NZ Institute of Architects gold medallist and pre-eminent heritage architect Jeremy Salmond will talk at the MTG next week. He tells Mark Story architecture goes hand-in-glove with legacy.

Tell us a little about the nature of your talk here next week.

The award is given in recognition of a career in architecture, and in my case, a career founded in part on working with heritage buildings. So I want to illustrate the complexities that go with this - in both design and technology - but also to show how the legacy of buildings which each generation receives enriches our places and our lives and provides a sense of permanence in an era of rapid change.

Much of your work has focused on conservation. What were your thoughts on the government's 2016 decision to demolish John Scott's Lake Waikaremoana 'Aniwaniwa' visitor centre?
Many of my thoughts are unprintable - but I did write extensively on the subject at the time. The salutary outcome for me was the realisation that the government of the day was willing to put aside one set of cultural values in order to achieve a symbolic outcome. In particular, the minister of the day, with responsibility for both cultural heritage and conservation, abdicated her responsibilities and left the issue to be dealt with by civil servants in contravention of its own responsibilities as owner of valuable cultural heritage property.

Advertisement

The demolition received only pocketed objection here - why is it that great works like Aniwaniwa often seem to resonate very little with locals?
Two possible answers here:
a) The stewardship of nationally significant heritage can be seen by some as an imposition on the local community, sometimes raising questions of cost and resources to maintain, and the sentiment to protect and preserve may not be felt locally with as much fervour as it might be in other parts of the country.

b) The territorial local authority, in this case, was poorly advised – I would say misinformed - of the true state of the building, and the seismic yellow card was a deliberately used advice to silence reasonable engagement with the issue by others, bypassing statutory obligations and leading to a failure to schedule the building in the District Plan.

Who's your favourite New Zealand architect?
This is too hard to answer – I have great admiration for many of my contemporary peers – especially a new generation of imaginative and skilful designers. I also have enormous regard for previous generations of architects who helped shape our towns and communities. It's invidious to choose. This country is especially fortunate in the quality of its design skills.

If architecture has a social function, what is it?
Architecture is a social function – it is concerned with making new places and conserving the legacy of places from our own past. It does not occur in a vacuum, and our communities are made up of the collective efforts of the many who make buildings. It is thus precisely a social activity which goes beyond the mere act of "building". So while much architecture is privately commissioned and owned, the great bulk of this is a public performance and in this way has a visual impact on the public domain and our enjoyment of this. This is even more true for public architecture.

* Jeremy Salmond will present a free lecture in Napier on Tuesday, September 24, at the MTG. See festivalofarchitecture. nz/category/napier/