The 1980s meant mixed fortunes for architecture in Auckland. On the downside, historic buildings were demolished in the dead of night and glass towers became de rigueur in the city centre.
On the upside were iconic buildings, such as this house, designed in 1984 by David Mitchell for art patrons and philanthropists, Alan and Jenny Gibbs. The Gibbs House won a New Zealand Institute of Architects national award in 1986 and is recognised as one of the most architecturally significant buildings of its era. It has appeared in numerous books and magazines.
David Mitchell says the Gibbs, who had moved here from Titirangi, didn't want timber on show, preferring "an International-style house which fitted their growing art collection". He adds: "There were children to accommodate and the normal functional things, but they wanted the house to be a piece of art in itself".
The layout of the house has the main living areas and bedrooms in a northern two-storey section, linked by a conservatory to two-level, self-contained accommodation with its own access.
The architect says the house "is not spectacular from the street. We tried to make it quiet to approach and a surprise to enter. They were confident clients - it was a big risk for clients and architect - to design a house not like the others around it."
Today, Mitchell says he feels "fine about the house - it's good, to be frank". He notes in particular its "big, lofty living room with the silver ceiling and the way the light reflects around the room".
Present owners Michael and Jane have been here for 11 years. They had moved north from Wellington for work and were looking for a home in Parnell that was like the conventional house they'd called home in the capital.
Their plans changed when they were brought here. "We had a look at it and fell in love with it," Michael recalls.
The owners immediately before them had made cosmetic changes, so Michael and Jane commissioned Mitchell to design a new kitchen (this time, with timber), and replace original sideboards and other storage that had been removed. The solid concrete house was also repainted, in an updated palette specified by Mitchell, and the bathrooms redone.
What hasn't changed is the appeal of the home's duality, 28 years after it was built. The solidity of its construction - filled concrete block walls, slate-topped concrete floors and marble and stone finishes - is contrasted with a lightness of touch and generous sense of space, with invisible steel frames supporting significant spans. Outside, on the terrace, a highly visible steel beam "supports" a void.
"It's been over-engineered, deliberately," says Michael, with a smile. Upstairs, a shallow reflection pool casts shadows across the marine-grade stainless steel mini-corrugate ceiling.
But, despite this home's enduring role as art, it functions as a place to live comfortably. Michael and Jane enjoy breakfast on the terrace and can spend evenings in a cosy second living space near the kitchen. Michael's study, off the main living area, looks out to a view of the sea.
Upstairs, the master bedroom, with a spacious en suite, also looks out to the view. There is a further bedroom upstairs in this part of the house, which opens onto a balcony and the reflection pool. Downstairs is another bedroom. These bedrooms, along with the accommodation in the southern section, worked well when two lots of adult children and their partners came to stay, as well as two young grandsons.
The linking conservatory dining room is great for dinner parties or winter breakfasts, with French doors that open to an expanse of lawn and an English-style garden. Other parts of the large garden include subtropical plants, mature puriri and pohutukawa. There is a swimming pool and spa to enjoy, plus a gym and a sauna.
After more than a decade here, Michael and Jane are opting to downsize, making this importance piece of Auckland's architectural culture available to new owners.By Penny Lewis