Architects fight to preserve classic home

By Bernard Orsman, Bernard Orsman  

Architects are rallying to protect a 1964 Epsom home designed by two members of Group Architects, who set the characteristics for the modern New Zealand house.

Bill Wilson and Ivan Juriss designed the house at Castle Drive for Chinese businessman James Lowe and his wife, Norma, as a practical home for their five children, handy to the grammar schools, with plenty of room for study, music and games.

The family sold the largely original home last month at auction for just over $2 million to crown prosecutor Mark Woolford, who said he was considering his options for the property.

Mr Woolford said the house was not a Group Architects house but designed by Bill Wilson and Ivan Juriss after they left the practice. Nor was the house listed in any Group Architects reference works.

Auckland City Council heritage manager George Farrant has commissioned research on the house and received "hundreds of emails, mostly from the architectural community about the possible loss of this Group house" after it featured in the Weekend Herald's Heraldhomes section.

Mr Farrant expects to know in the next few days whether the house has enough points to be considered for heritage protection in the district plan.

Ivan Juriss, who is 81, said he was not bothered what the new owner planned to do with the house.

Marshall Cook, who was an apprentice architect on the house, said it could be updated with modernist additions without loss of character.

"It should be preserved in nature ...but the detail could be modified."

Institute of Architects heritage spokesman Adam Wild, who is researching the house for the council, said it was an important example of late work by Group Architects.

"For 40 years it has been left unaltered. It simply works incredibly successfully for the people who commissioned it. That it remains so intact gives us an incredibly rich view to late Group works."

He said the house was designed by Group Architects for a steep section in Meadowbank but when the Lowes found the flat site in Epsom the plans were tweaked by Wilson & Juriss.

"The last three members of the Group were Ivan, Bill and James Hackshaw. James got in a huff famously one day and picked up his bags and buggered off" - hence the change of name to Wilson & Juriss.

Mr Wild said that, technically, Castle Drive might not be a Group house but it would be unfair to dismiss it outright.

He said he was also researching another Group Architects home for the council that sold last month. The Cedars, in Riddell Rd, Glendowie, was designed by Ivan Juriss in 1962. The new owners were passionate about it and planned to keep the "architectural gem". 
 

Who were group architects?

In the summer of 1949 a group of student architects in Auckland built the first postwar, distinctively New Zealand house under the name Group Construction.

On graduating, the seven renamed themselves Group Architects and went on to set the characteristics of the modern New Zealand home, described by architectural historian Douglas Lloyd Jenkins as "modesty, innovation and affordability".

North Shore's beaches and rapid population growth provided fertile ground for Group Architects to design many of their houses.

In the early 1960s, with the practice down to three architects, James Hackshaw left to do his own thing.

Bill Wilson turned to Ivan Juriss and said, "Two don't make a group so we will call ourselves Wilson & Juriss".

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