House, where much of the house projects out towards Wellington Harbour and is supported only by long and slender posts with little sign of any bracing.  Some comfort, however, can be taken from the fact that ABT&W often using structural engineering legend John Hollings (from Beca Carter Hollings and Ferner Ltd).

At the back of the book there are two essays, by Julia Gatley and Paul Walker.  Julia discusses ABT&W’s influence and achievements during their years with the Architectural Centre whereas Paul looks at their mature work of the 1970’s and seeks to understand their attitude to modernism.  Their discussions provide another dimension to the book and provide a useful epilogue of sorts.

Whilst the book is a great catalogue of the description of their architecture and the thinking within their architectural minds, what is lacking from the book is a more critical examination of their works.   There is very rarely any criticism of any of the projects, discussion of things which did not work too well or suggestions for improvements.  It is likely that upon reading this book, ABT&W would say that they would have loved the editors and writers to have poked a stick here and there, rather than the approach of almost complete praise.  An index would also have been a useful addition.

In summary however, this book is a fantastic record of the works of some of Wellington and New Zealand’s most influential Architects and it would make a great addition to any living room coffee table.


Thursday 2nd December 5:30-7:00pm at the School of Architecture

Organised by the NZIA, this book launch ties in with the culmination of the Graphisoft Student Architecture awards being held on 2nd December at the School of Architecture, and should run from 5.30 till 7.00.



One response to “Book Review and Launch: 4 Architects”

  1. Thanks Matt, for this review. For those that were at the Book Launch (well attended, complete with all 4 architects, plus many more), you will recall that Michael Dudding gave a speech at the launch – very well received i thought. We’ve printed the content of his speech in the latest newsletter – Dec 2010 – which has been posted out today. Some happy Christmas reading for you all.

    If you want to get a copy of the newsletter, to read some more, the best way is to just : Join the Arch Centre ! Details under membership up at the top of the page.

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