My favourite modernist building … the Rotherham House

My favourite modernist building (albeit one I haven’t visited) is the Rotherham House – one of the Group’s houses.

The Group was formed primarily of Auckland architecture students in the late 1940s, who stated their intentions in their manifesto:

We know there is another way of living in which a house is logically contrived for peace and comfort, where the sun brings life without faded carpets, and in which leisure and beauty are not interred in respectable museums. And we mean to find it for ourselves and make it real to everyone who feels as we do. . . . Because we want this in New Zealand, overseas solutions will not do. New Zealand must have its own architecture, its own sense of what is beautiful and appropriate to our climate and conditions.

In practise, this meant translating some of the principles of international modernism to a New Zealand context.  Houses were built in local materials (timber), for the local climate (although anyone that lives in one of these uninsulated houses might dispute that) and for a more informal way of living (ie indoor outdoor flow and bbqs.)

The Rotherham house was designed by Bruce Rotherham for his family, and was completed in 1951.

This house is a simple open plan gable form, with a mezzanine level in a double height space. The exposed structure of the mezzanine floor turns up to create an angled almost-balustrade. The ground floor is covered in stone slabs, and walls are clad in diagonally laid pine.

An aside – in 1962 Leon Lesnie fell to his death (presumably after some kind of altercation?) from the un-balustraded mezzanine after he was discovered there with his lover by her husband.  (I’m not sure that a balustrade would have made that situation better though…).

I find the work of the Group inspiring – due to their role in starting to create a specifically New Zealand residential architectural style, and also due to their commitment to building and realising their experimental ideas as homes.

Sally Ogle

The “My favourite modernist building …” series is in support of Gordon Wilson Flats which is facing threat of demolition.


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