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17 October 2019

Of People and Heritage

Every heritage building is different, and each has an amazing story to tell - stories that are often unknown or obscured by time.


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Graeme Burgess of Burgess Treep & Knight Architects says, “Architecture is a long process and to forge genuine relationships with people throughout that process is very important. We don’t leap into a project just for the sake of it.”

Talking with Graeme Burgess, I can’t help thinking what a wonderfully humble and down to earth person he is. Not one to blow his own trumpet, Graeme’s grounded approach authentically connects him to grassroots Aotearoa.

Graeme says they operate as a whanau (family) in the office, and the clients they work with become part of that. For him, the primary gauge of success is when the client feels the result is 'theirs' and his team has assisted them to get to that point.

“Despite constraints that exist with any project, we always work hard to best meet the needs of the people we are working with.”

Graeme graduated from architectural school in the 1980s, a time when the architectural landscape of Auckland City was undergoing rapid change. Many of Auckland’s heritage buildings were being pulled down to make way for multi-storied commercial buildings – it seemed the city centre was being ripped apart. It was also a time when Graeme and Lucy were starting their family and setting up their architectural business.

The events of this time prompted Graeme to collaborate with a group of photographers to document and produce a calendar featuring some of Auckland’s heritage buildings. Amongst those documented was the Courtville Apartment Building in Parliament Street. Later, Burgess Treep undertook a project to restore and rejuvenate the building.

“During the 1980s, Lucy and I were involved in trying to get better results for significant heritage buildings in Auckland.”

Preservation and restoration of heritage has remained a core interest for Graeme and Lucy. Graeme has been involved with various trusts and heritage organisations and is currently a member of the Auckland Council Heritage Advisory Panel.

Lucy gained an architectural degree and a PHD in English Literature, and she developed a passion for beautiful gardens. This passion led to several commissions to design gardens, including that of Rose Thodey who at the time was editor of NZ Garden magazine.

“I heard through a colleague that Lilli was interested in heritage buildings,” explains Graeme. “I had just been commissioned to have a look at the Pukekohe Railway Station, so I called Lilli to ask if she would be interested in working with me on the project. We have been working together ever since.”

“I loved Lilli's work when I saw it at the Auckland School of Architecture. It was layered, lively and rich.”

Now that Lilli has a young baby, she works part time. She says, “As a small team we’re like a family and we work closely together across a wide range of projects. I love that there is variety in our work. I’m particularly passionate about the heritage and conservation side of our practice; anything old, half falling down and with a story to tell has me immediately hooked.”

Heritage projects have the characteristic of being full of surprises because every place is different. To properly understand a place, all projects start with a full study from which a detailed conservation plan is developed.

The remodelled front of the Deadly Ponies building in Mackelvie Street, Ponsonby, the house where Colin McCahon and his family lived in the 1950s in Otitori Bay Road, Titirangi, the crib where Hone Tuwhare lived in Kaka Point in South Otago, and the house in Arapito Road, Titirangi where Maurice Shadbolt lived during the 1960s, have all formed an intriguing portfolio of heritage restoration projects for Graeme and his team.

However, the most life-changing heritage projects have been the marae projects. These have included the restoration of Turangawaewae House, the Māori Parliament built for the Kingitanga at Ngaruawahia and the Ōmanaia Marae in Hokianga, where restoration of their beautiful 1880s whare karakia (church) and their wharenui (meeting house) was undertaken.

“The work at Ōmanaia carries on,” says Graeme. “We are currently looking at the wharekai (dining hall) and all the associated upgrades. In addition, we have recently completed a report on the sister church at Rawene.”

“The wonderful Ōmanaia projects have uplifted the community and it has been a privilege for us to connect with the people of Ōmanaia in Hokianga,” says Graeme."

Graeme adds, “Before I undertook these projects in Ōmanaia, I had little involvement in Te Ao Māori (the Maori world) but, so inspired and moved by the experience, I am now learning Te Reo Maori (the Maori language). Through this, I feel connected to that place and to Māori culture, but still with a huge amount to learn.”

Furthermore, architectural additions and alterations to existing older homes form much of what Graeme and his team do. Their St Marys Bay office is one such architectural project. The office enjoys a street frontage position in a two storied building at the corner of Caroline Street and St Marys Road.

Once a shop with residence above and store-rooms out the back, the interior of the building was transformed into what is now a very contemporary home within the shell of the old building, with the storerooms fully rebuilt to become a light filled and elegant living room.

Light is something we are particularly interested in, how to bring natural light into spaces, how to use the qualities of light to make spaces attractive.

Heritage and alterations aside, Graeme and the team have just completed an exciting new architectural design project – a rural retreat in Martins Bay. From creating the brief and taking it through to completion, the Martins Bay property has been designed as a linear house set across the slope of the landscape, with expansive views and full sunlight all day.

Graeme says, “We are specifically interested in the quality of the details and the materials, the aspects of light and other architectural qualities that are key to 'success'. The success of a project is about 'ownership' of the result. When a client 'owns' the place and feels that it represents them, that, to me, is success. Each project is different because people are different, there is no one way.”

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