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2013 Gold Medal essay by Andrew Barrie

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Gold Medal recipient Pip Cheshire knows how to talk the walk, says Dr Andrew Barrie.

Some architects prefer to let their buildings do all the talking. Pip Cheshire’s not one of those silent types. He’s a natural born communicator, but there has always been walk to match the talk. In his early years, his enthusiasm found expression in the Politics Society at the University of Canterbury and as a contributor to the student mag, Canta. Since entering the architectural world, Pip has been tireless as an advocate for architecture and a servant of the profession: President of the Auckland Architecture Association (AAA) in 1987; Chair of the Auckland Branch of the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) from 1998-2000; Adjunct Professor at the University of Auckland; NZIA awards juror and jury convener; and member of the Auckland Urban Design Panel.

Our local scene, thankfully, isn’t short of passionate contributors. What makes Pip unique is not his energy or professional activism – though he is both energetic and engaged – but his skills as a communicator. Articulate and informed, Pip proves willing to talk (and write) about architecture to, as he puts it, “whoever would listen”. As students, Pip and Pete Bossley edited the AAA Bulletin, and while serving as Branch Chair, he reinvigorated the NZIA Branch newsletter, titling it Big Issues. (The choice of title was deliberate – the Institute’s national broadsheet was then called Detail.) Other projects have included contributions to Architecture New Zealand, a stretch (alongside Pete Bossley and David Mitchell) as architecture columnist for Metro, and even a gig writing about kitchens for Cuisine magazine.

Pip has also joined the handful of New Zealand architects to produce a full-length book. In 2008, he collaborated with photographer Patrick Reynolds on Architecture Uncooked (Random House), a lusciously illustrated tome about the architecture of the vernacular Kiwi bach. The book’s charmingly rumpty subject matter must have come as a surprise to many, given Pip’s status as an architect best known for large, meticulously designed houses for folk resident in the upper reaches of the rich list.

In the mid-2000s Pip and other Cheshire Architects staffers (including myself) launched Block, initially an addendum to the NZIA Auckland Branch newsletter, as a venue for research and commentary on the local scene. Ambitions were modest – we simply sought to slow the newsletter’s journey to the recycle bin – but within a few issues it had replaced the newsletter.

The eloquence, lucidity and wit of Pip’s contributions belie the phenomenal speed with which they are produced. I was frequently astonished at the publication-ready 1,000-word texts that would appear in my email inbox just a few hours after Pip asked, “Was I supposed to write something for this issue?”

Block generates modest editorial fees. Nervous about the complexity of divvying these up among a shifting group of contributors, we established The Block Foundation to receive the fees and disperse them by supporting “things that seemed interesting”. The Foundation has funded international lectures, exhibitions, events and books, as well as making grants to support the work of organisations such as Architecture+Women.

The establishment of Block and The Block Foundation is typical of Pip’s architectural activities beyond the making of buildings. It shows both a generosity of spirit and a restless drive to make things better – not just for himself or in his own work, but for architects and all those we serve. The NZIA Gold Medal is a tribute, not only to Pip’s remarkable body of design work, but to his erudite, articulate and ongoing contribution to the way we understand and talk about architecture here in New Zealand.

The University of Auckland's School of Architecture's Dr Andrew Barrie is an architectural critic and designer. Pip Cheshire is the 2013 NZIA Gold Medal recipient.

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