NZ architecture to farewell one of its outstanding figures
Media release: 7 June, 2012
New Zealand architecture prepares to farewell one of its outstanding figures
The New Zealand architecture profession is mourning the loss of Peter Beaven, one of its most distinguished practitioners and singular personalities. A memorial service for the accomplished architect will be held in Christchurch on Monday 11 June.
Beaven, who was 86, died in Blenheim on 4 June. Fiercely attached to the architectural legacy of Christchurch, the city in which he was born and raised and where he worked for 50 years, Beaven had moved to Marlborough some months after the February 2011 earthquake. He continued to accept commissions until the last few months of his life.
Over the course of his long working life Beaven designed a series of individualistic and virtuoso buildings, including the Lyttelton Road Tunnel (1963), the Manchester Unity Building, Christchurch (1966), Canterbury Arcade, Auckland (1967), QEII Stadium for the Christchurch Commonwealth Games and Tonbridge Mews, Christchurch (1974), Thorndon Mews, Wellington (1975), Longbeach School, Ashburton (2000), and St Mary’s Mews, Christchurch (2003), the apartment block where he was living at the time of the Canterbury earthquakes.
As well as designing award-winning new buildings, Beaven was a strong advocate for the preservation of Christchurch’s heritage buildings, and a leading light in the establishment of the Christchurch Civic Trust.
“Peter’s buildings have a marvellous combination of observation and inventiveness,” says David Mitchell, an Auckland architect and, like Beaven, a recipient of the New Zealand Institute of Architect’s leading award, the Gold Medal for career achievement.
“Peter had the rare gift – a lovely eye,” Mitchell says. “He was an architect of great complexity. Place and occasion, craft and history, social ritual and simple need fuelled his imagination.”
The grandson of successful builders on both sides of his family, Beaven attended Christ’s College before enrolling in the School of Architecture at the Auckland University, at the time the only tertiary institution in New Zealand offering an architectural programme.
War service, with the Royal Navy in the United Kingdom and the Far East, interrupted Beaven’s studies, and when he returned to Auckland University the School of Architecture was entering one of its liveliest periods. Beaven enjoyed amicable, but not close relationships with a group of students self-consciously pursuing a New Zealand architecture.
Then, as later, he preferred to find his own way, and his course deviated from the Modernist orthodoxy that was to dominate the world’s architecture in the 30 years following the war. He was, he said, an adherent of the “other tradition”, which sought to connect to, rather than break with, architecture’s historical lineage.
This approach, he believed, was consistent with the humanist and socially-oriented architecture he sought to practice throughout a career which he started in Christchurch after his graduation. Most of that career was spent in sole practice, although he formed a decade-long partnership with Burwell Hunt, and in Christchurch, although he had two stints in London, at the end of the 1960s, when he studied urban design, and in the later 1970s and early 1980s.
Beaven’s work encompassed a wide range of architecture, from individual houses to office buildings, public buildings to commercial premises, schools to stadiums. He was an especially adept designer of multi-unit housing, a type of development which traditionally has not been a forte of New Zealand architecture.
Beaven was proud of his place in the architectural lineage of Christchurch, a strong line-up that began with his particular hero, the Victorian Gothic revivalist Benjamin Mountfort. Beaven was working in his studio in Mountfort’s Provincial Chambers on Durham Street when the building collapsed in the 22 February earthquake.
He survived that disaster, but was profoundly affected by the loss of numerous significant buildings in Christchurch, both during the earthquake and especially in the ensuing demolitions. Having moved to Blenheim, he quickly became involved in local urban design debates.
“Peter was a man of great passion,” says David Mitchell. “His enthusiasm for his vocation always shone through, and he a tremendous spirit.”
Peter Beaven will be remembered in a service at Christ’s College Chapel, Christchurch, at 3pm, on Monday 11 June.