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Legendary Christchurch architect Sir Miles Warren dies at age 93

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Sir Miles Warren has passed away, aged 93. Photo / File

A legendary architect behind some of New Zealand’s most well-known buildings has died.

Sir Miles Warren passed away yesterday, aged 93.

Today, the New Zealand Institute of Architects Te Kāhui Whaihanga paid tribute to a “mighty tōtara”.

Warren’s career spanned decades, with many celebrated buildings, including the Christchurch Town Hall, which he campaigned to be fully restored after sustaining damage in the February 2011 earthquake.

Te Kāhui Whaihanga president Judith Taylor said Warren, knighted in 1985, will leave a lasting impact on architecture in New Zealand for centuries to come.

“This is an enormous loss of a great architect for New Zealand and the profession. His generosity and support of the profession has been immeasurable,” she said.

“I know there will be great sadness across the profession on this news. Our thoughts are with the Warren family, friends and the profession.”

Christchurch's Town Hall will be remembered as one of Sir Miles Warren's greatest buildings. Photo / File.
Christchurch’s Town Hall will be remembered as one of Sir Miles Warren’s greatest buildings. Photo / File.

Te Kāhui Whaihanga has been advised the funeral will be held at Christ’s College Chapel, Christchurch next Thursday.

Born in Christchurch in 1929, Warren began his working life at the age of 16 in the office of Cecil Wood.

After initially studying architecture via correspondence at the Christchurch Atelier, he moved to Auckland to complete his studies, then travelled to England in 1953. There he worked with the London County Council and was, in his own words, “extraordinarily fortunate to be sitting right in the middle of the birth of Brutalism”.

Influenced by his first-hand experience of the work of Scandinavian architects such as Finn Juhl, Warren returned to New Zealand “brimful of ideas” and began designing some of his most iconic buildings.

He started his design practice in 1955, beginning with the design of two houses in Timaru in that year.

In 1956, he designed the Dorset Street flats in Christchurch, and in 1958 he began a long and successful partnership with Maurice Mahoney, winning a large contract to build the Dental Training School.

Their practice became known as Warren and Mahoney and the pair’s work is regarded as the birth of the “Christchurch School” of architecture, which melded the solidity of New Brutalism with the lightweight vernacular of the Group Architects.

During the next decade, the practice created buildings such as Christchurch College (now College House), the Harewood Crematorium (awarded an NZIA Gold Medal in 1964), the office and flat at 65 Cambridge Terrace, the Wool Exchange, the Chapman block at Christ’s College and the Canterbury Students Union, all widely regarded as part of the nation’s architectural heritage. But it was winning the high-profile competition for the Christchurch Town Hall (1966-72) that cemented their position among New Zealand’s premier firms.

Commissions in the decade leading up to 1974 included the New Zealand Chancery in Washington, the Civic Offices in Rotorua and the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington.

In 1976, Warren purchased a house at the head of Lyttelton Harbour in partnership with his sister Pauline and her husband John Trengrove for the purpose of creating a large garden together. The house and grounds at Ōhinetahi became a lifelong passion for the keen gardener and remains one of New Zealand’s best formal gardens.

Warren and Mahoney became a multi-textual practice during the building boom of the 1980s, producing a series of design-led office blocks as well as commissions such as Whanganui Collegiate auditorium, St Patrick’s Church in Napier and the Rotorua Civic Centre.

The Television New Zealand Network Centre in Auckland was described by Warren as “technically the most complex brief undertaken by the partnership” and marked the end of the excesses of the eighties.

After establishing the F M Warren Scholarship in Art History at the University of Canterbury in 1994, Warren retired in 1995 but remained active as an advocate for architectural education and a patron of the arts.

The Warren Trust was established in 2006 and over the last decade has given generously to promote architectural education to both the architectural profession and the wider public in New Zealand. The trust sponsors the Institute’s annual architecture writing awards.

In 2012, Warren gifted Ōhinetahi as an endowment to the Ōhinetahi Charitable Trust to ensure it remained open to the public in perpetuity.

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