Architectural author John Walsh had a lightbulb moment while walking around Sydney a while ago.
"I came across a little guide to the city's architecture. I thought Auckland could do with something similar, a book that might appeal to visitors and locals who have a few spare hours to walk around the inner city and find out about its history and character through its architecture," says Walsh, the NZ Institute of Architects' communications director.
With all the changes happening in Auckland, he decided people were becoming more interested in the city's built form.
So he and accomplished, acclaimed photographer and fellow architecture specialist Patrick Reynolds collaborated to produce Auckland Architecture, A Walking Guide - Fifty Buildings Six Routes (Massey University Press, $19.95, published).
The 135-page soft-cover pocketbook is the antithesis of the significant body of work the talented pair have produced together previously, which includes New New Zealand Houses (Random House, 2007), Homework (Random House, 2010), Big House, Small House (Random House, 2012), and City House Country House (Penguin, 2016).
Reynolds says of the partnership: "Collaboration is fun, more than the sum of the parts, I hope, and it's not only John and I, but also this book re-unites us with publisher Nicola Legat: dream team."
Walsh and Reynolds say there is nothing else quite like this compact new book. A small guide to Auckland's architecture was published about 15 years ago, but a lot has happened since then and that book was really aimed at architects, Walsh says.
"They're part of the audience for our new book, but I wanted to reach a wider readership – people who have a general interest in buildings and the city. I'm sure Patrick's photographs will help in this regard – they're a great introduction to the buildings in the book."
The genesis for this book was the pair's sheer love of architecture and they produced this as a celebration of the city's best. Yet Auckland is also a place so many love to bag - a place where, as Herald writer Simon Wilson quipped at December's Project Auckland lunch, people come to Auckland for the day and to go Waiheke.
Walsh: "I think Auckland as a city has a lot going for it, and I wanted to show that. People are too quick to write off Auckland as an urban place. Even Aucklanders – until very recently their mentality was essentially suburban, and they tended to be apologetic about their city."
Sure, he acknowledges, many of Auckland's heritage buildings have been lost, and we have been careless about our built history, but many interesting buildings remain and good, new buildings are rising.
"You can still find in the inner city the architectural evidence of Auckland's evolution as a city - there's a century and a half of architectural history in central Auckland. All the international architectural styles since the 1860s are represented – and some very able architects have worked in the city. I think it's good to acknowledge them, and not only the buildings they designed."
Walsh acknowledges that he has written about New Zealand residential architecture and that Reynolds took the photographs for all of those. He enjoyed that, but a change is good.
"Houses are private business. The buildings in the new guide are buildings that everyone can at least walk by and look at, even if you can't go into all of them. It's good to go for a stroll through the public realm."
New much-awarded structures featured include Karangahape Rd's Ironbank by RTA Studio, Ponsonby's eye-catching Vinegar Lane by Isthmus, Lightpath by Monk Mackenzie Architects and LandLAB, the Mackelvie Street Precinct by RTA Studio, ASB North Wharf by BVN Donovan Hall and Jasmax and Silo Park by Taylor Cullity Lethlean and Wraight + Associates.
These all sit comfortably on the pages alongside well-known heritage structures including the Auckland Town Hall, Queen St's Landmark House, the classic West Plaza office tower and the waterfront's Ferry Building.
Asked how he picked the 50, Walsh says many picked themselves, particularly the Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira and the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, as just fundamentally important civic buildings.
Others were chosen as good examples of an architectural style, the work of a significant architect, or representing a particular architectural moment. For example, the AMP Building at the Queen St/Victoria St intersection by Thorpe, Cutter, Pickmere & Douglas is an example of the heroic international style.
Because this book is intended as an inner-city walking guide, route planning was a consideration.
"And some buildings, I just like," Walsh says.
Reynolds: "Walkability is central to this project, more disbursed architectural gems across the city would need a driving or even a public transit guide; the later could be good - buildings such as Te Oro or Te Uru both missed out by location, for example."
The walking tracks break up our city into easy bite-sized chunks so those short on time can follow a route for an hour or so and catch glimpses of some of this city's most interesting buildings.
The city, therefore, fell into six natural divisions:
• Britomart and the waterfront;
• Eastside, which includes Queen St's lower east side;
• Westside and mid-town including Albert Park;
• Greys Ave and Karangahape Rd;
Asked if there are some buildings or places left out, Walsh is more reticent than Reynolds.
"I don't know if I want to talk about what's not in the book. No doubt there are other worthy buildings around, but they might be remote from the routes I've used. And we had to stop somewhere. The book's a guide, not an encyclopaedia. Fifty buildings – that seemed about right."
And on that note, one wonders if there are further books like this planned.
"It'd be good to have a go at some other New Zealand cities," says Walsh. Reynolds said Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin walking guides are possible. The book is small, but instructive and practical, Reynolds says.
If Walsh and Reynolds do visit, write and publish further pocket guides, the whenua and tangata would then be as fortunate as Auckland and Aucklanders.
Buy this book. Be informed.