10 Questions with John Walsh


Your book has just gone to print. Pleased with it?

Well, you can never be really certain about a book until it is printed — but, yes, I think the book does what we wanted it to do: introduce the architecture of central Auckland, and 150 years of the city’s built history, in an attractive and accessible way.     

What do you hope readers will learn from it?

That, once you look, Auckland has a wide range of interesting buildings — most of the architectural styles of the last century and half are represented in the city, and very able architects have worked here. There are lots of good stories behind the city’s façades.  

A standard view is that Auckland lacks much architecture of interest and that we have destroyed a great many of our heritage buildings. Is this book a counter to that position?

Auckland has lost some valuable heritage buildings, but many remain, and perhaps the book will encourage the city to take better care of its built heritage. 

How hard was it to get to your 50 buildings, and what did you use as the benchmark for inclusion?

It was easy to get to 50 buildings — it was harder to keep the count to that number. Some buildings are unquestionably important — Auckland Museum and the Art Gallery, for instance, but others are interesting exemplars of a type, or of the work of significant architects. Also, the book is a walking guide to parts of the inner city, and route planning had some influence on building selection.

You must have some favourites among them. What’s your favourite heritage building, and why?

If ‘heritage’ may be interpreted as pre-World War Two, it would a toss-up between the Leys Institute in Ponsonby, which has a very elegant street presence, and the Wintergardens, a fine work by perhaps the most naturally talented architect to have worked in the city — William Henry Gummer.

Favourite modern building?

Post-war standouts, to me, are West Plaza on Customs Street, still the most graceful modern building in the CBD, and John Goldwater’s synagogue on Greys Avenue, which again sits beautifully on the street.    

What’s one new thing you learned while working on the book?

Well, it’s not really a new thing, more a confirmation of an old story: architecture has been such a gendered pursuit. We’re still waiting for female architects to make their mark on the city.  

Patrick Reynolds’ photographs are outstanding. What was his brief?

I’ve worked with Patrick for so long, and he’s such a good photographer that I don’t really need to give him a brief — just an address.

Your texts on each book are marvels of compression. Do you find it challenging to write at this length and deliver all the information you think the reader will need?

I realise readers may not have much time — I’ve tried to give them enough to be getting on with (they can follow up later if their interest is piqued): a bit about the building, a bit about the architect, a bit about the building type and architectural style, maybe a bit about the neighbourhood. Hopefully, the book is more than the sum of its parts — collectively, the pieces on the 50 buildings might allow readers (and walkers) to get an overview of the history of the city through its architecture.   

What are you reading at the moment?

Edmund Wilson’s Europe Without Baedeker, which is the American writer’s take on Europe in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, The Very Best of AA Gill, and a bunch of back issues of UK mag The Architectural Review from the early 1960s, when modernism still meant something.