10 NZ Architecture Firms Redefining How We Live Now

By Leanne Moore
Architect Lisa Webb's award-winning home in Westmere. Photo / Sam Hartnett

Awards are just part of the job for these architects laying the groundwork for the future.

They value longevity, connection, innovation. For these architects and their firms, a building becomes more than a sequence of rooms or elements, walls or walkways. They can “lift the human spirit,” says one; “stir

Lower Shotover House by Bureaux. Photo / Sam Hartnett
Lower Shotover House by Bureaux. Photo / Sam Hartnett


Established by Jessica Barter and Maggie Carroll in 2010.

Background: Bureaux has grown into a thriving practice designing residential new builds and alterations, as well as hospo interiors. Interestingly, women remain a rare breed at the top level of architecture, so the success of this duo is an inspiration to future generations of female architects. “We are interested in longevity — the idea that the houses we design could have been there for 20 years, or could be built in 20 years’ time,” says Jessica Barter.

What they’re known for: As well as award-winning architecture, if you want the interior done — down to bespoke crockery — then Bureaux can design that, too. Barter and Carroll say many of their clients are attracted to their ‘total concept’ architecture, including the owners of the Lower Shotover House, pictured.

Award-winning work: Bureaux has won multiple awards for its residential architecture and interiors. In 2015/2016 their architectural knowledge and creative energy was key to the success of Future Islands, New Zealand’s national exhibition at the prestigious Venice Architecture Biennale.

Coromandel Bach by Crosson Architects. Photo / Sam Hartnett
Coromandel Bach by Crosson Architects. Photo / Sam Hartnett

Crosson Architects

Established by Ken Crosson in 1987.

Background: For the majority of his career, Ken Crosson has run the firm as Crosson Architects, apart from a period of time in partnership in Paul Clarke and Simon Carnachan. Multiple publications in New Zealand and overseas have featured the work of Crosson Architects, including Ken Crosson’s own family bach, pictured, which he designed 20 years ago. Recently he had the Coromandel holiday home re-photographed to mark its second decade. Designed with sides that fold up when not in use, the bach looks as good today as when it was first built. “We wanted a holiday home that we could close up, much like a suitcase. This has some real advantages. It keeps the sun out when we’re not there, it doesn’t get hot and cold and it protects the joinery and interior,” he says.

What they’re known for: Crosson Architects has built an exceptional portfolio over 36 years, initially designing single houses and more recently expanding to large-scale multi-unit apartments and terraced housing projects throughout the country.

Award-winning work: Ken Crosson and his team have won numerous awards both locally and overseas, most notably as a finalist in the World Architecture Festival in 2021 and 2022, for Light Mine, a bach in Kuaotunu, and the Piha lifeguard tower, respectively.

Super Taper by Jack McKinney Architects. Photo / David Straight
Super Taper by Jack McKinney Architects. Photo / David Straight

Jack McKinney Architects

Established by Jack McKinney in 2018.

Background: Experienced in both residential and commercial projects, Jack McKinney enjoys the process of collaborating with others for its ability to open up fresh perspectives. He’s drawn to strong rather than light and ephemeral residential architecture and has a fascination with rooflines. A case in point is Super Taper, pictured, an Auckland villa he worked on with Katie Lockhart Studio (interiors), Wayne Ashford (builder), and Jared Lockhart (garden). The backyard extension has a relatively small footprint but soaring ceiling height, punctuated with a shaft of light that adds a sense of mystery, calm and drama. “For me, architectural beauty is when a genuine sense of place is created by the architecture — it becomes more than just a sequence of rooms or elements. Beautiful architecture has a consistent identity from inside to outside,” he says.

What they’re known for: High-end houses and high-end hospo design.

Award-winning work: Multiple awards, including New Zealand Institute of Architect’s 2021 Auckland Architecture award for Super Taper house.

Sod the Villa by Malcolm Walker Architects. Photo / Patrick Reynolds
Sod the Villa by Malcolm Walker Architects. Photo / Patrick Reynolds

Malcolm Walker Architects

Established by Malcolm Walker in 1985.

