Boats, hats and buildings
We farewell beloved Auckland architect David Mitchell
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.