The 2018 UQ Architecture Lecture series concludes with John Hardwick-Smith of New Zealand’s Athfield Architects.

John graduated from the Wellington School of Architecture in 1992, and has been a Director of Athfield Architects Ltd (AAL) and of Wraight Athfield Landscape and Architecture (WALA) since early 2000s. In these roles he has led or collaborated on the design of a broad range of architectural and landscape projects. John has particular interests in conceptual design, design development, and design coordination phases. His work is often collaborative and cross-disciplinary, and traverses public, private, institutional and commercial interests. He has specific interest in projects that interface between architecture, public art, landscape and infrastructure, and has extensive project experience across education, commercial, civic/arts, heritage conservation, urban infrastructure, open space, and housing.

John’s talk is entitled: Practicing Groundings: Tales of grounding architecture, and architectural groundings, through some recent (and less recent) works and practices of Athfield Architects Ltd. Learn more about John and the reasons he became an architect…

Tell us a little about your background, and what originally led you to architecture?

I grew up on a hill country farm in central NZ, and initially set out on a career in farming. Direct engagement with a relatively untamed landscape, and involvement in ‘honest’ production from the ground was compelling. After a two year OE in South America and Europe, I made a relatively late switch to architecture, thinking it might be a relevant way combining a grounding in ‘working’ the land, with a newly discovered interest in the dynamics of cities. Land-based sensibilities, urban aspirations, and a balance of ‘builderly’ pragmatism with naïve optimism probably contributed to my landing a job with Athfield Architects in the mid 90’s… Becoming part of a transitioning and growing office with a provocative, generous, and collaborative spirit established by the late Ian Athfield (Ath) and colleagues extended the architectural platform from that time.

What principles inform your work?

Context responsive, narrative based, community connected, grounded and relevant, collaborative, ‘builderly’…

In what way do you think your work responds to the lecture series theme ‘in-terre-vention’?

Our work is generally very context driven, often biasing ground over figure. The underlying physical and cultural landscape (the ‘ground’), particularly in Wellington, with its unique topography, natural and constructed edges, inevitably plays a huge part.  Additionally, AAL projects are rarely standalone finite exercises, but more often open ended interventions – often unfinished, questioning and interpreting existing conditions, and looking/ hoping ahead – making ripples/ setting fertile ground for subsequent moves…

Where do you find your design inspiration?

Everywhere! Situations, problems, people, context, landscape.

What are your top 3 favourite design books?

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. Not really a design book, but a great book I read this summer about the human condition, ageing and dying. And I like that my daughter gave it to her (ageing) parents for Christmas…

Calvino’s Invisible Cities is an old favourite.


Posted by