Remembering Ath

Remembering Ath add

On Friday we were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of one of New Zealand's most celebrated architects, and friend of ADNZ, Sir Ian Athfield at age 74.

This week, Defign looks back on Ian's life and remembers a man who was known for his rebellious nature, warm personality and huge contribution to New Zealand architecture.

ADNZ Life Member Ian Cumberpatch remembers Sir Ian Athfield, or Ath as he was known to his friends, as a man with a kind smile, generosity of knowledge and exceptional architectural skills.

"He leaves behind an enduring architectural legacy that will continue to contribute to our society in both the private and public realms for the enjoyment of all. I am privileged to have known Ath, and am grateful for the contribution he made to the architectural profession and the built environment. I will remember him fondly."

Born in Christchurch in 1940, Ian studied architecture at the University of Auckland, graduating with a Diploma of Architecture in 1963. His first job was with Stephenson & Turner where he lasted only six weeks, before starting work with Strutcon Group where he was made a partner at just 25. However, after just over four years, he found himself without a job, after suggesting the company should take on a retirement policy - pushing out the older partners, and making way for young guns like himself.

Ian went out on his own after that - starting Athfield Architects the very next day in the home he had started building for himself and his wife Clare above Wellington harbour.

Although challenging at times, Ian enjoyed running his own practice. The company grew - and so did his home - which houses 25 people, and has 40 staff working there from day to day. This sprawling Khandallah house is one of his most notable works, and has been both admired and despised by many over the years. No matter what you think of Athfield House, you'll never forget it.

Wellington would have a very different face without Sir Ian - he worked on everything from Telecom House, to the Central Library and Civic Square. He went on to win more than 60 architecture and design awards, and under his guidance, the team at Athfield Architects has won more than 100 awards. He was most recently honoured when he was promoted to Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2015 New Year Honours List.

Other notable works by Sir Ian include Jade Stadium in Christchurch, the Palmerston North City Library, the Bangkok rapid transit system and Buck House, Te Mata Estate Winery in Hawke's Bay.

Sir Ian was also the President of the New Zealand Institute of Architects for a time, judged many competitions including the 2010 ADNZ | Resene Architectural Design Awards, and was a speaker at many events, including several ADNZ conferences where he made quite an impact on the organisation's members.

Former ADNZ Chair Cymon Allfrey remembers Sir Ian as a good friend of the society, and says he's honoured to have had the opportunity to know and work with him.

"Ath was a once in a generation architect, and as an architect myself, I'm inspired to continue to grow my own skills and challenge myself to do better thanks to people like him. In my capacity as ADNZ chair, and on a number of other occasions, I was lucky enough to meet and get to know Ath. This is something that I will always treasure," he says.

ADNZ CEO Astrid Andersen says Sir Ian was a great friend to the organisation.

"Ath was a great architect, but he was so much more than that - he was an extraordinary human being. He was kind, generous and witty, and all the memories we have of him are precious. It was incredible that such an amazing man would take the time to call me to give encouragement. He was supportive of my role at ADNZ, supportive of the organisation and what it stood for, and supportive of our membership. I know many of our members will have fond memories of Ath."

ADNZ would like to pass on our condolences to Sir Ian Athfield's family and friends. He will be sadly missed, as an extraordinary architect, and a wonderful friend.


Wellington Central Library image by Grant Sheehan
Selwyn District Council image by Simon Devitt