Sad news this morning to hear that Ian Athfield had died. I didn’t know him well – must be one of the few people that had never worked for him – so I suspect that he lives on well in the hearts of many of Wellington’s finest.
Ath was, it has to be said, a one-of-a-kind character. I don’t think ive ever met someone quite like him before, and I doubt that I’ll ever meet anyone quite the same in the future either. He was a talented architect, with a continuously fertile imagination, and a pen or pencil always at the ready to draw or scribble out a new design. But he was also a builder, something perhaps a little uncommon in an architect, and it seems that there was nothing he really liked better than to add another addition on to his edifice in Khandallah. I say edifice: I really mean village. The Greeks took hundreds of years to perfect the art of the hillside town in places like Santorini, while Ath took a mere 40 years to build his own version of white stucco-clad villas cascading down to the sea. To me it is his finest building, as it transcends the ordinary, and certainly long left the T-square and orthogonal behind. Don’t you wish you had a building where you could just test shit out? Ath did.
The newspaper and the people of Wellington will probably settle on the City Library as his best work though, and they’re probably right, with the long line of copper-clad Nikau palms wrapping themselves around the base of the building. It’s not a perfect building though, not by any means, but it has an idiosyncrasy to it that endears. As an example of the Post-Modern style, it is probably a masterpiece – you can’t say that about many Po-Mo buildings. Other buildings may not have weathered the years so well. The restaurant at the top of the cable-car for instance, although winning a National NZIA award back in the 80s, has virtually disappeared in a cloud of dust as the trellis octopus slowly rotted. But no worry – there are enough sturdy survivors to keep his memory alive. Wellington is full of them in fact. As Sir Christopher Wren’s burial plot in St Paul’s cathedral says, “if you want a memorial, look around you.” Ath was one of those about whom the phrase “he built this city” is true. He lives on in the remaining buildings around us. RIP Ath.