Gen­tle gi­ant of ar­chi­tec­ture was de­ter­mined to leave legacy

The Southland Times - - Obituaries - Mau­rice Ma­honey

JAr­chi­tect b 1929 d Oc­to­ber 31, 2018

ust a few weeks be­fore his death, ar­chi­tect Mau­rice Ma­honey set out in his car to find his legacy. He was mak­ing a list of all the build­ings from his ar­chi­tec­ture prac­tice War­ren and Ma­honey that had sur­vived the Christchurch earthquakes.

It didn’t mat­ter that he was in the late stages of ter­mi­nal pan­cre­atic cancer. He was on a mis­sion and wanted to see for him­self which of his build­ings were still stand­ing.

For his daugh­ter, Jane Ma­honey, it was a mis­sion that cap­tured much about her fa­ther, who has died at the age of 89. He was a fas­tid­i­ous list maker, who kept a note of ev­ery restau­rant he and his wife Mar­garet had ever vis­ited.

But he was also de­ter­mined, metic­u­lous, had a famed grasp of com­plex de­tail, and was proud of his built legacy and mon­u­men­tal con­tri­bu­tion to New Zea­land’s post­war ar­chi­tec­ture.

And he had good rea­son to be proud. Mau­rice Ma­honey came from a work­ing-class back­ground in east Lon­don, but went on to be a driv­ing force be­hind a dis­tinc­tive form of modernist New Zea­land ar­chi­tec­ture.

He was mod­est and unas­sum­ing, but had a clear sense of pur­pose that made him a quiet pow­er­house.

Ma­honey was born in the poor east Lon­don neigh­bour­hood of Plais­tow in 1929. His fam­ily moved to New Zea­land in 1939 when he was 10.

Their pas­sen­ger ship was one of the last to leave Eu­rope be­cause World War II had been de­clared just a few weeks ear­lier. The ships moved in a con­voy across the At­lantic un­der black­out con­di­tions. The ship be­hind theirs was sunk by a Ger­man sub­ma­rine, his daugh­ter said. ‘‘As a 10-year-old it was all just ex­cit­ing. He didn’t re­alise the full trauma of the sit­u­a­tion.’’

The fam­ily set­tled in Sy­den­ham, Christchurch. His fa­ther found work as an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer at a print­ing com­pany.

Mau­rice was in­ter­ested in ar­chi­tec­ture from an early age, but his fam­ily could not af­ford to send him to univer­sity, Jane Ma­honey said.

‘‘Un­like other ar­chi­tects of the time, whose par­ents could send them to univer­sity, it took him 12 years to get his de­gree while work­ing full­time in ar­chi­tec­ture of­fices in Christchurch. He didn’t have the lux­ury of go­ing to univer­sity.’’

His fam­ily moved to Opawa in the 1950s. He de­signed a house for them on Opawa Rd when he was only 23. He fell in love with the girl next door, mar­ry­ing Mar­garet in 1960. The two would re­main to­gether un­til his death, rais­ing four chil­dren – Sarah, Jane, Nigel and Emma.

He met Miles War­ren when he was 16. They would go on to form a part­ner­ship that would de­fine their pro­fes­sional lives, form­ing War­ren and Ma­honey in 1958 when they were both in their 20s.

The pair were pro­lific and ground­break­ing from the 1960s to the 1980s, de­sign­ing notable build­ings such as the Christchurch Town Hall, and the Michael Fowler Cen­tre and West­pac Sta­dium, both in Welling­ton.

Other works in­cluded Col­lege House at the Univer­sity of Can­ter­bury, the Crowne Plaza ho­tel, the for­mer cen­tral Christchurch li­brary and re­fur­bish­ing the Par­lia­ment build­ings, which was Ma­honey’s last ma­jor project at the firm be­fore his re­tire­ment in 1992.

His daugh­ter said the part­ner­ship be­tween War­ren and Ma­honey worked be­cause they were such dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters.

‘‘They were al­most chalk and cheese,’’ she said. ‘‘Miles was al­ways the great or­a­tor and the fig­ure­head of the firm, while Mau­rice al­ways shied away from that and would much rather be work­ing in the back­room.

‘‘Miles was very much the ideas man and the big-pic­ture vi­sion, while Mau­rice was very much work­ing through the de­tails and turn­ing some­thing into a re­al­ity.’’

War­ren said the part­ner­ship worked ‘‘be­cause each of us sup­plied what the other lacked’’.

Ar­chi­tec­tural his­to­rian Jes­sica Hal­l­i­day said Ma­honey was a ‘‘gi­ant of New Zea­land ar­chi­tec­ture’’ who ‘‘led the post­war rev­o­lu­tion in modernism’’.

‘‘He was the one in the part­ner­ship that re­ally took the ge­nius of Miles’ de­sign con­cepts and made them build­able and worked out how to fit them to­gether.

‘‘He was very tall and proper. You were very aware of this lean, tall and up­right fig­ure that was quiet and solid and mod­est. The same was true about his work. He did a lot of the solid work.’’

War­ren and Ma­honey prin­ci­pal Peter Mar­shall said Ma­honey was known for his ac­cu­rate and metic­u­lous hand-drawn plans.

‘‘He was a craftsman. He un­der­stood the craft of ar­chi­tec­ture. He un­der­stood how build­ings came to­gether and got great plea­sure from do­ing so.

‘‘When­ever a draw­ing left his of­fice it was ready and cor­rect and ac­cu­rate. It never had to come back.’’

The Christchurch Town Hall was one of his proud­est achieve­ments. His daugh­ter said he was sad he would not be there for the re­open­ing of the re­fur­bished build­ing in March next year.

‘‘The orig­i­nal open­ing of the town hall was a huge thrill for his par­ents. It was a re­ally proud and emo­tional time. We are all gut­ted that he will not be there for the re­open­ing.’’

But the town hall is a rare sur­vivor of War­ren and Ma­honey’s pro­lific reign in Christchurch. Many of their build­ings were de­mol­ished af­ter the 2011 earthquakes.

‘‘He found it very frus­trat­ing that a huge per­cent­age of his build­ings were pulled down when he be­lieved they could have been re­paired,’’ Jane Ma­honey said.

But War­ren re­mem­bers ‘‘the plea­sure of de­sign­ing and mak­ing build­ings to­gether’’ with Ma­honey and pic­tures him ‘‘qui­etly work­ing away mak­ing su­perb draw­ings’’.

‘‘We had a very good run. We knew when to stop.’’

In his fi­nal months, Ma­honey turned that metic­u­lous at­ten­tion to the de­tail of his own fu­neral ar­range­ments. He de­signed the dis­plays for the cer­e­mony and left de­tailed notes for speak­ers at the fu­neral, Jane Ma­honey said.

‘‘He wrote in­struc­tions to sit on the lectern. It in­structed peo­ple to speak di­rectly into the mi­cro­phone. He was a de­tails man.’’ – By Char­lie

Gates

‘‘He was a craftsman. He un­der­stood how build­ings came to­gether and got great plea­sure from do­ing so.’’

Sir Miles War­ren, left, and Mau­rice Ma­honey at the Welling­ton launch of a book mark­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of their ar­chi­tec­ture firm in 2005. SI­MON WOOLF

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