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What was the best part about liv­ing in the ‘Cor­ner Flat’? There’s some­thing truly spe­cial about the flat as a re­treat, de­spite the fact that it’s es­sen­tially in the mid­dle of Wellington. Liv­ing there was an op­por­tu­nity to en­gage with the his­tory of New Zealand’s art, ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign. Read­ing Plis­chke’s book De­sign and Liv­ing in a space he de­signed, or Pro­fes­sor Leonard Bell’s re­cent book Strangers Ar­rive, sur­rounded by ex­am­ples of émi­grés’ con­tri­bu­tions to our cul­ture, made it all so much more tan­gi­ble. Tell us about writ­ing of a place that’s so close to you. Some of my ear­li­est mem­o­ries are of this prop­erty, and that fa­mil­iar­ity made it dif­fi­cult to see clearly. I could have writ­ten about my aunt’s time in the flat and the eclec­tic mix of art, arte­facts and cu­riosi­ties she kept, or my grand­mother’s tales of friendly de­bates with Plis­chke about the paint colours to be used. Writ­ing this while I was overseas al­lowed me a use­ful dis­tance with­out (I hope!) get­ting lost in rem­i­nis­cences. The mod­ernist flat has served four gen­er­a­tions of your fam­ily – why do you think it stands the test of time? Plis­chke’s spa­ces are so flex­i­ble. The space I used as a din­ing area was used ear­lier by my aunt as a study; the ‘bed­room’ once housed a baby grand pi­ano. Plis­chke fo­cused on the de­tails – we have draw­ings of his de­signs right down to the let­ter­box. It’s that fo­cus on the small­est de­tails that gives the space a feel­ing of har­mony, no mat­ter what the flat is be­ing used for. We were so grate­ful to have Stu­art Gar­dyne of Ar­chi­tec­ture Plus un­der­take in­te­rior changes – no de­tail es­capes his no­tice. What art made a strong im­pres­sion on you? I’m drawn to ab­strac­tion­ists like Mrku­sich, Wal­ters and Thorn­ley, whose works I hung in the flat last year. But to me, the flat is in­sep­a­ra­ble from John Draw­bridge and Tanya Ashken – their works have al­ways been in the en­trance. What did you en­joy about work­ing on Off the Shelf? It’s en­cour­ag­ing that mod­u­lar and af­ford­able homes aren’t just the­o­ret­i­cal or pipe dreams; they are al­ready un­der­way, al­beit small scale. What do you think are the main ob­sta­cles to us em­brac­ing a new way of build­ing? Turn­ing the cur­rent bloke-with-a-ute group-house builders into de­sign and man­u­fac­tur­ing lead­ers in pre-fab builds. The cost of raw ma­te­ri­als is still huge, even com­pared to Aus­tralia, but if we can mass pro­duce highly in­su­lated pan­els, at least we’re driv­ing down the labour com­po­nent. A few more ar­chi­tects driv­ing this would be good, too. What im­pressed you most about the ‘Tri­an­gle Road’ com­mu­nity hous­ing project? The ar­chi­tects and client both agreed that bring­ing beauty into peo­ple’s homes and com­mu­ni­ties is life chang­ing. It’s not just some­thing for the wealthy. What are your thoughts on Ki­wiBuild? It should have started 10 years ago. If we’d learned from the 1930s and, at the start of the GFC, pushed a mass-build­ing pro­gramme of good, dense, warm so­cial hous­ing, it would have kept up ap­pren­tice­ships, sup­ported a man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try, prompted in­no­va­tion – and we wouldn’t be play­ing catch-up now. What do you hope the fu­ture of homes in New Zealand will be? In the cities, small, dense, built around pub­lic trans­port and pocket parks; in the re­gions where there’s land, multi-generational pa­pakāinga around sus­tain­able – even self-suf­fi­cient – food and en­ergy. What else are you work­ing on? I’m work­ing with a ma­jor lo­cal com­pany on their sus­tain­abil­ity pro­gramme – it’s world class and very ex­cit­ing, but there are no fast fixes. And I’m al­ways prod­ding for more pre-fab sto­ries.

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