Architectural Appraisal


Auckland Public Hospital, Park Road, Grafton.
Cathedral church of St-Pierre, Beauvais, France. 1227-72.

The notion of ethics in arts, if valid, may be applied to the appraisal of 20th and 21st-century architecture. On any account fashion evidently holds the profession and the public sensibility in thrall. How is it shaped? How is it critiqued? The profession and industry has invented a plethora of awards with their hubris. It would be refreshing to have no awards to buildings less than 30 or 40 years old, and to seriously address the question, ‘How might this stand the judgement of time?’ Without the gratification and fickleness of quick awards designers might work with greater depth and integrity. The basis and value of design competitions needs to be examined, as also the chain of influence.

In due course this forum may comment on architectural and arts ‘Awards’, drawing upon the philosophy developed in the GAPS ARTS. There might be some interesting things in the gaps; and there might be some people interested in the process of judgement.

Enduring goodness

Around 1990 the School of Architecture at Aukand University hosted a lecture by a visiting UK architect. The topic has faded from memory but it was a high-minded advancement of theory and principles of design. Questions and discussion seemed to carry the issues forward—until an evidently exasperated student asked, ‘Can you please tell us, what style of architecture we should be following now?’ After all the talk, can we ever be free from imperious style and fickle fashion?

We can’t say that the medievals didn’t know about it; for Dante in his Divine Comedy converses in purgatory with the painter Oderisi, there because of his pride. Oderisi says:

O empty glory of man’s frail ambition,
How soon its topmost boughs their green must yield;
If no Dark Age succeed, what short fruition!
Once, Cimabue thought to hold the field
In painting; Giotto’s all the rage to-day;
The other’s fame lies in the dust concealed.
        - Purgatorio 11, 91–96. trans. by Dorothy L. Sayers

It is evident that there needs to be some hard thinking about the chain of influence—conceptual designers, architectural practices, publicists, developers, builders, consumers. Maybe the first two especially need to be more responsible in explaining what they produce and why, to more carefully educate the following players in the chain. It could include cautions and proscriptive advice, not only the promotion of novel and clever ideas.

The matter of judgement emerges strongly. It can be developed as indicated in ARCHITECTURE, ARTS, ETHICS. A solid basis and framework of judgement needs to be understood if merit awards are not to lose real credibility. An older book is recommended for thoughtful attention: Peter Collins, Architectural Judgement (London: Faber & Faber, 1971).

In 2005 and in 2008 two GAPS ARTS lectures were given by Dr Estelle Maré, Emeritus Professor of Art History, Pretoria, South Africa. The topics were on design intention in the Athenian Acropolis. These two lectures are published in the South African Journal of Art History, of which Estelle is the Editor. Copies of this Journal are held at the GAPS venue, and are also in the Auckland University School of Architecture Library.

Estelle has also made available to us a very thought-provoking article she published in 1990, ‘The role and destiny of the artist in Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen.’ This is highly recommended—copies are available from John Lewis.



Dr Estelle Maré  •  7.00 pm, Sunday, 6th February, 2011

E Mare

On 9 July 2008 GAPS ARTS hosted Prof. Maré’s paper, “Mnesikles, not a neglected, but a misunderstood architect” which was later published in the South African Journal of Art History. The theme was basically that Mnesikles, who designed the Propylae on the Athenian Acropolis designed his building in a way that does not distract from the Parthenon, the main building on the site.

  • Estelle has supplied the following abstract of the forthcoming talk, noting that it will be a follow-up of the former talk:

‘The role of the “second architect” was expounded by Edmond Bacon in his Design of Cities. His thesis is basically that an architect who designs a new building on a site on which a significant building already exists, or a group of buildings belonging together already exist, should not detract from the merit of the work of the first architect, but should blend the new structure with the old, not necessarily by imitation or copying. This is a test for any architect’s creative ingenuity and moral responsibility, because a disharmonious addition on a site can spoil its sense of place.

