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In perspective: Sir Miles Warren

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From the 1960s, Sir Miles Warren along with many of his contemporaries drove the modernist architectural style in a brutalist direction. Known for his structural expressiveness and truth-to-materials, he introduced New Brutalism to New Zealand, one of the most polarising styles of architecture. He has designed and championed numerous iconic buildings, including the Clarendon Tower and Christchurch Town Hall.

Sir Frederick Miles Warren was born in 1929 and was educated at Christ’s College. He began to learn the art of architecture under the training of Cecil Wood, who was then a leading architect in New Zealand. Wood was known for his skilled designs of churches, one of his most renowned works is St. Paul’s Cathedral. Warren then went on to study architecture at the University of Auckland before starting his own design practice in 1955. He also travelled through Scandinavia to learn more about the region’s form of architecture, which influenced his own style.

Among his early works include the Dorset Street Flats in Christchurch, which were designed and built between 1956-57. It was an important building because it marked the beginning of what would later be known as “The Christchurch School” of architecture. Due to the building’s radical nature, it was heavily criticised at the time, many labelling it as "one of the ugliest buildings in the city." However, since then they have been widely appreciated for setting new architectural and aesthetic standards, and in 2010 they were registered as a Categoric 1 historic place by Heritage New Zealand.

With business partner Maurice E. Mahoney, Warren continued to stamp his modern post-war style all across New Zealand, leading a successful architectural practice, Warren and Mahoney. Their work together spawned the birth of the Christchurch architectural style. They designed many landmark buildings, including the Harewood Memorial Gardens & Crematorium, which in 1963 won the New Zealand’s gold medal award. They also won a competition to design the Christchurch Town Hall, which opened in 1972 and later, the Michael Fowl Centre in Wellington in 1982. The pair created various commercial and residential buildings, as they implemented their mark on the modernist movement in the post-war years.

In addition to his passion for architecture, Warren had an interest in gardening. During the time his architectural practice flourished, he created a range of aesthetically designed gardens in the Ohinetahi homestead. The landscape was divided into cross-sectioned “rooms”. It features a box-edged rose garden and various hedges that are used to shelter plants that would struggle in high winds.

After a lifetime of shaping our public spaces, he has revolutionised domestic architecture in Christchurch. He officially retired from his firm in 1994, but over the last two decades he has returned to architecture to work on redesigns of his buildings. The Ohnethai home was badly damaged in the 2010 Canterbury Earthquake, so Warren reconstructed the house and it marked seventeen years since he last designed a house. Although many of Warren’s firm’s buildings have been destroyed by earthquakes, his legacy remains intact. An exceptional designer and innovator, who created “architecture for the masses.”

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