WORDS LIZ FRENCH / PHOTOS LOGAN DAVEY / SUPPLIED
There was never any doubt Brendon Gordon would make architecture his career.
As a ten year old Brendon would take off on his bike round the new houses popping up near his family home in Welcome Bay. There were a few architecturally interesting ones going up in what had previously been orchards on the elevated slopes. Brendon would have a good explore then go home and draw up his own plans of them.
His parents were teachers, his father a potter who had a studio on their Waitaha Road property. Brendon is the second oldest of four. Older brother Geoff is a builder who specializes in shop fit outs in Wellington. Miles lives in a Brendon Gordon designed home in the hills outside Tauranga where he creates his signature marine inspired metallic sculpture. Younger sister Angela is in fashion, respected for her focus on the work of young New Zealand fashion designers and new talent in her Wellington store, The Service Depot. Their mother, Carole, is equally driven and talented, gaining a degree in politics with honours in her 60s. As a professional demographer she runs SUPA-NZ which focuses on improving the quality of life of the aging population.
Brendon has made a name for himself by creating standout architecture and its sense of place. Next year he celebrates 20 years in business as Brendon Gordon Architecture Limited. His infectious enthusiasm for his trade belies his lengthy experience. There’s nothing jaded about Brendon’s approach. Every new project is as exciting as the last one.
Brendon’s path to architecture was a determined if slightly rocky one. He started in civil and structural drafting and then worked for Craig, Craig and Moller in Wellington (from whence came the Gordon Moller who designed the Sky Tower). While he was there he drafted civic and multi storey buildings in the capital and also worked on getting accepted into Wellington University to study architecture. “My lack of As in maths and physics was an issue,” he says.
He felt that the degree criteria attracted academics rather than practical people who could draw, design and communicate. After five years “pestering the dean” he got in. And got straight As! “I had a point to prove.” He was a bit older than the other students and a bit more critical of the courses. “After one of my first lectures I went to the dean and asked for my money back,” he laughs.
Midway through his studies Brendon took time out to travel, taking advantage of the ‘Swap’ scheme which facilitated students working abroad. He completed his degree at the Auckland University School of Architecture. In his final year he was living in a David Page designed house along Papamoa’s beachfront, going surfing, sharing offices with Page Henderson Architecture in Te Puke and dashing up to Auckland for lectures. “The day I completed university I blasted out of Auckland in my Saab 900 turbo, happy to see the city in my rear vision mirror.”
That was 1995. He was already deep into design, working independently on a dramatic Tauranga waterfront home. He was also doing other private jobs so he never really got round to doing the registered architect requisite three years as an intern which is the traditional pathway.
He had also met Sarah who was studying psychology at Waikato. They moved in together at the Mount. He set up his own firm. They had their first child, Louis. A year later they married. Louis is now 18 and studying law and commerce at Victoria University.
Jack, 15, is a Tauranga Boys College student, and into surfing and wakeboarding. Twelve year old Dom is at intermediate and a pretty hot hockey player, having just helped his team win a tournament when UNO. visited the family in their home, a Brendon Gordon designed renovation which expresses not only the ‘black bach in Pohukawas’ ethos but more importantly, the way this family lives. “We lock the kids out there,” he says of the large covered outdoor area with peeps down the drive to Tauranga harbour where, when Louis is home, he and his friends gather to party. “They are great kids and we know where they are,” say the parents.
The Gordon home exhibits many of the features that Brendon has, by long experience, incorporated into his designs, together with Sarah’s design flair and good taste. Not all obvious things either. Brendon Gordon homes always have Scandinavian smelling linen and storage cupboards. He uses Lawson Cypress which gives off a fresh woody aroma, even from shoe shelves! Above their big social stainless steel kitchen island, an equally long stainless steel light fitting sheds up or down light, a flick of the remote changing the atmosphere completely. Outside cedar walls are extended inside, oversliding glazed doors roll right back for an easy relationship with outdoors.
It is very much a family home for a very active family. Sarah is the midnight gardener and has organic vegetable gardens, feijoa and citrus – mandarins, oranges, limes, lemons and kaffa limes. She is the reigning neighbourhood limoncello champion in an annual event held with much hilarity.
The Gordon garage gives a few clues to family fun. Brendon has custom designed racks for the quiver of surfboards the family
owns (“at least two each!”). Each son, and the parents too have wakeboards, boogie boards, skateboards, kite boards, paddle boards, snowboards, skis and the paraphernalia that goes with each sport. Brendon used to sail competitively as a teenager and has instilled a love for all water sports in the boys. “We have an IRB called ‘The Hoff’ which is our catch and retrieve boat when we are all out on the harbour,” says Brendon laughing. Luckily the water is as close as the end of the drive.
