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Leading NZ Architecture Firm Turns 50

8 February 2006

Leading NZ Architecture Firm Turns 50

(Photo: Dean Treml) John Wilcox, S&T’s first New Zealand appointed director and chairman, now retired, joins two of the firm’s current young architects, Tim Ross and Fadia Sami, to compare how design practices have evolved, with one of S&T’s recently completed high-rises, the PricewaterhouseCoopers Tower, Auckland, as the backdrop.

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Stephenson&Turner New Zealand Limited, one of New Zealand’s largest architecture and services engineering firms, celebrates its 50-year milestone this week with the launch of a book tracing its history and detailing its many landmark projects – buildings that have made it a key creative force in shaping the workplaces of countless New Zealanders.

Former and current directors and staff from Stephenson&Turner’s two New Zealand offices will gather to toast the legacy of Sir Arthur Stephenson, the firm’s Australian founder, and applaud the hundreds of projects around the country that have earned the firm an international reputation, influenced how architecture is practised here and shaped our communities through design.

Founded by Sir Arthur in Melbourne in 1921, Stephenson&Turner opened its first New Zealand office in February 1956, in Wellington. The firm had just secured its first commission for a New Zealand commercial building – Shell House on The Terrace for the Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Company. Opened in 1960, Shell House was an architectural breakthrough: it was Wellington’s first, and New Zealand’s tallest, high-rise office building and the first to have air-conditioning. Shell House exemplified many new design philosophies and building techniques, influenced by international models.

“At its core, Stephenson&Turner has always embodied the spirit of International Modernism, promoted and fostered by Sir Arthur,” says current Chairman, Ken Stanton.

“The approach and modernist doctrine is not so much style-based as a way of thinking,”he says. “Two distinct philosophies remain at the heart of the S&T way: our belief in a multi-disciplinary approach and well-considered innovation.”

Quite like no other New Zealand practice, from the outset ‘S&T’ has been an architecturally led team of architects and services engineers. This carefully thought-out combination of skills covers the majority of design requirements and expertise needed to complete complex buildings. The firm continues to be forward-thinking, breaking down traditional barriers to forge new ways of practicing architecture. Such thinking has earned the company international and local renown in several sectors, and ultimately, has contributed towards transforming New Zealanders’ lives through better architectural design.

S&T’s greatest legacy is the hundreds of office buildings and health-care projects that remain part of New Zealand’s streetscapes. The firm has helped shape the skylines of Auckland and Wellington with landmark buildings. Two familiar examples are the BNZ Centre (now State Insurance Tower) in Willis Street, Wellington, and the PricewaterhouseCoopers Tower on Quay Street, Auckland.

Through its long-standing reputation and experience in health-care architecture –including Auckland’s Starship Children’s Hospital, Dunedin Hospital, and Bowen Hospital, Wellington – the firm has powerfully influenced this sector for 50 years. Today this expertise extends into “safe care” facilities for the social services and corrections sectors. A wide portfolio of large-scale, complex projects has also won recognition, notably in the recreation, leisure, travel and education sectors.

“While some projects have been surrounded with controversy, nearly all S&T’s work has broken new ground with innovative design, methodology and techniques,” says Mr Stanton. “Much of this has been in response to new thinking and social and cultural change in various sectors. New Zealand’s international gateway - Auckland International Airport – is an example of a project that we have been involved with closely for years and that continues to evolve in response to the changing needs of the travel sector in the 21st century. The recently opened Northland Region Corrections Facility at Ngawha has given shape to new international thinking in prison management and rehabilitation.”

Stephenson&Turner New Zealand Limited is now wholly New Zealand owned and operated, however much of what was developed by Sir Arthur in the 30s and 40s remains at the core of the S&T way.

“The firm’s original 1942 office manual created management systems and brought order to complex design processes in which large teams work together. An updated version of that original manual forms the framework of the S&T quality system today,” says Mr Stanton.

“Another early example of S&T technique was overlay drafting developed for producing complex drawings. Plans were drawn on layers of tracing film which, when combined, created a single integrated master plan – the forerunner of today’s computer software programmes. Our systems based approach made the shift from drawing boards to IT/ CAD systems across our two offices relatively easy, placing us at the forefront of process management. S&T’s developments in these new ways of working, has contributed to setting the standards and methodology for how architecture and building are practiced and taught in New Zealand today.”

S&T has been the starting point for the careers of many young New Zealand architects, including some who have gone on to win prominence. From S&T they learned the key professional practice values and disciplines.

“The development of young talent nurtured by the grey-haired members of the S&T team has always been a cornerstone of the practice, and a reason for its longevity,” says Mr Stanton. “S&T’s spirit will continue into the next 50 years because its values and philosophies are as relevant to architecture today as they were when Sir Arthur was at the helm.”

ENDS


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