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.
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Athfield has been a major influence on the way this capital city looks. For years Wellington was thought of as an anonymous grey Government town, with little to offer visitors. But one thing that Athfield did was to bring a little life and colour into the city, a certain sense of joy and a touch of naughtiness. The Arlington flats are one example, the Church of Christ Scientist another (still retaining an ability to shock even 40 years later), and the City Library is a crowning glory. You’ve got to allow a bit of the credit to go to Ath, for Wellington to now be one of the country’s major tourist hotspots.
Ath has left a mark on so many architects over several generations. I think he led a practice in an uncommon way but one that most architects could really appreciate. Out of that place he nurtured a talented team and led by example. Always entertaining and one to get straight to the point, he had a go at helping out Christchurch after the quake but the mire of politics got the better of that. However, Christchurch is also a great home to much of his great civic work.
For me, Ath created great houses and the pride with which all his clients talk about them is enviable. I really love John Buck’s house at Te Mata, so perfectly settled above his precious Colerane vineyard…
I’ll miss you Ath. So will NZ Architecture. You sure your mark.