Local architect draws inspiration from NZ culture

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This week's Newsmaker is Lake Tarawera resident and architect Fred Stevens, who helped design the new foot baths in Kuirau Park.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Holland and came to New Zealand when I was 5 years old with my two younger brothers when my parents emigrated here. We grew up in Tokoroa, which at the time was a great place to live being an exciting cosmopolitan boomtown, very culturally and racially diverse, and was approaching city status with a population of 20,000 people, yet still small enough that everyone lived pretty well in the same sorts of houses and attended the same schools.

My beautiful wife Lamees is of Chinese descent and together we have three young and full-on girls under 6. My two older children have recently graduated from university; my son pursuing postgraduate studies in history of economic thought, and my daughter due to leave soon with three girlfriends for her OE before continuing with her postgraduate studies in ecology, biodiversity and psychology.

What do you do for a living and why?
I am a registered architect with my practice based at my home within the inspirational environment of Lake Tarawera. My passion is architecture and the focus of my studies and practice has always been indigenous architecture - an architecture that responds to the uniqueness of Aotearoa New Zealand. I am not interested in fashion or popular architecture and my design philosophy is more focused on responding to environment, culture and wairua. Perhaps this passion for indigenous inspired architecture has come from having emigrated as a young child resulting in a desire to establish roots and a connection with those attributes of Aotearoa New Zealand that makes it such a special and wonderful country to live in. People often ask if I am part-Maori - to which I normally reply that it is most unlikely unless a waka went astray and ended up in Holland.

Where did you find inspiration for your design for the new foot baths?
Rotorua has until recently always been the most "Maori" city in New Zealand. I fondly remember travelling often from Tokoroa to Rotorua for a hot swim at the "Poly" pools and being welcomed upon arrival to the city by a large sign with a Maori wahine waving "Haere Mai" and upon leaving waving "Haere Ra". Sadly this strong Maori flavour and influence has gradually been lost and our gateways are now pretty much uninspiring and forgettable. To finally be given an opportunity to create of a piece of public architecture in the heart of my home city Rotorua is an honour. With the concept design for Te Waimirimiri o te Kuirau I have drawn on 30 years of indigenous architectural study, thought and ideas to achieve a building that I believe is an appropriate contemporary expression of traditional Maori building philosophies and technologies, well suited to the Kuirau Park geothermal setting.

Why do you live in Rotorua/Lake Tarawera?
Having grown up in the central North Island enjoying our natural lakes and forests, and with a keen interest in sailing I discovered Lake Tarawera, and ended up buying a section, which 30 years ago was very affordable - in fact cheaper than a section in the flashest part of Tokoroa! My dream was to build myself a home ... and the rest is history. I love it here at the lake. It is far enough out of town to feel remote, yet close enough to duck back into town if need be.

Tell us three things that most people would not know about you.
I speak Dutch fluently and Chinese poorly.
The only other place in the world I would consider living, and that comes close to the beauty of Lake Tarawera, is the island of Santorini in Greece.
I have spent the last 30 years building my house - in typical Dutch fashion - doing everything myself; from major excavations with just a spade, blocklaying, carving and tukutuku, making all the doors and windows, all the furniture, the wooden totara sinks and even the cedar light switches, and ... it is almost finished!

- Rotorua Daily Post

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