LeviathanApril 28, 2018
Sadly, David Mitchell has passed away. His son Julian put it this way:
David John Mitchell, sailor, adventurer, writer, wit, teacher, musician, dancer, styler, reader and architect has left us.
We will sure miss the old boy!
Love you dad.
As an avowed Aucklander, Mitchell may not be known as well down here, but he was a lovely character, always with an impish grin, previously sporting a lot of red beard, host to a cracking sense of humour, an acerbic wit, and a great sense of design. You may know him (if you’re quite old) as the author of “The Elegant Shed”, one of the first books on NZ Architecture to try and make sense of our colonial architectural history. It was also the first to be televised – imagine that – architecture intelligently presented on television! You can tell that was a long time ago… (and watch it here at NZ on Screen). But Mitchell had a loveable quality that made him perfect for tv – nearly always wearing a hat to protect his shining dome – he was one of those architects who have the art of being able to explain a design in 3 or 4 freehand sketchy black lines on a page. He was, shall we say, an architect’s architect.
Was he a people’s architect too? I think so. To me, his Auckland University School of Music was Manning Mitchell’s outstanding best creation, a simple curving wave of a line sinuously sweeping between the abandoned porticos of two former old boarding houses: one forms an entry, the other remains as a bus stop. Heavily crusted in a thick coat of stucco and painted a graduated shade of yellow, complete with an existing palm tree, the wall encloses a beautiful small courtyard at a sensitive scale. Admittedly, that project is attributed to Jack Manning, but I reckon that single curving line has all the hallmarks of Dave Mitchell’s hand…
Mitchell and his partner in life, the lovely Julie Stout, were sailors at heart. Having taught at University of Auckland for many years they packed up everything onto their boat and sailed the world – as the NZIA website says:
Offshore adventures in Rogue with Julie to many parts of the Pacific Islands, Asia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Andaman Islands, Sumatra, Maldives, Oman, Yemen, Egypt and Turkey – all in a search of an expression of the environment, culture and pattern.
When they returned, they came ashore and built a couple of very interesting houses – one right way up, and the other, their own house, basically, upside down. I know, that makes no sense – I’ll have to find a photo.
But that is what his architecture often did – turn everything upside down and approach from the opposite direction. Look, for example, at the Gibbs house in Parnell. Totally ground-breaking for New Zealand architecture – post-modernism at its best (so often, PM is at its worst). There was a lightness to the architecture – ephemeral at times perhaps – heavy use of trellis to moderate the light, with a dappled effect, much like the bow of his broad, deep-rimmed hats.
Others will know him better than me, or in a different way – feel free to add your comments –