Saturday, November 03, 2012
Big House: Small House
John Walsh & Patrick Reynolds
Random House / Godwit
Book launch speech by author John Walsh
An academic asked me what was the organising principle of this book – the thematic construct or theoretical conceit.
I immediately thought of Joe Biden’s words in the recent American vice-presidential debate – Look, it’s a bunch of stuff – a big bunch of stuff.
That’s what I felt like when the book – which kept on growing until the day before it went to print – finally was done.
But of course there was an organising principle, or at least a simple taxonomy. The book is about very recent New Zealand residential architecture – buildings designed by New Zealand architects and built in the five years since Patrick and I saddled up to do our first book about New Zealand houses.
That book came out at the highwater mark of the last boom. The architecture in this book has been produced in the era of the Global Financial Crisis.
It seemed entirely appropriate, in light of changed circumstances, that we should do a different book. It still looks fine, of course, thanks to our publisher and designers, but its content is more catholic. It ranges over the scale and type of New Zealand architects’ domestic production – from entire new houses to apartments, studios, baches and modest additions.
It’s inclusive, in a word, and I think both Patrick and I are happy about that, because we both think that architecture should be accessible to as many people as possible.
It’s also inclusive when it comes to New Zealand architects. We managed to include the work of 60 different practices – about a tenth of the country’s architecture firms.
Even then, we had to leave out some architects and some projects we would really like to have included.
But what is in the book demonstrates the talent and ability of New Zealand architects. A lot of very fine residential architecture is produced here, and it’s a pleasure to be able to present some of it.
The challenge for New Zealand architecture is to extend its reach beyond the small percentage of houses architects get near. I think it’s telling that we weren’t overburdened with apartments to consider, for example. The demography of this country, and especially this city, is changing fast, and it would be nice if architecture should find a way to extend, in the residential sector, beyond the circles of privilege.
In doing a book like this you incur quite a few debts of gratitude. I’d like to thank Nicola Legat at Random House, and I think New Zealand’s architects might want to give Nicola some thanks, too. Also at Random House it was a pleasure to work again with Alex Bishop, who kept everything on track, and with the book’s designers, Fiona Lascelles and Kate Barroclough, and with Jennifer Balle, our publicist and event manager. Thanks also to the New Zealand Architectural Publishing Trust, whose timely intervention supersized us.
I’d like to thank the architects who submitted their work, and also their clients. For architects and clients a book like this is a journey into the unknown, and it requires a leap of faith. These are touchy and litigious times, and it’s very reassuring to find people robust enough to take their chances with publishing. No architect or client tried to censor the writers or photographer – and although I know people won’t agree with everything that’s written or shown, I hope they find their generosity has been reciprocated.
It’s been great working again with Patrick. We didn’t travel together much this time, and therefore I was denied the exquisite pleasure of witnessing architects receiving helpful suggestions, preferably given in front of their clients, about how their buildings might be improved.
It was always inspiring to sit down with Patrick after his latest trip, and go through his photos. 60 photo shoots is an awful lot, and Patrick did them all, and all to the best of his very considerable ability.
I’m pleased to say I didn’t write about every project on the book – and maybe readers will be, too. It was very enjoyable to be share the writing load on this book with some very able writers I’ve worked with over the years. Some of them are here tonight, but I’d like to acknowledge all of them:
Andrew Barrie; Michael Barrett; Sam Eichblatt; Michael Findlay; Min Hall; Jessica Halliday; Jeremy Hansen; Tommy Honey; Bill McKay; Nicole Stock; Tony van Raat; Malcolm Walker; and Peter Wood.
And last, most thanks, of course, go to Catherine and Xavier.