A Natural Leader

A Natural Leader add

The Canterbury earthquakes resulted in the region losing much of its best architecture, including a large number of private homes.

Many architects and architectural designers lost some of their best work - their legacy. This week Defign sat down with ADNZ member Cymon Allfrey to hear about his work in the shaky city.

Like many Christchurch architects and architectural designers, Cymon has experienced the loss of some of his work as a result of the earthquakes.

"It was really difficult seeing my work come down. When you put so much into a project, and then you see it disappear, it leaves you feeling quite sad. Of course, it's much worse for our clients, the owners - we can only imagine how they must have felt."

One of the projects Cymon lost was 'Shaw House' - a project he invested a lot of his own time into.

"The clients were amazing people to work with. With a relatively open brief, we were able to create a home with incredible panoramic views. The house picked up so many awards - it was actually almost embarrassing the amount of trophies we came home with at the 2007 ADNZ | Resene Architectural Design Awards."

Like many homes on the Port Hills, Shaw House wasn't able to survive the quakes, and has subsequently been demolished.

"I spent a lot of time on that project - I used to take my kids there on weekends when I was doing my observations. My first reaction when I knew it was coming down was that it would have been the house that I would look back on in 30 years with pride. Many architects in Christchurch lost their legacy - I have come to realise that this is just one house, and there will be others I am just as proud of."

One of Cymon's projects that did survive the quakes is 'Wilton Close - a multi-ownership complex made up of 40 apartments. This was the largest project he had ever worked on at the time, and he found it challenging both technically and creatively.

"It was difficult because we wanted to produce apartments that stood out from the crowd in terms of entry-level apartments in Central Christchurch. It was a huge job for us, and we had really put all of our eggs in one basket - if it hadn't worked out, we could have been in serious trouble from a business perspective."

Cymon says the result was particularly successful because of the way the team embraced the idea of communal living to create a sense of community within the site.
"I think Kiwis think of their house as having four boundaries, and with this project we tried to break that. We went for a large courtyard design that wasn't typical of Christchurch, or New Zealand."

While there has been a lot of loss in Christchurch, there has also been a lot of progress. At present, Cymon and his team at Cymon Allfrey Architects are focussing on their growing workload in post-quake Christchurch. While the city's recovery hasn't been fast, he says the business has recently surpassed the pre-recession boom times of 2007.

Cymon often reflects on his architectural journey so far. It's been a long one that started in his grandfather's workshop when he was just a boy. He was inspired by his grandfather who was a draughtsman for the Ministry of Works and the Christchurch City Council.

"He was a very precise man, and quite technical in the way he thought. He provided me with an introduction to architecture and really sparked my interest. When he passed away when I was 12, I had already decided what I wanted to do. I ended up inheriting his pencils - and the rest is history."

Cymon initially studied at the University of Canterbury, with the intention of going on to study at the School of Architecture in Wellington. However, after some soul searching, he decided to study towards a Certificate of Architectural Draughting at Christchurch Polytehnic instead.

"I got my first job as a junior technician on the day of enrolment. After a couple of calls in the morning, I had a job trial that afternoon. I ended up working in that job for six years throughout my studies before heading off overseas," says Cymon.

After some time in London managing retail store re-fit and relocation projects, the opportunity arose to come home.

"I phoned my previous employer, and they said they'd love to have me back. But I had one condition - I wanted to buy into the business."

Upon his return to Christchurch, the business rebranded to Stanley-Joblin+Allfrey, and Cymon stayed there for the ten years. During this time, he became a registered architect after completing his professional papers at Victoria University in 2009.

In 2010, Cymon decided to step away from Stanley-Joblin+Allfrey to focus on a new practice with a new direction. So Cymon bought out the line-share of the business assets and hired the existing staff, to establish Cymon Allfrey Architects.

"It’s been an amazing ride - a fantastic journey of very detailed learning. I have learnt a lot not only in my field, but about people as well. I've built some really great relationships."

Cymon's membership at ADNZ has really assisted with facilitating many of these professional relationships. He first joined the organisation in 2002, and says he hasn't looked back.

"I know that if I'm ever working in another region, I can just pick up the phone and ask my fellow members about local conditions, joint venturing or any problems that I come across. My membership of the organisation has also been great for our brand - especially through the publicity we have had through the awards, and the collateral we have ended up owning as a result of entering."

A natural leader - Cymon has enjoyed the opportunities to develop his leadership and management skills through the experience of running his own business.

"I have always preferred to lead people. A big part of having your own business is employing people who are better in many aspects than you are, and getting them to work in a coordinated, harmonious way - and I really enjoy leading the great team that I have been able to build up over the last few years," says Cymon.

Cymon is also the immediate-past Chair of ADNZ, and was able to further explore his passion for leadership through this role.

"I learned a lot of lessons about having good quality people in both delivery and management roles, and having processes where you can give good direction and hold those people to account for what they deliver."

Cymon says he also enjoyed many professional opportunities that came out of his role as Chair. He was able to meet some of the best architects and architectural designers in the country, and one highlight was attending a dinner at Parliament where the government was hosting architects from the APEC region.

"That's the reason you take on a role like Chair of ADNZ - the opportunities for personal and professional growth are endless."

For more on Cymon, you can check out his ADNZ profile.