‘The examples I have chosen are from various periods and cultures around the world, in two categories: firstly unsuccessful context-ualisation of the designs of the second architects (the vast majority), and secondly examples of successful contextualisation.’

This is surely a timely and relevant paper for discussion by Auckland architects and all those interested in the character of our city’s buildings.

Dr Estelle Maré is Emeritus Professor of Art History of the University of South Africa (UNISA), Pretoria, and Research Fellow at Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria. She earlier qualified and practised as an architect until 1980, from which time she has held university positions, travelled and lectured widely. She is editor of the South African Journal of Art History.


Dr Mervyn Duffy  •   7.00 pm, Sunday, 14 November, 2010


The house-church of Dura-Europos in Syria caused considerable interest when it was excavated in the 1930s. This lecture is a look back at that archaeological expedition and the significance of their findings. Illustrated by photos from the expedition’s Final Report and other images this is an account of the earliest Christian church whose architecture and decoration were, in large measure, preserved unaltered by being buried in a defensive mound.

After the close of the New Testament record, the next two centuries of Christianity, until the Emperor Constantine, tend to be a gap for most of us. The topic of this lecture is one bridge to give us an imaginative grasp of it.

  • Dr Mervyn Duffy is Dean of Studies and Theology Lecturer at The Good Shepherd College, Ponsonby, Auckland. He first studied and taught Mathematics and Computing, then gained his Doctorate in Systematic Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome where his interest in Christian art and architecture was stimulated. He is interested in how Christian faith is both expressed by and shaped by its art and architecture.


Dr Estelle Maré  •   7.00 pm, Sunday, 1 September, 2013


Garnier Opera House, Paris
Members of the upper class spend their great wealth to manifest their social power and prestige publicly. Since the industrial revolution the ostentation of the affluent elite has been interpreted and debated in various ways as a symptom of the consumer society. Conspicuous material creations throughout the ages especially took the form of prestigious buildings, the architects creating splendid architectural displays for their powerful clients.

An architectural element that is often embellished as a focal component, especially in large historical buildings, is the stairway inside or on the outside of the building. Since the time of the Sumerian ziggurats great stairways abound. But the most felicitous examples that of necessity express the human scale are formally innovative, and serve as an expressive link in the spatial composition of buildings.

Of these, a selection are analysed, focussing also on the cultural context of their creation. Among the examples are the double helical stairway in Chambord Palace, France, that was probably designed by Leonardo da Vinci, and the baroque-like stairway in the Old Raadsaal in Pretoria.

The invention of lifts and escalators that are seldom spectacular has had a bland effect in the foyers and lobbies of most modern prestigious buildings, in which equally bland hidden stairways are provided mainly as emergency exits. However, there are exceptions in modern architecture in which the tradition of conspicuous display of stairways enhance movement on a human scale, in spite of the vast spaces in which they may be situated.

  • Dr Estelle Maré is Emeritus Professor of Art History of the University of South Africa (UNISA), Pretoria, and Research Fellow at Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria. She earlier qualified and practised as an architect until 1980, from which time she has held university positions, travelled and lectured widely. She is editor of the South African Journal of Art History.


Elizabeth Brookbanks  •  7.00 pm, Sun., 23 March, 2014

We have all seen a work of art that has moved us—sometimes quite profoundly—where was it? How did it relate to the environment in which it was placed?

The alliance between art and architecture

If an aesthetic alliance exists between art and architecture it is determined by context —that is the appointment of a particular work in a particular place. The appropriate placement of an artwork in a space creates a place in which to dwell. Through a mysterious symbiosis, an artwork can enliven an environment to become a dwelling. Where does the vitality between a work of art and an architectural construct reside?

Works of art exist within a context of connectivity. The philosophical and theoretical content of an artwork cannot be separated from the physicality of the object abiding in space. Features of the space collude to enhance or diminish the work of art. The environment in which an artwork is positioned creates a place of habitation both for the viewer and the work itself. It is within the interior space that the aesthetic alliance between art and architecture converges. Let us interrogate this alliance… —E.B.

