Timber exterior wall cladding, internal and external stair cases which appear to float, interior walls lined in plywood displaying intricate and interesting grains, buildings placed on landscapes planted in native shrubs, bush and trees -- these are some of the prominent features of New Zealand's best residential architecture.

But do we have a distinctive style of New Zealand architecture yet? A house we can point to, recognise the style and say 'oh, that's so New Zealand' and claim it for our own? Say smugly, 'well, there's nothing like that anywhere else in the world, is there'?

One body of work encapsulates the trends in design perhaps more than anything else which has emerged. Yet one of the pair involved believes there is no individual style of architecture yet that we can call unique and different from everywhere else in the world.

We're too global in our thinking for that, it seems.


One of the country's top architectural writers, John Walsh of the NZ Institute of Architects, has repeatedly collaborated with top architectural photographer, Patrick Reynolds, who for many years has captured images of award-winning places for the institute and other clients.

The two have now produced a substantial body of work: New New Zealand Houses came out in 2007, followed in 2012 by Big House, Small House and just lately City House Country House in October.

None of these books are light in any sense of the word. None are easily handled or flipped-through but instead are serious coffee-table door-stopper hard-backs, more than 300 pages, many pages sporting full-colour plates, detailed designs, thousands of words presented on projects, sometimes with an original hand-drawn sketch showing the beginning concept.

Each book presents extensive information about stand-out projects, ranging from the intensely urban to the spectacularly remote -- inner-city apartments to rural retreats and holiday hideaways.

The three books show how New Zealand architects are responding to the landscape and their briefs, how a growing diversity of styles is being created to result in an arguably indigenous architecture.

Here is what their publisher, Penguin Random House New Zealand, said of their second book in the series: "Walsh and Reynolds have track records as New Zealand's preeminent architectural writer and photographer respectively. This time they are joined by a team of eminently well-qualified contributing writers who, under John Walsh's editorial supervision, bring together a very significant survey of residential architecture endeavour in recent years. Thoughtfully written, beautifully photographed and handsomely produced, this massive book is unrivalled. Complete with plans, and enormously comprehensive, it is both a celebration and a sourcebook of New Zealand's best architectural work."

Tom's House by Anne Marie Chin. A winner in the 2016 New Zealand Architecture Awards. Photo / David Straight
Tom's House by Anne Marie Chin. A winner in the 2016 New Zealand Architecture Awards. Photo / David Straight

Will another book emerge?

"That's not decided," confessed Reynolds to the Herald.


One can only hope.

"Those three books have the same idea -- a survey of recent practice. But John and I also did Home Work together, also published by Random, published in 2010. Home Work was a different idea from the other three, it was based on only architects' own houses. I also did a book with Pip Cheshire on baches and that was Architecture Uncooked in 2008," Reynolds says.

His work has also appeared in many other publications, most notably two other architectural volumes from last decade: first Villa, then Bungalow.

Internationally, photographs in such large architectural books are not usually done by one photographer, so Reynolds' work stands out as being unusual.

Each of the books displays an entirely different trend, he says of the three-book series with Walsh.

"The first one was before the global financial crisis and it is full of big pavilions with sliding glass doors. Afterwards, hence the titles of the following two, it got much more diverse," he said. "There were really good small projects as well as big ones. Also, the location now has altered because there's much more interest in city living. It's not just vast piles on previously unruined bits of countryside."

Photographer Patrick Reynolds. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Photographer Patrick Reynolds. Photo / Dean Purcell.

Reynolds says the key thing about global architectural practice is that New Zealand architects don't necessarily have one distinctive recognisable style or design.

You can't say 'oh, that's so New Zealand' when it comes to a building, he believes.

"John and I agree that we hesitate to claim there is a New Zealand architectural style yet to emerge. We look offshore, as we always have. People searching for a nationalism -- they'll struggle for it. But there is one part of architecture that we have world standard practice in and that is domestic architecture," Reynolds says. "We build our homes really well. Our architects don't get an enormous amount of practice at tower blocks and factories but they do get to build houses and particularly detached houses to a scale and variety that is unusual in practices globally.

"If you're an architect in London, you never to get to build a new building. You get to fiddle with Georgian ones."

New Zealand residential architectural practice stands out internationally from that aspect, he believes.

Asked what response he has to people who say they like old architecture and designs from the past, he's philosophical.


"Fair enough, you like what you like. But the best way to make sure we have a great architectural heritage is to build really good contemporary buildings and they'll become future heritage."

Favourite house? "Like trying to choose a favourite child. Not really. I appreciate different things in lots of completely different ones."