Just over two decades ago, Gary Lawson went to a job interview with Nicholas Stevens. Nicholas didn't let him leave. "We started a really good, wide ranging conversation at my job interview, and we haven't finished it yet," Gary says. A year on from that interview, Stevens Lawson Architects emerged. The award winning practice turned 20 this week. We spoke to the duo about how SLA came about.
1 April 2022
Where were you before SLA?
Nicholas Stevens: I was born in Morrinsville, raised in Auckland and studied at the University of Auckland. I spent three years at Lane Priest before founding Nicholas Stevens Architects, which I led for 10 years.
Gary Lawson: I was born in Dunedin, grew up in Timaru, and studied Architecture at Unitec in Auckland. I was at Patterson Associates for two years before joining Nicholas Stevens Architects.
How do you work together?
NS: It's quite an organic process, starting with conversations, ideas and 'what ifs'. We bring different qualities, interests and obsessions to the table, but only progress with the ideas that we agree upon, which is surprisingly often. Mutual respect has been the key and we believe that collaboration has made our work stronger.
GL: It's a classic Venn diagram - we are quite different individuals, but there's a strong overlap that connects us. Our work exists and flows from this overlap. And we have an agreement that we won't proceed with something unless we are both happy!
Where does this magic happen?
NS: For many years we worked out of the Mayfair Building in Parnell, but recently moved down the road to a larger space in the Axis building, formerly the Nestle Chocolate factory.
Tell us about the highs at SLA.
NS&GL: There have been so many. We've been fortunate to create bespoke houses in outstanding landscapes throughout New Zealand. The Blyth Performing Arts Centre was a special project, as was the Chapel of St Peter. HomeGround, our recently completed project for the Auckland City Mission is our most significant project to date in terms of scale, complexity and social impact. It was a great privilege to work with this extraordinary organisation. It's also been remarkably satisfying to have built up our office in size and to have worked with so many talented individuals over our time, creating a place of work that values all who have, and do, work for us, their talents and skills and to collectively contribute something worthwhile to New Zealand architecture.
Where do you see the practice in 20 years?
GL: On a beach somewhere with a good book and a better soundtrack...
Got any favourite anecdotes?
NS: After we had finished the Blyth, one of our clients said 'Do you know why you really got this commission? You were the only ones that looked like architects, with your long hair and pointy shoes" If only it worked like that!
GL: Take what you do seriously, but not yourself!
Pictured above: Auckland City Mission HomeGround by Stevens Lawson Architects. Photo by Mark Smith.
Pictured below: Nicholas Stevens and Gary Lawson a few years back. Photo by Mark Smith.