Key Points:

    • Andrew Pattern's core principles
    • The Rangi and Papa attitude: we are part of the natural world, so our buildings should be too;
    • Form follows whānau: design is about people;
    • Thinking in patterns: buildings should be patterned on, or designed holistically in accordance with, the environment.

    When New Zealand's greatest architect found a woman weeping in one of his newest buildings recently, it made him happier than anything else he could remember.

    "At an entry pillar to the Len Lye Centre, a person was crying, saying, 'It's just so beautiful.' I think that's the highlight of my career," said Andrew Patterson, from the minimalist boardroom of his offices in Garfield St, Parnell.

    New Plymouth's Len Lye Centre by Andrew Patterson. Photo / Simon Devitt
    New Plymouth's Len Lye Centre by Andrew Patterson. Photo / Simon Devitt

    Nothing moves him more than seeing people's reactions to the structures of his highly awarded Patterson Associates, like the shiny silver New Plymouth art gallery, his homage to Lye's art and the futuristic-looking yet utilitarian milk vats of area's dairy industry.

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    Patterson's place in this country's architectural landscape was perhaps most aptly described by Christina van Bohemen in 2017 when she was the Institute of Architects' president, giving him with the highest accolade, the Gold Medal: "Andrew is a singular figure in this country's architecture, a star following his own orbit."

    So what does such an influential architect say of current residential design trends such as floating stairs, ominous black kitchens, ply wall claddings, oodles of glass, industrial-style lounges featuring angular leather sofas and under-vanity LED tubes?

    "Only if it makes sense. It's all good but only if those elements belong at that place in time. If you can get a building that belongs in a place, then people who live there will get a sense of belonging as well. If you want something, it should be inherently beautiful so other people think it's beautiful as well."

    Patterson is highly wary of trends. If anything, he set trends so people follow him. His work is renowned for breaking traditions, creating new ones.

    Mai Mai, Arthur St, Ponsonby by Andrew Patterson. Photo / Andrew Patterson
    Mai Mai, Arthur St, Ponsonby by Andrew Patterson. Photo / Andrew Patterson

    Constant refurbishment, building upgrades and retrofits are environmentally harmful, utterly wasteful and totally unnecessary, he says. If the design is right, to begin with, refurbs will be unnecessary.

    "I can't tell you how many houses I've altered that were done just five years before, changing them to be slightly more on that year's trend. It's incredibly wasteful."

    He cites classic, stately homes unchanged for decades, whose inherent value is immediately recognisable as timeless, compared to a constantly renovated place whose owners are always striving desperately to be on-trend - a race they can never win.

    Patterson won the NZIA Gold Medal in 2017. Photos / Patterson Associates
    Patterson won the NZIA Gold Medal in 2017. Photos / Patterson Associates

    "If you make something that lasts, that's so much better than ripping things out. The trouble with trends is they're not sustainable because you put a lot of effort and energy into something that's not timeless. Yet timeless is what you really want to do, not a trend. When a building goes out of trend, you have got to do something else, as least as long as the mortgage payments."

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    The best response we can make to climate change is to stop constantly ripping down and pulling apart buildings, he says.

    The Hills Clubhouse by Andrew Patterson. Photo / file
    The Hills Clubhouse by Andrew Patterson. Photo / file

    "Our climate change response should be that a building lasts longer than 75 years for future generations to find attractive. We pull most of our commercial buildings and houses down in 40 to 45 years. That's the biggest contributor to non-sustainability so you need to design buildings that are quality and last."

    Mid-August, Patterson went to Fiji to celebrate a friend's birthday and, there with a group, re-visited the stunning white beachfront Naisoso house he designed and which his practice says is "a new-world tropical home, designed to reconcile security with open contemporary living in an almost fantasy setting".

    Patterson a decade ago outside the NZI Centre. Photo / Richard Robinson
    Patterson a decade ago outside the NZI Centre. Photo / Richard Robinson

    Patterson: "It's my favourite thing: going to a party or a meeting or drinks in a building I have designed. I just love it because I see people using it, because I'm so used to it being in my mind."

    The median of architecture is the landscape and modifying it, so buildings must look right in their environment, he says, saying the Sydney Opera House is perfect on its waterfront setting but would be ludicrous on a Waikato dairy farm.

    Asked about people's reactions to architecture - and sometimes strong criticism of architects - Patterson is sanguine: "I want my buildings to contribute to people's happiness, not to give angst. If you do a beautiful building, it's wonderful."

    Glasshouse Rocks, Andrew Patterson's design for an Australian home. Photos / Patterson Associates
    Glasshouse Rocks, Andrew Patterson's design for an Australian home. Photos / Patterson Associates

    Some buildings take longer than others.

    Take, for example, his radical new Glasshouse Rock Pavilion, as yet unbuilt but designed for a beachfront site south of Sydney. Initially, the house took its cues from the rocks in the area, "But suddenly we thought it might be better to have something washed up, like a seashell."

    The result is one of his most radical designs yet, triangle-like shapes standing on their heads, foils above, apparently more ocean output than house, like a child's drawing of how a beachfront house might look.

    Stratis apartments, Lighter Quay. Photo / Paul Estcourt
    Stratis apartments, Lighter Quay. Photo / Paul Estcourt

    "Have you seen those beaches on the New South Wales/Victoria border? They're stunning, stunning. White, white sands."

    A cinema within one structure's shell and a large kitchen where people can gather, the home has its own water reservoir and opens to a freshwater pool and a large lawn for children to play on. Just like a seashell amplifies the sound of the waves, the pavilion amplifies the experience of being on the beach. Patterson says the building was inspired by the experience of being in that place and while it reflects its surroundings, it does so without trying to become part of the landscape.

    A new book on Patterson is out from Thames & Hudson. Photos / Patterson Associates
    A new book on Patterson is out from Thames & Hudson. Photos / Patterson Associates

    One of Patterson's greatest delights lately was the approach from Britain's Thames & Hudson to write a book about his work. The result is the 252-page hardback full colour Patterson: Houses of Aotearoa, a tribute to his work.

    "I've never done anything like that before. There were about 1500 originally allocated to New Zealand and they sold out. I've had emails from North Carolina, Singapore, London, Canada, Spain. Complimentary emails."

    Plans for the Australian seashell-like house appear in the back of the book, which also features his world-beating Mai Mai house in Ponsonby, Michael Hill Clubhouse near Queenstown, home of Naisoso in Fiji, house near Arrowtown at Millbrook, house on a 4ha Waiheke Island waterfront site and Parihoa house in a rural setting at Muriwai.

    Not in the book are the extensive much-praised commercial work from the 25-strong practice including Parnell's Geyser office block, Stratis on Auckland's waterfront, Cumulus (notice the cloud theme?) in Parnell and the island-like water-covered surfaces of the New Zealand Guest of Honour Pavilion at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2012.

    But as the NZIA Gold Medal citation noted, he's only part-way through his career.

    Andrew Patterson, this country's greatest architect. Photos / Patterson Associates
    Andrew Patterson, this country's greatest architect. Photos / Patterson Associates

    "Over the past 20 years, Andrew Patterson has designed some of the most innovative and visually striking buildings in New Zealand. He has pushed the boundaries of what is possible in New Zealand architecture, and his work is often surprising and always arresting," van Bohemen said two years ago.

    "Well into the middle part of his career, Andrew keeps growing, and his buildings keep surprising. Latterly, and significantly in post-earthquake Canterbury, his practice has applied a sensitive touch to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre (2013) and dwellings (2013-2016) at Annandale on Banks Peninsula."

    Could the best of Patterson be yet to come?