AWARD WINNING ARCHITECTURE
Coastal dwellings feature strongly but not exclusively in the raft of awards Brendon Gordon Architecture has won in both ADNZ (Architectural Designers New Zealand) and the annual Registered Master Builder House of the Year awards. Brendon says the harsh coastal environment dictates attention to design decisions with concealed fixings to claddings being a key response. Many of his clients demand the sense of imperviousness that solid concrete delivers, and as “Listening well is vital to meeting client needs,” many of the resulting homes have been large geometric in design. Brendon points out that this is only one genre and that he enjoys different styles and understands the vocabulary that goes with each. Even colonial and traditional design features in his prize winning portfolio. “Whatever the style the application of form and function, symmetry, balance and proportion is universal.”
Brendon acknowledges in his work nuances of the spirit of architecture like Richard Neutra’s 1950s Palm Springs homes.
Other architects he holds in high regard – Frank Lloyd Wright, Stephen Holl (an American architect who has worked in China and Europe), Melbourne architect John Wardle, Le Corbusier, and our own Ian Athfield – may span decades and differ in design approach but all display a respect for architecture that does the job it is designed to do, enhances the lives of those who work and live in it, employs authentic materials and connects with the environment it inhabits.
Brendon loves honest materials. Concrete is honest and so is the timber his more recent designs favour. His own home is clad in Canadian cedar as is the Hawkes Bay home which garnered seven awards including Supreme in the East Coast Region Registered Master Builder House of the Year 2014 awards. Perhaps even more pleasing to Brendon is that his use of timber both inside and outside this home has seen successful in the annual NZ Timber Awards. “Of 26 entries from some of the best architects and builders in the country we were one of seven finalists.”
FLATTERY AND FRUSTRATION
Not only has Brendon won awards but he was flattered to be invited onto the judging panel for regional Master Builders’ competitions
for three years, after which he was asked to be a national judge. He has judged for the ADNZ too. He was also flattered to be asked to design a home on the south coast of Melbourne for clients who moved there from Tauranga. “Fleur taught Jack at kindergarten and was familiar with my work,” he says. He found the Australian process remarkably refreshing. “We were responsible to one local authority building surveyor and the consent took no time,” he says wonderingly, comparing the lengthy systems in place here.
Brendon also has a few issues with urban design delivery locally. He’s fascinated with it and thinks it is imperative that architects are involved much more in urban planning and in the design of new housing developments so “flawed” patterns are not repeated. “Let’s revisit the space around the buildings; the opportunity exists to create an urban landscape with a sense of community and soul.”
Case in point; Brendon, who may be better known for large homes, was approached by a couple with budget for a small home on a rural block. “They appreciated the impact on their lives that good architecture would have. The investment was small by comparison with the pleasure they will derive for years to come.” Brendon also gets great pleasure from creating small houses which fit the criteria for secondary dwellings.
“They don’t have to be boring little boxes.”
Brendon feels local architects need to be included in the urban design conversation. Many architects have volunteered their ideas many times in visions for the heart and waterfront of the city.
“In 2002 I presented a scheme to reinvigorate the CBD when the focus was on the waterfront,” he says. “The functioning of the CBD needs to be addressed first. If you fly over Tauranga you see alleys and lanes between the CBD blocks. My vision is to open up the pedestrian permeability of the CBD to create the vibrant laneways atmosphere as is being designed for Christchurch and Melbourne.
“The outlook is positive with recent initiatives in city developments; a university, potential new municipal buildings including the library and a museum plus the planned central city hotels. The opportunities exist to design the CBD to connect to the waterfront and give this city a soul by creating public interactive spaces, experiential spaces, which make Tauranga special.”
Witnessing Wellington’s CBD and waterfront redevelopment for example clearly shows that giving a city a major attraction will create the ‘Bilbao effect’ (when the Guggenheim museum was built in Bilbao, Portugal) and, nearer home, the effect the Len Lye Centre is already having on New Plymouth.
If you have a home designed by Brendon Gordon, expect to see him and his staff on site regularly. He enjoys working with builders and contractors, seeing his vision become reality and ensuring that his plans are practical and buildable with an element of surprise. His influence does not stop with the build. “I like to take control (nicely!) with the client’s input and blessing of course, of all but the soft furnishings.” Kitchen and bathroom surfaces, fittings and fixtures all get the Gordon touch for interiors which echo that particular project’s design aesthetic. Lighting is something Brendon is particularly excited about. “I work with skilled and creative lighting craftspeople who can design lighting to my brief. Good architectural lighting can be the difference between a home that looks good and one that ‘sings’.”
With 20 years under his belt, his reputation secure and several dream projects in the pipeline, 2016 is shaping up to be one of the best years yet for Brendon Gordon Architecture. He is taking on more staff and in anticipating joining the annals of the Registered Architects of New Zealand. There won’t be any settling into signature styles or resting on the laurels. The architectural urge is still as restless as ever.
Brendon encapsulates his philosophy in a story about a potential client, a very down to earth bloke from Tirau anticipating building a big country home. Brendon took him on a tour of examples of his work, among them a house by the golf course in the settlement of Kinloch. The client’s comment when Brendon suggested it was time to move on was, “Why would I leave?”