Architecture

A tribute to the distinguished Sir Ian Athfield

January 30, 2015

Vale Sir Ian Athfield (1940 – 2015), one of the most celebrated architects in New Zealand over the past half century, who passed away last week.

The following tribute to Sir Ian Athfield appears courtesy of Nick Taylor of CHT Architects.

I first met Ian Athfield in 2010, in the lead up to the Architectural Designers of New Zealand South Island awards; Ath and I were two of its three judges. A week later, the ADNZ had their awards night. I picked Ath up from Athfield’s offices in Oxford Street – located within a house previously belonging to distinguished New Zealand architect Sir Miles Warren – and we proceeded to the awards dinner in Littleton.

On the way we passed the recently finished second stand at AMI Stadium. It was the first time that Ath had seen it finished, and we pulled over so that he could see the completed stadium. There was pride in his voice as he described the moments in the building, a masterful tribute to the Christchurch brutalist architecture of the 60s, and of Ath’s modern upbringing (partly under Sir Miles Warren).

As he spoke about the stadium, there was another tone in his voice, a tone of humanity. This, I feel, was his gift. He was person who was interested in people, genuinely and without agenda. This is why people loved being in his company and perhaps why he was successful.

Image by Craig Simcox

Sir Ian Athfield with one of his Christchurch sculptures. Image by Craig Simcox

 

Later that year in September, the first of the earthquakes hit. Ath had been in Christchurch often at this time, as his firm was completing the new Christchurch City Council offices. The first earthquakes were severe but the damage to the built environment was minimal, that changed after February. The earthquakes razed the city, and AMI Stadium and the surrounding area were damaged severely.

Before I left Christchurch I spoke with Ath about AMI Stadium. I lived close to the stadium and was aware of the damage that it had suffered during the quakes, I knew that there was a chance it would be demolished. Ath understood the Cantabrian culture, and its proud sporting history. The stadium acted as its concentration point of local celebration. The loss of this identity and celebration hurt the city and it hurt Ath – not only for the loss of his building, but also for the loss of people who cheered, screamed, mourned losses, and celebrated within the stadium.

Ath will be remembered for his contribution to the canon of New Zealand architecture, his many awards, lectures, and presentations, and the buildings he designed throughout New Zealand. I will remember Ath as a friend who was always up for a glass of red, would listen without prejudice yet address with calm authority, who loved architecture in all its various guises, had a strong disposition towards authority, and who, through his actions, demonstrated a most humane architect.

A public commemoration of the life and work of architect Sir Ian Athfield will be held in Wellington this Sunday (1 February), at 3pm.

Tribute by Nick Taylor of CHT Architects. Lead image courtesy newstalkzb.co.nz

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