Boats, hats and build­ings

We farewell beloved Auck­land ar­chi­tect David Mitchell

HOME Magazine NZ - - Contents -

A few days af­ter ar­chi­tect David Mitchell died at dawn on April 26, his new busi­ness cards ar­rived in the post. His son – and fel­low ar­chi­tect at Mitchell Stout Dodd – Ju­lian Mitchell put them on the shelf above his sun­lit draw­ing board be­side the win­dow in their Devon­port stu­dio. And there, Ju­lian told David’s packed fu­neral, is where they’ll stay. David was an acute ob­server of the ways we oc­cupy space and his re­sponse was to cre­ate build­ings that were rig­or­ous, chal­leng­ing, colour­ful, fun and dra­matic. They in­cluded the Univer­sity of Auck­land’s mu­sic school, Te Uru Waitakere Con­tem­po­rary Gallery in Ti­ti­rangi and nu­mer­ous pri­vate houses, in­clud­ing a ground-break­ing de­sign for the Gibbs fam­ily in Par­nell, and a num­ber of our Home of the Year win­ners. Also in Auck­land, he and Julie Stout, his part­ner of 37 years, de­signed two houses for them­selves. The first was an ef­fort­lessly ca­sual home in Heke Street, Free­mans Bay, a true Pa­cific house with beau­ti­fully lay­ered spa­ces on a tight site. In 2009, they moved to Nar­row Neck and a play­ful house com­bin­ing a stu­dio and two apart­ments. “I’m not re­ally con­cerned about whether peo­ple like it or not,” he told HOME, “be­cause there are a lot of their houses that I don’t like.” David was a big per­son­al­ity, but not an ar­ro­gant one. He was warm, a teller of sto­ries with a deep sense of hu­mour. “I’m fucked Rog,” he told his old friend, the di­rec­tor Roger Don­ald­son the last time he saw him. “I’m fucked!” And he fol­lowed this up with a gi­gan­tic belly laugh. David was born in Auck­land, raised in Mor­rinsville and ed­u­cated in Hamil­ton and Auck­land be­fore start­ing work as an ar­chi­tect – first with Fletch­ers, then in part­ner­ship with Jack Man­ning. For most of his ca­reer he shut­tled be­tween teach­ing – hav­ing a pro­found ef­fect on at least two gen­er­a­tions of ar­chi­tects – and pri­vate prac­tice; in 2014 he cu­rated New Zealand’s first out­ing at the Venice Bi­en­nale of Ar­chi­tec­ture. H e liked hats – black in win­ter, white in sum­mer – and he liked boats, sail­ing around the world in a small yacht with Julie be­fore set­tling briefly in Hong Kong. David el­e­gantly trans­ferred his hu­mour and charm to his writ­ing and ora­tory skills. In 1984 he wrote The El­e­gant Shed, which be­came a tele­vi­sion se­ries – it was ac­ces­si­ble, en­joy­able and smart all at the same time, and still makes for great watch­ing. Two decades later, he gave a lec­ture in which he re­viewed the state of New Zealand ar­chi­tec­ture. “House ar­chi­tec­ture re­mains the pre­serve of the priv­i­leged classes, who are con­fi­dent and wealthy enough to give ar­chi­tects room to run,” he said. “And so it will con­tinue, I’m sure. We’ll wres­tle with multi-car garages, bench­tops, bath­roomware and bar­be­cues, all for the right to ma­nip­u­late mass and space – the an­cient rit­ual that is at the heart of our great art.” He fin­ished on a pos­i­tive note, a sort of chal­lenge in hind­sight. “Mak­ing the el­e­gant shed has been a fine in­dul­gence, but mak­ing the el­e­gant city is now our great task.”

David Mitchell, wear­ing one of his sig­na­ture hats, is sur­rounded by Ju­lian and Miro Mitchell, Rhonda Stout, and Julie Stout with Amalea Mitchell, at his home in Nar­row Neck, 2008, soon af­ter com­ple­tion.

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