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Warren & Mahoney.

In a 1966 article on Warren & Mahoney’s work in the British journal Architectural Design, Norman Sheppard wrote of Christchurch: “This city, the most conservative in a fairly conservative country, has in its recent public and domestic buildings shown a direction which, if pursued and developed should make it a concrete example of what current planning and design theories propound.”

This direction was vigorously pursued, and the flowering of architectural invention in Christchurch in the 1960s became a high point in the history of New Zealand architecture. The “Christchurch School” involved a host of architects – Peter Beaven, Don Donnithorne, Charles Thomas, and Trengrove & Marshall were key figures, but the scene was dominated by Warren & Mahoney.

Miles Warren carried the seeds of W&M’s phenomenal growth back to his home town in 1954, returning from Britain with the ideas then percolating around the avant-garde New Brutalist movement. Joining forces with Maurice Mahoney, the pair found a point of intersection between the concern for truth-to-materials and structural expression that characterised Brutalism, and the low-key, Kiwi-fied commitment to straightforwardness that obsessed many young architects here in NZ. Side-stepping the lightweight, rationalized wooden structures that dominated the thinking of the Group, W&M developed a tectonic and material vocabulary that derived from New Brutalism but reflected the more solid architectural heritage of the Christchurch context. This vocabulary appeared seemingly fully-formed in Warren’s first building: the Dorset Street Flats. The astonishing skill behind W&M’s early work is demonstrated in the effortlessness with which they could adapt this domestic vocabulary to different building types – the perpendicular volume of the Christchurch College chapel and the spreading landscape of the Crematorium are each only one step removed from Dorset Street. With the addition of pre-cast concrete and more adventurous roof structures to the palette, W&M were able to create much more complex buildings, such as the Canterbury Student Union and Christchurch Town Hall.
W&M became a remarkable success story. They rode the wave of the post-war economic boom and quickly stepped up to large scale work. Winning the high-profile competition for the Christchurch Town Hall in 1966 cemented their position among NZ’s premier firms. In the same year – less than a decade after the firm was established – W&M also won the American Institute of Architects Pan Pacific Citation, an award also given to such luminaries as Kenzo Tange and Harry Seidler. By the time the Town Hall opened in 1973, much of W&M’s work was high-rise commercial buildings for developer clients. These changing briefs and the sense that Modernism was exhausted led W&M to shed their earlier approach and explore the postmodernist language that was rising in Europe and America, a shift that paralleled that of many of Warren’s international contemporaries, including fellow former Brutalists such as James Stirling.

Warren & Mahoney homes on Christchurch Modern

Text by Andrew Barrie

4 Responses to “Warren & Mahoney.”

  1. admin Says:

    I like Maurice’s beard. It’s well draughted.

  2. Scubasteve Says:

    Indeed…. Perhaps too well draughted…. Possibly a stick on beard??

  3. Maurice Mahoney Says:

    No, it was real but like the head of hair it is much shorter now

  4. It’s a brutalist brutalist brutalist world « manifesto Says:

    [...] Article on Warren and Mahoney on Christchurch Modern [...]

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