Boyhood friends Dominic Glamuzina and Aaron Paterson bonded over a shared passion for skateboarding, a sport they took up because it elevated them above the status of "failed nerds". When they weren't talking kickflips and halfpipes on the playing field at Auckland Grammar, they discussed design. Now their architectural practice Glamuzina Paterson Architects, formed in 2007, has achieved a coup. When the winners of the 2013 New Zealand Architecture Awards were announced last month, two of the four award-winning projects in the Housing category were theirs. They were hailed as "emerging talent".
It's not difficult to imagine the young Glamuzina and Paterson at lunch break engaged in intense conversation about the merits of a particular building. Even today, at their studio in Auckland's K Rd, it's nearly impossible to get them to talk about their work in everyday language. "Our clients start to mimic us - and pepper their conversation with our terminology," admits Glamuzina.
Both, though, have a grassroots appreciation of what it takes to create structure and shelter. Paterson comes from a family of builders - "but I have jazz hands, not meant to build" - and Glamuzina's elder brother is a builder on Waiheke Island. "I'd help out in the university holidays. He drove me hard, digging ditches and nailing joist hangers, but it gave me an understanding of how difficult it can be sometimes to put things together."
The long-time friends joined forces after working for other practices because they valued the honest mutual criticism. "We share every step. Our skills are complementary," says Paterson.
They have many metaphors for the architectural process, including juggling and floristry. Says Glamuzina: "Design needs to be fluid, not fixed - you have to throw all the balls up in the air. And it has to retain the looseness and possibility of a flower arrangement."
The "S House" in Mt Eden, which is described in the awards judges' citation as "an adventurous house that takes an innovative approach to the inner-suburban family dwelling", pulled them into unexpected territory. Some residents of the street were not enamoured by the soaring, angular nature of its facade. "In one newspaper article, it was called a 'monstrosity'," says Paterson.
The duo were surprised by the reaction. They considered the scale of the house to be modest, and the shiplap cedar cladding to be an element drawn from the language of the villa. The footprint - an "S" shape on a long, narrow section - not only provides privacy from the houses alongside, it creates two courtyards. The one at the front has a real connection to the street and was the architects' way of giving something back to the neighbourhood.
"The criticism has been simplified, without a full understanding of the way the building deals with its immediate context. While being contentious is good, it's difficult when it's only 'newness' that's being panned," says Glamuzina.
Commentary is more light-hearted about Glamuzina Paterson's other award-winner - a house at Lake Hawea that the judges described as "chiselled in form". Friends were more colourful in their take on the home's unusual shape and solidity. "One called it a cross between Osama bin Laden's compound and the Pentagon," says Glamuzina.
With a budget of $650,000 plus GST, the architects had to work hard to stretch 250sq m of living into the project. Their decision to use simple long-run roofing and seconds from the Canterbury brickworks was a way of keeping costs down. Rather than being laid uniformly, the brick cladding has a push-and-pull design that gives the finish a "pixelated" look.
"It was very hard to get the bricklayer to do. We suggested a drink or two may make him more at ease with such a random pattern," says Glamuzina. The result is an exterior surface that changes throughout the day as the light shifts.
The house has a low profile and is bunkered into the landscape, a device that delivers the "weight and permanence" the owners asked for. Again, there's a courtyard, which is central to the design and the way the house is used. "Courtyards allow us to reframe both the natural and the built environment," explains Glamuzina. This one provides protection from the prevailing northeasterly and frames the view of both the mountains and the plains.
No doubt its paved surfaces would also be a fabulous place to skateboard. Not that the pair have much time for that these days. In the past few years, their hard work and a "clearer articulation of design intentions" has paid off. Projects on the drawing board include a house in Hahei, plenty of alterations and one or two swimming pools. "But we'd really like to move into the area of medium-density housing," says Paterson. They're enjoying the debate surrounding the Unitary Plan. "New Zealanders in general don't talk enough about design."
The young architects-in-the-making probably never thought about the non-creative side of the job. "It's really hard to get a building over the line sometimes," says Paterson. Occasionally it's money issues, or protracted negotiations with the council or even a client who decides, for any number of reasons, to move on. That's what happened to a four-storey apartment design for Ponsonby's Vinegar Lane development. "If anyone needs a plan for a 400sq m place, complete with a dog kennel, we have one. A lot of architectural thought went into that."
Meanwhile, the 3D balsa-wood model for the Vinegar Lane property is on a shelf in their studio with several others, including one of the giraffe house at Auckland Zoo. The architects say they thoroughly enjoyed working with their tallest clients - skittish, shy, elegant creatures with impossibly long eyelashes and purple tongues. "The giraffe house model was stolen from our office but one day someone returned it - turns out it was used as a housewarming gift."
As is the case with most 30-something architects these days, Glamuzina and Paterson don't live in places that came off the practice drawing board.
Glamuzina has an apartment overlooking Myers Park. "It's a good thing I'm so contained in it," he says. Body corporate rules mean the only thing he can change is the furniture.
"I remember [architect] Pete Bossley once saying, that if he spent a night in he'd be flooded with ideas for reshaping his house. He'd want to get out the sledgehammer and start knocking down walls."
Paterson, who owns a typical bungalow in Pt Chevalier, is constrained by a lack of funds to alter it. The upside is that a tight budget has the capacity to unleash an imaginative design response. The New Zealand Architecture Awards' judges said: "Some of the projects the awards jury enjoyed most used very little, very well." A wonderful accolade indeed, but as Paterson points out, "We can also do a lot with a lot." Straight talking at last.