Sir Miles Warren: An architectural legacy that has stood the test of time

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Sir Miles Warren: An architectural legacy that has stood the test of time

As tributes pour in for celebrated New Zealand architect Sir Miles Warren, who died aged 93 on Tuesday, 9 August 2022, his architectural legacy continues to flourish.

Many projects by Warren and Mahoney, the firm he founded with Maurice Mahoney, appeared on Well pages over the years – and not just the big ones, such as the Christchurch Town Hall, Michael Fowler Centre, and Auckland Television New Zealand headquarters, but also the houses that arose from the “Christchurch School”.

Te Kāhui Whaihanga NZIA describes the Christchurch school as “a fusion of the solidity of the New Brutalism with the lightweight language of the Group Architects”.

When Sir Miles Warren asked Sir Michael Fowler for a design brief for Wellington City Hall, he was apparently told: "Same as Christchurch, but better." And he had six weeks to do it.

MONIQUE FORD/Stuff

When Sir Miles Warren asked Sir Michael Fowler for a design brief for Wellington City Hall, he was apparently told: “Same as Christchurch, but better.” And he had six weeks to do it.

The Christchurch School lives on to influence many architects today, including the team at Herriot, Melhuish O’Neill Architects (HMOA) in Christchurch.

READ MORE:
* ‘True giant of architecture’ Sir Miles Warren has died aged 93
* Prominent Christchurch architect Maurice Mahoney dies
* Modernism revival in Christchurch, but it never went away
* Classic mid-century modern Christchurch house by Sir Miles Warren up for grabs

The firm lives and breathes modernism, and the team work out of one of Christchurch’s notable modernist buildings designed by Sir Miles Warren – the shared office was once the famous architect’s own home and workplace.

Architect Duval O'Neill outside the firm's shared office - the building was designed by Sir Miles Warren in 1962 as his home and office.  (File photo)

Alden Williams/Homed

Architect Duval O’Neill outside the firm’s shared office – the building was designed by Sir Miles Warren in 1962 as his home and office. (File photo)

Architect Sir Miles Warren is pictured in the gardens of the same office - his former home and workplace at 65 Cambridge Terrace, Christchurch.  Left is a detail from Ballantyne House (1959).

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Architect Sir Miles Warren is pictured in the gardens of the same office – his former home and workplace at 65 Cambridge Terrace, Christchurch. Left is a detail from Ballantyne House (1959).

In a previous interview, architect Duval O’Neill said the firm was “completely immersed in modernism in the office”. “It feels very natural to us, even if other people are constantly amazed by it (the office).”

O’Neill also said one of the reasons these homes continue to find favor with Kiwis is because we appreciate the real craftsmanship involved in planning these homes.

“There is a generosity of space and a (strong) relationship with the outdoors and capturing key views. More often than not, it’s the simplicity that permeates the built-in joinery that works so well.

This architects' perspective of mid-1970s townhouses in Merivale by Sir Miles Warren resurfaced when the house came on the market two years ago.

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This architects’ perspective of mid-1970s townhouses in Merivale by Sir Miles Warren resurfaced when the house came on the market two years ago.

One of the same townhouses 50 years later - still a beautiful home that caters to modern lifestyles.

COWDY

One of the same townhouses 50 years later – still a beautiful home that caters to modern lifestyles.

“These houses reflect a real consideration given to the way the spaces in the house will work. The houses are often quite frugal; they are usually not massive houses, but they are carefully planned to be efficient.”

Ballantyne House, which came on the market in 2016, is another exceptional example of Sir Miles’ work. It was designed in 1959 for the Ballantyne retail family.

The Ballantynes ​​started the department store of the same name which is still going strong today. Ronald Ballantyne had already called on Sir Miles to design his magnificent new store in the town, and was willing to push the boundaries of tradition for his own family home in Fendalton.

Ballantyne House in Christchurch was designed by Sir Miles Warren in 1959 for the Ballantyne family who ran the Christchurch department store of the same name.

SUPPLY

Ballantyne House in Christchurch was designed by Sir Miles Warren in 1959 for the Ballantyne family who ran the Christchurch department store of the same name.

The clean-lined architecture of Ballentyne House was way ahead of its time.

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The clean-lined architecture of Ballentyne House was way ahead of its time.

Ballantyne House was the set for the Kiwi movie the change, directed by Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie.

The owners, who sold in 2016, took pains to bring it back to reflect the design aesthetic established by the architect in 1959. Sir Miles Warren did go back to see the restored house and told at home magazine: “Never has a house been so carefully and gently restored. It’s beautifully done – more carefully than the original.”

“Sir Miles gave us a watercolor of the house painted when it was built, and the original plans, which will be passed on to the new owners,” said one of the owners.

Wide openings and fully glazed walls were new ideas in the late 1950s.

SUPPLY

Wide openings and fully glazed walls were new ideas in the late 1950s.

And this was the interior of the Ballantyne home in 2016.

SUPPLY

And this was the interior of the Ballantyne home in 2016.

The 300 square meter house has the concrete block and timber frame construction that defined the Modernist school of buildings in Christchurch.

“Miles describes it as quintessentially Danish in character – a square consisting of a sitting room, dining room and kitchen, with a long bedroom wing and connecting flat-roofed entrance link.”

A 2020 book on Christchurch Modernism produced by Mary Gaudin and Matt Arnold (straight book) features several of the architect’s residential projects. The book, “I Never Met a Straight Line I Didn’t Like”, takes its title from a quote by Sir Miles Warren.

Sir Miles Warren was photographed in Christchurch City Hall in 2016.

John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff

Sir Miles Warren was photographed in Christchurch City Hall in 2016.

In an interview with Here’s Simon Farrell-Green, Arnold said he jokingly accused Sir Miles of never drawing a curved line for the first 30 years of his life: “The title was his smiling reply.”

Arnold also said, “Whenever a house of this style comes up for sale, the open houses are extremely popular, and the same faces are always there – architecture freaks like me. We greet each other with an awkward nod and walk around in our socks pointing and saying things like ‘negative detail’ to no one in particular.”

These homes will continue to bring joy, not just to the lucky few who get to live in them, but to all of us who get to see them, even if only online or in print.

In his later years, Sir Miles lived in his historic 19th-century homestead at Governors Bay, Ōhinetahi, which he donated to the New Zealand public in 2012.

Gerard Smyth/Frank Film

Original Christchurch Town Hall architect Sir Miles Warren tours the restored Christchurch Town Hall ahead of its reopening. (Video first published February 2019)

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