Elizabeth Brookbanks

Elizabeth Brookbanks BA (Art History) Otago, BFA(hons) Elam Auckland, BA(hons) Auckland, MA (Art History) Auckland.

In conjunction with Fine Arts Elizabeth has studied Theology, Teaching, and Architecture. Elizabeth has recently established her own consultancy company (Elizabeth Brookbanks Ltd.) specializing in matters relating to the Fine Arts.

Swedish modern architecture

Dr Ivo Holmqvist  •  7.00 pm. Sunday, 25 May, 2014

A second talk on Swedish architecture, surveys differing styles, trends and tendencies over three hundred years, from monumental buildings in the early 1700s (Stockholm Castle by Tessin) via French-influenced rococo in the late 1700s (China Castle – a Unesco World Heritage site – and Ovedskloster by Harleman), to classicism in the early 1800s (palaces and churches). There follows a discussion of the late 1800 buildings inspired by continental Jugend and Art nouveau (banks, residential and summer houses) and national romanticism at the end of that century and into the next (foremost Stockholm Town Hall by Ostberg).

Stockholm Exhibition, 1930. Entrance Pavilion, drawing.
Stockholm Exhibition, 1930. Entrance Pavilion, drawing.

A summing-up of the 1920s new classicism, also known as Swedish grace (Stockholm City Library by Gunnar Asplund and his Forest Cemetery – also a World Hertiage site – and Stockholm Concert Hall by Ivar Tengbom) leads to a brief view of Swedish functionalism, with the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition as a focal point. Some later postmodern architects will be mentioned, among them Ralph Erskine and Gert Wingårdh. Recent changes in city planning will be noted, like the million buildings programme of the 1970s and the satellite cities in the larger urban regions (Vallingby). The far-reaching transformation of downtown Stockholm illustrates the controversial grand scale town planning – the opposition it has met will also be discussed.

Dr Ivo Holmqvist

Dr Ivo Holmqvist is Emeritus Professor in Scandinavian Literature Universiteit Gent, Ghent, Belgium. He and his wife Ingwor taught Scandinavian Studies at Auckland 1972–1974 and from 1994 to the closure of that section in 2001. Back in New Zealand since 2008, they run the Scandinavian Light B & B in Laingholm. Ivo Holmqvist has written books on the Anglo–Welsh writer Richard Hughes and on the Danish authors Hans Christian Andersen and Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen.


Prof. Estelle Maré  •  7.00 pm. Sunday, 19 October, 2014

Dr Maré emphasises Leonardo da Vinci’s originality as an architectural designer, especially with reference to his ability to connect ideas derived from a wide range of sources and from his own empirical researches. This attempt at understanding Leonardo’s visual thinking that is the basis of his architectural designs commences with a reference to his decorative knotted puzzle entitled Concatenation (c.1510).

Leonardo’s empiricist approach to scientific research and artistic creativity can also be related to Aristotle’s insights into matter, form and growth patterns.

Dr Maré will explain how the creative process in art and design was inspired by thought experiments in which Leonardo’s mastery of design enabled him to express the mutation of living forms into mechanical and architectural forms, and vice versa.

His representation of fictive buildings in his paintings, and his designs of centralised and longitudinal domed churches are evaluated in some detail, as well as notable domed churches on octagonal plans with side chapels that approximate fractal designs.

Dr Estelle Maré is Emeritus Professor of Art History of the University of South Africa (UNISA), Pretoria, and Research Fellow at Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria. She qualified and practised as an architect, and from 1980 has held university positions, travelled and lectured widely. She is the editor of the South African Journal of Art History.



Tony Watkins  •  Sunday, 12 July, 2015, 7.00 pm


Futuna Chapel, Karori. Photograph by courtesy of Tony Wills.

