I have long admired the work of Gerald Melling. Originally from Liverpool, Gerald relocated to New Zealand in the 60s. Interested in both literature and architecture he had a strong voice in the New Zealand Architecture scene, he qualified as an architect from Auckland University in 1976 and also worked as the editor of New Zealand Architecture Magazine.
His practice Melling Morse focused on buildings that were green, honest, and achievable. He believed “Architecture is about creating an environment that is lovely to live in not simply a defence against the elements.” and he designed architecture that was both affordable and creative – with a sense of humour when dealing with marginal sites and tight budgets. The Signal box house, in the Wairarapa, won NZ 2008 house of the year and a beautiful house called the Music box was designed to suit the musical acoustics for a baroque violinist. (see the inside of the house is shown on this movie here… This is a short video (go to clip 2 rather than 1) which also shows how he worked with his clients).
After the 2004 boxing day Tsunami in Sri Lanka, he helped design low-cost emergency housing and wrote a book about the experience, the following is an extract…
“The architectural history of urgent housing – both temporary and permanent – is a catalogue of desperate opportunism, from the hard-nosed industrial chic of pre-cast concrete egg-crates and conical igloos, to the soft-eyed double-vision of folded cardboard domes and walls made of water-filled wine bottles. Architecture, it seems, treats a State of Emergency as a Utopian Declaration of permissible excess, like the fire alarm triggers a short, unscheduled playtime for bullies at a boarding school. Rough ‘em up quick, we have limited time! Which should not be confused with quick thinking. The role of an architecture – if there is one – in a fractured world of life-changing trauma is to support the recovery of a broken spirit, not lazily amputate in favour of prosthetics. It is servant to a powerless and vulnerable group of people,where the individual family is instantly reduced and re-shaped by forces beyond its control, and its community splintered and scattered. If not completely vanished, its dwellings – whether a candle-lit shanty with gaps in its rough-boarded walls, or a rough concrete villa with a cracked-tile roof – are irreparably damaged. Homelessness wants its house back, in a recognisable form”
He was committed to making architecture more widely accessible. In 2010, he told The Dominion Post:
‘‘I wanted to show that architects could work on a modest level. I love architecture, but not the profession. How professional is it to turn away someone with $300,000 and say, ‘I can’t work with you unless you have $800,000’.’’
An inspiration to many, Gerald sadly passed away in December 2012. John Walsh interviewed him for his book ‘Homework – Leading New Zealand Architects Own Houses’ (2010) where he talked about his own home, the Skybox. It was built on a tight budget in the airspace over an old lemonade factory (now the architecture office of Melling Morse) and was a spoof on the commercial metal curtain wall building of the area, but instead reinterpreted into a NZ domestic timber construction. The urban design authorities had a great deal of trouble with the concept saying that in the city ‘district scheme’ it stipulated that ‘a domestic building must express its domesticity’, and that his skybox looked like a commercial building that was to be inhabited as a house. His reply…. “ Its okay mate. I’ve got some lace curtains….”
Alien Paranoia – flickr images.
HomeWork: Leading New Zealand Architects Own Houses. By John Walsh and Patrick Reynolds. As a ‘fair review’ – This is a great book to see some of the work and read interviews with New Zealands Leading Architects.