Background: Specialists at creating residential designs tailored to suit the lives of their clients. “Good buildings are durable and deep — they are not fashion items. Buildings are collaborative — it’s the architect’s job to collate, resolve, filter and direct. They are not singular acts of genius as some people think — good clients, builders, and engineers are all needed to make good buildings,” says Malcolm Walker. “Getting something good is the result of clear communication and understanding and design between all parties and resolving and filtering it all into a coherent whole. The more input the better! A building that feels good is ageless. A building that feels good is what I aim to make. Looking good comes second.”

What they’re known for: In Grey Lynn, Auckland, there is a street that has three Malcolm Walker-designed homes, more by chance than intent. The distinctly different homes — a minor retrospective of his work, of sorts — showcase the life-improving residential architecture he has produced throughout his career.

Award-winning work: Malcolm Walker Architects has won multiple New Zealand Institute of Architect awards, including the 2015 NZIA Auckland Architecture award for the alteration of Sod the Villa, pictured.

Lightly Weighted by Oli Booth Architecture. Photo / Sam Hartnett
Lightly Weighted by Oli Booth Architecture. Photo / Sam Hartnett

Oli Booth Architecture

Established by Oli Booth in 2016.

Background: Oli Booth has quickly carved out a name for himself as someone to watch in the world of architecture. A relative newcomer — he was named Emerging Designer at last year’s Best Awards — he launched himself onto the local scene with Lightly Weighted, pictured, his own award-winning home. A laboratory for his design philosophy, which is driven largely by the notion that big design ideas can exist within a small envelope, it won two categories at the 2022 Best Awards, for residential architecture and spatial colour. His wife, Libby Elmore, who he met at architecture school, recently joined the practice.

What they’re known for: An OBA-designed residence includes the interior. “It’s incredibly important to consider the interior and exterior as a whole,” says Oli Booth. “Without this, the success of the design can easily be diluted and disparate.” Landscaping is also carefully considered as an integral part of the design. “We always have an idea of how this relates to the home. We work closely with landscape architects to lift these spaces to another level.”

Award-winning work: As well as taking the Emerging Designer title and two for Lightly Weighted, Oli Booth Architecture won two other 2022 Best Awards, one for a Lake Rotoroa new build and another for the alteration of an Auckland townhouse.

Pouaka Waikura Rust Sheds by Patterson Associates. Photo / Simon Wilson
Pouaka Waikura Rust Sheds by Patterson Associates. Photo / Simon Wilson

Patterson Associates

Established by Andrew Patterson in 2006.

Background: Patterson Associates has built a strong body of work, from commercial and public projects to residential architecture.

What they’re known for: Designing the Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth, Ravenscare House Museum in Christchurch, and high-end commercial and residential projects. An ultra-modern rural home inspired by wild west shanty towns and New Zealand farm sheds, has won accolades. Pouaka Waikura, which translates loosely into ‘rust boxes’, is a sequence of rusting Corten steel-clad pavilions that explore the contrast between light and shadow and compression and release. The buildings are placed informally along a terrace overlooking the Shotover River. “The play of light and shadow on surfaces and materials provides the emotional connection to a space,” says Surya Fullerton of Patterson Associates. “Balancing enclosed darker spaces for retreat and reflection with uplifting light-filled lofty volumes is very powerful.”

Award-winning work: Pouaka Waikura, pictured, won a 2021 Best Award for Residential Architecture and 2021 NZIA Southern Architecture award.

The Hut by RTA Studio. Photo / Patrick Reynolds
The Hut by RTA Studio. Photo / Patrick Reynolds

RTA Studio

Established by Richard Naish in 1999.

Background: Since launching RTA Studio 24 years ago Richard Naish has been redefining our urban skylines and rural landscapes with his innovative and progressive architecture. “Architecture can lift the human spirit when the building has made a connection to its place and then its people. When that happens there will be a vibe that manifests itself as a feeling that one has when they enter or occupy that space,” he says.

What they’re known for: Richard Naish is known for using his own homes to experiment with new ideas. The design of award-winning E-Type House, his family home in Grey Lynn, Auckland, looks to both the past and future; the forward-thinking design of RTA’s coastal bach in Tawharanui Peninsula won a Housing Award in the 2020 NZIA Auckland Architecture awards and Cardrona Hut, pictured, also won a NZIA award in 2016 for Small Project. This cabin has a great sense of volume, light and spaciousness, despite the building being only 4m wide and 72 square meters in length “It’s all about the proportion of the volume and nothing to do with needing to be big,” he continues.

