Mau­rice Ma­honey

The ar­chi­tect’s legacy has largely been oblit­er­ated from the land­scape by the Christchurch earth­quakes, but the Ma­honey fam­ily home has been re­spect­fully re­in­stated.

HOME Magazine NZ - - Contents - Text Matt Philp Pho­tog­ra­phy Mary Gaudin

1966—Fen­dal­ton

On the eve of the de­mo­li­tion of Mau­rice and Mar­garet Ma­honey’s quake-dam­aged house, their four adult chil­dren were granted an in­dul­gence: each was al­lowed to write in felt pen on the white block­work, a se­ri­ous taboo when grow­ing up.

It was a light mo­ment dur­ing the last rites for what was not only a fam­ily’s home, but a model of Christchurch mod­ernism, de­signed by one of its lead­ing ex­po­nents. When the wreck­ing crew went to work a few days later, they bowled a piece of our ar­chi­tec­tural her­itage. And then, by some abra­cadabra, in early 2016 the Ma­honey house was back on its Fen­dal­ton site – or some­thing very much like it. Same foot­print and di­men­sions, same sit­ting room, ceil­ing struc­ture, cab­i­netry and other fit­tings. At the rear of that room, as if it had never left, stood Mar­garet’s grand pi­ano, her sheet mu­sic, as ever, neatly slot­ted into the unit de­signed in 1966 by Ma­honey. A re-cre­ation? Or a re-imag­in­ing? For Ma­honey, the truth lies some­where in be­tween. “It’s a re­peat, but up­dated,” he says of his reprise of the house he first drew up half-a-cen­tury ago, when the sig­na­ture War­ren & Ma­honey el­e­ments were con­frontingly con­tem­po­rary. By 1966, he and Miles War­ren were well into their stride as an ar­chi­tec­tural part­ner­ship, with the Den­tal Nurses Train­ing School, Hare­wood Cre­ma­to­rium and Col­lege House com­pleted, along with a num­ber of in­no­va­tive res­i­den­tial projects. “Miles and I were build­ing quite a lot of houses in those days, and we’d adopted this style of block­work and steeply pitched roofs, so I car­ried on with it here.” Ma­honey’s re­build de­sign was in­formed by al­most 50 years of liv­ing with that first ef­fort – and the legacy of the earth­quakes. Us­ing block wasn’t an op­tion, like­wise for the orig­i­nal pair of tall chim­neys, which didn’t come down but cracked badly. As in­sur­ance against fur­ther quakes, he de­signed the ex­te­rior walls with two lay­ers of fram­ing, plus ply­wood for ad­di­tional brac­ing, and in­cor­po­rated a float­ing rib-raft floor.

On the ex­te­rior, which fol­lows the ex­act line of the orig­i­nal, the block has been re­placed with fi­bre ce­ment cladding, while on the in­side, con­crete walls have been sup­planted by honey-toned tawa pan­elling. There is tim­ber ev­ery­where now, in­clud­ing the orig­i­nal pitched ceil­ing sup­ported by mer­anti beams and bat­tens, which was parked in a cor­ner of the prop­erty un­til it could be re­in­stated. In the foyer, mean­while, Ma­honey has pre­cisely recreated the old pat­terned in-situ con­crete ceil­ing, only this time in wood. Fifty years af­ter help­ing to in­tro­duce so-called bru­tal­ism to Christchurch, he’s been con­verted: “The tim­ber feel is so much nicer.” There are other changes, no­tably a re­con­fig­u­ra­tion of the kitchen and laun­dry, with the kitchen bench, which for­merly ran along a wall and looked onto the drive­way, re­cast as an is­land ori­ented to­wards the din­ing room. Be­yond the din­ing space, Mau­rice has made his most sig­nif­i­cant de­par­ture from the 1960s floor­plan by adding a new sun room. The sun room ex­ten­sion is a re­sponse to one of the few short­com­ings of the for­mer house, he ex­plains. “My orig­i­nal de­sign was very much de­ter­mined by the shape of the sec­tion. It’s a very nar­row frontage and widens out, so it’s al­most tri­an­gu­lar. That made it very dif­fi­cult to find a pro­file for the house to sit on the site, which led me to de­sign a nar­row wing at the front and two wider wings at the back. “When it came time to re­design it, I thought ‘is there a bet­ter way to do it?’, be­cause the ori­en­ta­tion is not bril­liant. We don’t get much sun in here un­til the af­ter­noon. I tried all sorts of al­ter­na­tives, tried to ma­noeu­vre the house dif­fer­ently, but noth­ing would work. This is the only way it fits. That’s why we put the sun room out there – to try to get more sun through the day.” It’s a lighter and warmer house, and less ex­pen­sive

Fifty years af­ter help­ing to in­tro­duce so-called bru­tal­ism to Christchurch, Ma­honey has been con­verted: “The tim­ber feel is so much nicer.”

War­ren & Ma­honey’s legacy was dec­i­mated by the Can­ter­bury earth­quakes. When Ma­honey last tal­lied the ca­su­al­ties, his list was up to 35 build­ings... At least he’s been able to pull one back.

to run thanks to 21st-cen­tury in­su­la­tion and dou­ble glaz­ing, and an ar­ray of 20 pho­to­voltaic pan­els on the roof. Con­versely, a small swim­ming pool and a games room above the garage – scene of many happy fam­ily times – were deemed sur­plus to re­quire­ments for a cou­ple now in their 70s and 80s. Yet for all these changes, it’s the con­ti­nu­ities that dom­i­nate, down to the re­cy­cling of doors, pel­mets, bat­tens, book­shelves and man­tles, as well as 500 round-head brass screws. The house is still es­sen­tially ex­pe­ri­enced as a se­quence of pitched-ceil­ing rooms set against an un­usu­ally low pas­sage­way that runs the length of the house, cre­at­ing a pat­tern of com­pres­sion and re­lease. When they moved back into the house, the over­whelm­ing feeling was of fa­mil­iar­ity, says Ma­honey, who adds that he didn’t con­tem­plate for a mo­ment us­ing the re­build as an op­por­tu­nity to start from scratch. “We’d lived here al­most 50 years and were pretty used to it. We wanted to carry on the same feel – or as near as pos­si­ble.” But you feel that there’s some­thing more to this Lazarus act in a Fen­dal­ton cul-de-sac. War­ren & Ma­honey’s legacy was dec­i­mated by the Can­ter­bury earth­quakes. When Ma­honey last tal­lied the ca­su­al­ties, his list was up to 35 build­ings, but he sus­pects it has grown since. “Al­most your life’s work,” he says. At least he’s been able to pull one back.

Right The low, de­tailed foyer ceil­ing gives way to the soar­ing pitch of the liv­ing room, set­ting a pat­tern of com­pres­sion and re­lease through­out the home. Far right Be­hind Mar­garet Ma­honey’s grand pi­ano stands a unit de­signed by her hus­band in 1966 to store her sheet mu­sic. Far right, bot­tom Af­ter de­mo­li­tion, the orig­i­nal pitched ceil­ing, sup­ported by mer­anti beams and bat­tens, sat in a cor­ner of the prop­erty un­til it could be re­in­stated.

Above The paint­ing of quinces is by Alice Har­ris and the trout is by Pa­tri­cia Payne. Above, right The kitchen bench used to run along a wall and look onto the drive­way. It has since been re­cast as an is­land to face the din­ing room. The light above the din­ing ta­ble was made in Napier, its tim­ber slats a riff on those used else­where in the home.

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