The Eye of the Fish

December 31, 2014

Arise, Sir Ath

Sir Ian, or Sir Ath? Probably, to anyone who knows him, Ath will still just be Ath. It’s a most remarkable transformation really, from a long-haired, large-bearded, rebellious young student of the 60s, building curiously unorthodox structures all over Wellington hillsides; to a well-respected pillar of the architectural community being recognized for a lifetime’s worth of work all over the country. How he got there is a long story, but the important thing is that at last a strong, central figure of the Wellington architectural scene has been recognized appropriately. Ath joins a small and very elite bunch of architects who have been recognized in this way: Sir Michael Fowler, Sir Miles Warren, and, ummm, I think that’s it. It’s not quite Sir Gordon Moller yet (nor Sir Chris Moller yet), and there was never a knighthood for (Sir) Peter Beavan or (Sir) Bill Toomath either.

Ahfield’s oeuvre has been well chronicled by others, including Gerald Melling, Julia Gatley, and lately Simon Devitt as well. There is a great summary over on the Arts Foundation website. Most of his practice’s work is built here in Wellington, although the new generation at Athfield Architects are forging ahead strongly in Auckland and especially Christchurch as well. Athfield Architects have not, as far as I know, built much out in the other provinces – unlike Ath’s 60’s counterpart Roger Walker, who built in places like Whangerei Whakatane (with a new airport in the 70s), and is still a keen rival and good friend of Ath even now.

But nothing should take the shine off Athfield today. The investiture will be a wee way off – but should be a blast. Ath always ends up as the centre of attention somehow, whether through his choice of dress (ie loud stripey blazer) or loud public pronouncements, and I’m sure this occasion will be no different.

What is your favourite Ath building – or Ath story ?

dennis c
31 - 12 - 14

This is superb and respectful acknowledgement of Ath. He has put so much in to his architecture and shown a real soul and grace that isn’t matched by many.

I don’t think Roger did the Whangarei airport. Do you mean Whakatane?

31 - 12 - 14

Always depressing when someone you admire accepts a title.

31 - 12 - 14

Dennis – oops, sorry, you caught me out there. Sorry for that! All those small towns starting with a W just blend into one to me, distinguished only by their distinctive airports.

Miles – you may be right, but I freely admit that I dont know many / any other people who have accepted titles. So I can’t tell if it is “always depressing” or just occasionally so.

4 - 01 - 15

“places like Whakatane (with a new airport in the 70s)” – and just about to have its Air New Zealand services withdrawn.

5 - 01 - 15

So, Mike – does that mean there is a spare Roger Walker terminal running about then? But getting back on topic for a sec – it appears that Ath has never designed an airport terminal.

John H
6 - 01 - 15

Other than Ath, the only other person to be knighted for services to architecture in NZ is Miles Warren. Michael Fowler doesn’t really count because although he was an architect by profession, he was knighted for services to Local Government (i.e. Mayor of Wellington for most of my childhood…which seemed like forever at the time.).
Another vote for “Sir Ath” because “Sir Ian” will forever remind me of “Sir Ian, Sir Ian, Sir Ian…”.

Seamonkey Madness
16 - 01 - 15

Looks like being a knight didn’t agree with Sir Ath.
He has checked out to the big PoMo building in the sky.

Ian Athfield FNZIA, PPNZIA
Friday, 16 January 2015, 12:16 pm
Press Release: New Zealand Institute of Architects

Ian Athfield FNZIA, PPNZIA

It is with great sadness that we inform Members that Sir Ian Athfield, one of New Zealand’s finest architects, has passed away in Wellington. Our deepest condolences go out to Ath’s family, friends and colleagues. There are few details to share at this stage, but we will notify members of any funeral or memorial service arrangements as soon as they arise.

16 - 01 - 15

RIP. A great New Zealander and a fine architect.

16 - 01 - 15


16 - 01 - 15

Indeed, that is really sad news. Not unexpected, as he has been really ill from his old war-wounds, but terribly sad none the less. We’ll try and do a tribute to him on here soon. Feel free to email contact @ if you have any stories on Ath that you would like to share…