A medieval cathedral was not the solution to a problem. It was rather the affirmation of a faith and a culture, built with joy and love. Love lives on, and thus medieval architecture continues to delight us. Nor is the modern architecture so beloved of architects and architectural magazines the solution to any problem. It is rather an exuberant display of the wealth and power of corporations or individuals. In contrast too many people see the built environment as a problem to be solved. Negative energy leads to hopelessness and despair.

We need to move from negative thinking and control, to positive thinking and freedom. However positive energy, like love, is a way of going, rather than a point at which you arrive. Love sees building as process rather than product.

Futuna is generally considered to be Aotearoa’s best contemporary church. John Scott also designed the admirable Havelock North and Westport churches, but the sacred process of building made Futuna different from those. Futuna was built by Marist brothers. John would turn up each day to see what needed to be done. Details were sorted out, and any problems were resolved as they arose. Drawings were often done on the fabric of the building itself.

This was the monastic tradition of building. You began by growing vegetables. Over time you came to realize the sacredness of soil as it trickled through your fingers. You watched plants grow as the seasons came and went. You felt the gentle breezes, and the storms. You were filled with wonder at the beauty of clouds. Respect for the universe and nature developed into love. Slowly you came to love stone and timber too, until at last you were ready to begin building with love.

Tony Watkins, M.Arch, Dip TP (Hons), FNZIA, RIBA, is an architect, author, owner-builder, servant of Piglet, and opponent of TPPA. For twenty years he lectured in Vernacular Architecture at the University of Auckland. His books include Thinking it Through, The Human House and Piglet the Great of Karaka Bay.




Tony Watkins
Sunday, 7.00 pm
6 December, 2015


New Zealanders now live in a neo-liberal paradise. We have government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich. The economy has been completely deregulated, while the built environment is hopelessly over-regulated, destroying the human spirit and enhancing materialistic values.

The architecture of the rich is all too often driven by what Dante described as envy, greed, gluttony and pride. Buildings which presume that the natural environment, like the working poor, comes free and without limit. In contrast environmentally responsible architecture moves beyond ticking ethical boxes and aspires to virtue. It can be recognised by the virtues of humility, generosity, gentleness, kindness and respect. The real negotiations about climate change are not taking place in Paris. The decisions are being made in every architectural office.

Architecture of the people begins with a culture which belongs in place. Architecture by the people brings personal growth and understanding through involvement in the building process. Architecture for the people is very different from a built environment fashioned for the narrow values of planners, bureaucrats and politicians. Loving power and control is a recipe for a destructive relationship. True love sets lovers free..

Tony Watkins, M.Arch, Dip TP (Hons), FNZIA, RIBA, is an architect, author, owner-builder, servant of Piglet, and opponent of TPPA. For twenty years he lectured in Vernacular Architecture at the University of Auckland. His books include Thinking it Through, The Human House and Piglet the Great of Karaka Bay.


The evening will commence with Helen presenting and talking about her work. Many of her paintings will be on display―albeit outside their Karaka Bay habitat.

The Exuberant House



Tony Watkins  •  Sunday, 7.00 pm, 2 October, 2016


Life is a journey, not a point at which you arrive. Responsible architecture is also a journey, not a commodified object at the end of the road. A wise person travels light. Architectural obesity has no place in the human race. Climate change presents a wonderful opportunity to reconsider the meaning of life. How might human beings belong in this world? How might our architecture belong?

Healing a Broken World

Apartments, by definition, tear lives apart. The fascist Unitary Plan embraces disconnection, the curse of our time. The current fad of neo-liberal economics has destroyed the very idea of a community. The great community bond is love, with gratitude close behind. Climate change is but a symptom of a failure of love and of gratitude for the natural environment. We need architecture that unites in love with seamless continuity, giving thanks for an astonishing planet that gives us life.

Tony Watkins, M.Arch, Dip TP (Hons), FNZIA, RIBA, is an architect, author, owner-builder, servant of Piglet, and opponent of TPPA. For twenty years he lectured in Vernacular Architecture at the University of Auckland. His books include Thinking it Through, The Human House and Piglet the Great of Karaka Bay.