Award-winning work: RTA Studio has been recognized for design excellence nationally and internationally. Along with winning multiple national awards, the studio has been awarded globally by World Architecture Festival Architectural Review and World Architecture News.

Ponsonby Renovation by Salmond Reed Architects. Photo / Patrick Reynolds
Ponsonby Renovation by Salmond Reed Architects. Photo / Patrick Reynolds

Salmond Reed Architects

Established by Jeremy Salmond in 2000.

Background: Salmond Reed Architects is an award-winning architecture and conservation practice. It was founded by the late Jeremy Salmond, a conservation architect, who died this year.

What they’re known for: Sensitively updating heritage buildings for modern life by combining new design with conservation. “Early New Zealand houses, like the bungalow and villa, tended to focus on a formal relationship to the street with little regard to natural light and other site conditions. Our design interventions for many houses reprioritize this to create more livable homes without forgoing their character,” says Philip Graham of Salmond Reed Architects. That’s exactly what they did with the Auckland villa, pictured. The alteration added space, light and connection without losing the material warmth of the home’s Arts and Crafts design.

Award-winning work: Salmond Reed Architects has won multiple awards for its work in heritage and conservation, most notably in 2018 Jeremy Salmond received the New Zealand Institute of Architects Gold Medal, the highest honour in New Zealand architecture.

Sunderland 6 Hobsonville Point by Stevens Lawson Architects. Photo / Mark Smith
Sunderland 6 Hobsonville Point by Stevens Lawson Architects. Photo / Mark Smith

Stevens Lawson Architects

Established by Nicholas Stevens and Gary Lawson in 2002.

Background: “I think architecture should stir the soul a little, and ideally leave a lasting impression,” says Gary Lawson. “I also feel architectural beauty is something dynamic and shifting, something a little unusual, curious even. A fundamental in architectural beauty is that it is not style over substance; buildings should always work well and be beautiful to use.”

What they’re known for: Multiaward-winning innovative buildings, including HomeGround, Auckland City Mission’s new space in central Auckland. Housing intensification has also been given the Stevens Lawson stamp. “What’s satisfying about this project,” says Gary Lawson of the row of Auckland townhouses pictured, “is that we were able to create an attractive, reasonably dense neighborhood of homes that have a relaxed seaside feel and a sense of place that is special to them, all within a large-scale urban re-development area,” he says of the 14 houses designed for Jalcon Homes at Hobsonville Point.

Award-winning work: When Gary Lawson and Nicholas Stevens won the prestigious New Zealand Institute of Architects Gold Medal last year, their work — both institutions and residences — was described as having a quality of ‘home’ about it, of comfort as well as beauty, of places to be welcomed and belong. “These buildings sit gently and timelessly in their landscapes, as if they were always meant to be there, and always will be. Aotearoa needs architects like Nicholas Stevens and Gary Lawson: generous, compassionate and egalitarian, questioning and civic-minded, with the passion and determination to tackle hard questions and complex problems,” says the citation.

Our House by Studio LWA. Photo / Sam Hartnett
Our House by Studio LWA. Photo / Sam Hartnett

Studio LWA

Established by Lisa Webb in 2013.

Background: At the age of nine, Lisa Webb moved into a home her parents had commissioned from an architect. “It was a transformative experience. The sun came flooding in, the house opened up to a great view. The house centred around the kitchen and family room, and the spaces flowed around them. It was full of social spaces, full of friends and family. That is why I became an architect.”

What they’re known for: Architecture that makes life better by creating homes that bring comfort, ease and joy to those who live within.

Award-winning work: When Lisa Webb won NZIA’s Sir Ian Athfield Award for Housing in 2021 the judges praised the home’s “exquisite interior and each carefully placed window and textured surface that add layers of sensory experience to everyday domestic space.” The house, pictured, was for her own family: “I didn’t consider how other people would react to it. So it’s genuinely surprising that other people are at all interested in it. And I didn’t expect to win the Sir Ian Athfield award, but I hope it provides some proof to the next generation that girls can do this job, too!”

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