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.