Chris Barton

Sunday, 4th March, 2018, 7.00 pm

Architectural criticism often suffers from being enmeshed by a servile legacy - a servility that foremost delivers for the client, often the developer and sometimes as a slave to ideology. Writing about architecture generally is mostly laced with techniques of persuasion, rhetoric, promotion and influence and seeks approval rather than appraisal.

Architectural ethics. That legacy taints architectural criticism's ability to be critical. Simon Sellars cites "a peculiar act of collusion between architect and reviewer". Kester Rattenbury calls it a token "show of silk whiplashes that masks an actual reinforcement of prevailing power". Criticism as pro-architecture PR - an entanglement in politics and commerce that inevitably leads to questions of ethics.

Holding to account. Stephen Parnell points out in the Architectural Review's 120th anniversary issue, the profession needs strong criticism to thrive and architecture and its architects need external interpretation, analysis, critique and validation - plus being held to account. "Buildings may be constructed on the building site, but architecture is constructed in the discourse."

The silence. This lecture begins with the observation of a blithe silence about New Zealand architecture in the mainstream media. Or, if not a silence, then a very quiet whisper. It examines the rise of architecture journalism in the mainstream press in the United Kingdom - a relatively recent phenomenon, beginning in the mid 80s. Until then, most discussion about architecture was like here - sporadic and mostly confined to the architecture journals, or books.

This examination of the divide between writing for a professional audience and writing for a mainstream print media audience, asks why architecture writing has remained so marginalised for so long. This leads to a scrutiny of the role of the critic and some troubling architectural taboos or blind spots; silences that raise questions about architectural ethics and whether critics can hold architects to account.


Chris Barton B.Arch, M.Arch (Auckland), has taught part-time at the Auckland School of Architecture since 2012. He runs MArch thesis writing workshops, is an MArch thesis supervisor, teaches the critical writing seminar course, Building the Case, and collaborates with practising architects teaching MArch studio courses. He's also a freelance journalist and since 2013 has been the architecture/urban design critic for Metro magazine. He's won multiple media awards for his journalism including, in 2014, Reviewer of Year. Recent contributions include articles for North & South, New Zealand Listener, Metro, Paperboy and Defign. His research focus is on writing in architectural practice, architecture in the media and the architecture of murder and memorial. He has 30 years' experience in newspapers and magazines including senior feature writer at the New Zealand Herald, and founding editor of New Zealand PC World. A press fellowship in 2010 to Wolfson College, Cambridge, enabled him to research architectural writing in mainstream media.



Tony Watkins
7.00 pm. Sunday, 10 June, 2018


Buildings enshrine love and energy, just as libraries enshrine wisdom and knowledge. However we tend to think of energy only as something needed to complete a task, forgetting that vast amounts of energy have already been expended to bring our buildings, and our cities, into existence. It has not gone away. Energy is embodied in architecture. Trashing buildings is exactly the same as burning books. Sadly neoliberal economics cannot tolerate dissenters who give thanks and celebrate the joy of what has already been achieved, rather than being constantly obsessed with what, perhaps, might be. In a living city energy is both passive and active.

Healing a Broken World
School of Architecture: built 1978;
to be euthanased 2018,
at age 40 years.
When a building is demolished the love and
energy embodied in it are lost forever.

At its birth a living building is little more than potential. Over time an architectural story continues to be written, through unexpected chance, and unanticipated opportunity. It is impossible to recapture or replicate this rich patina of living architecture. Photographs and written records are but a shadow. If architecture is so devoid of love that it is not worth preserving, it would be better if it had never been built.

Tony Watkins, M.Arch, Dip TP (Hons), FNZIA, RIBA, is an architect, author, owner-builder, servant of Piglet, and opponent of TPPA. For twenty years he lectured in Vernacular Architecture at the University of Auckland. His books include Thinking it Through, The Human House and Piglet the Great of Karaka Bay.