ATH 1940-2015

rog&athAth was adopted.
His birth parents were 17 years old, so maybe that it why his mind remained perpetually young and inquiring.

In November last year, a few of us architects of a certain age had our regular lunch in Wellington.
At 12.30 Ath said he had to leave, in order to catch a flight to Dunedin at 2.30.
‘Thats fine’, we said, ‘you’ve plenty of time.’
Ath replied that he just had to pop into the hospital on the way to the airport, to have a spot of nuclear radiation on his lymph glands.
This was typical of his communications in respect of his health.

We knew that Ath – the mind, creative genius, soul and spiritual being, and Ath – the body, were separate entities that didn’t speak to each other, but nonetheless his sudden death last Friday 16th January was a devastating shock.

Our most unique architectural provocateur, iconoclast, form maker, and soul mate is suddenly gone.
And far too young.
Compare with Oscar Neimeyer (104) and Frank Gehry (still alive at 86).

Some say that Ath should have been buried at his beloved village home in Amritsar St.
His inevitable exhumation, after the authorites had determined that it was not a licensed burial ground, would have made international news and kept his subversive spirit going.
He would have enjoyed his influence beyond the grave.

Ath was ahead of me at Auckland University and so, I didn’t meet him until I had been in Wellington for a year.
By this time he had reputation as a pivotal figure at Structon Group Architects and had hired the best graduates from my year.

This was the late sixties and I was overseeing the build of my first house design in Highbury.  I arrived on site at twilight after a hard day at Calder Fowler and Styles to see two shadowy figures on an upper floor platform.  One stepped forward, ‘Hi I’m Ath’, he said, ‘and this is my client. I am bringing him here to comfort him in the knowledge there is another eccentric architect in Wellington.’

We didn’t see each other a lot in the next five years, until we discovered we were having a mutual problem getting City Council to approve Building Permits for our houses. We lodged a formal complaint with the By-Laws committee, who’s chair, Bill Jeffries, took the matter very seriously.
The inspectors were on the mat at a Council Committee room. They admitted describing our designs as ’moon landing bugs’ and ‘the results of nightmares’.
Also, they may have alluded to our use of hallucinogenic drugs.
Ath prepared much better than I, producing photographic evidence of house alterations and additions privately carried out by the very same inspectors – against their conditions of employment.

Despite a stenographer being present, we never received the minutes of the resulting bloodbath.
However, several building inspectors were immediately sacked; The survivors addressed Ath as ‘Sir’ thereafter.
So in that respect council staff were ahead of their time, although they did exact a small revenge by labelling us ‘the terrible twins.’

In 1986 team leader Ath led John Blair, Rewi Thomson and myself, on a sponsored lecture tour of the United States – held in conjunction with the Te Maori exhibition.
We arrived at the Shangri-La hotel in Los Angeles on our first night.
Ath had agreed to share a room with Rewi, but when the Hispanic porter took them to their room, there was only a double bed.
The porter spoke little English, so Ath used arm gestures to indicate that they needed separate beds.
The porter, recognising Aths do-it-yourself approach, left the room, coming back a few minutes later and handing Ath a hand saw, he said ’you cut’.

For the next twenty years, being both workaholics, we didn’t see much of other, but we knew we were kindred spirits on the same rocky road.

I did see more of Ath in later years.
His and Clares 70th birthday party four years ago was held in the same house as his funeral last week.
He was generously displaying and marketing the late Rosanna Fan’s documentary film and drawings.

In the last four years, our friend Bruce Johnson organised a national road show of talks to industry leaders in which Ath was the dominant speaker.
His stories were always hilarious but with an insightful and meaningful philosophical edge.
I hope these recorded talks can be included in Ath’s archive.

Ath spoke at our friend and colleague Keith Wilson’s funeral last year. Keith had a similar horrible disease gnawing away at his insides. Ironically Ath spoke of ‘Keith’s bravery’.

Other more erudite commentators and historians than I will cover Ath’s achievements properly and in depth, but to me his creative experimentation was achievable, practical and optimistic.

By some inexplicable instinct, he didn’t think it right that a two dimensional canvas could express an artist’s statement without constraint, whereas the addition of a third dimension to ‘art on a building site’ could trigger over 2000 different standards.
Whilst some of these are necessary, a lot are not.

Ath challenged the mongrel regulations most effectively and without rancour.

He was a marvelous teacher without being an academic.
In his forward-thinking educational sphere, he sat the exam first and then had the lessons afterwards.
Without wishing to put words in his mouth there was a philosophical structure to him:
• Don’t talk about it; build it.
• It is better to apologize humbly than to seek permission.
• That a problem is another word for a challenge.
• That bitterness was how one judges a beer.
• You can be a stand-up comedian while sitting down.
• Embellishing a story doesn’t change it, so much as decorate it.
• Gossip is just useful information shared with friends.

The last communication I had with him was on his New Year’s Day Honour.
I text that ‘ I hope this will give you greater clout with the beaurocracy’,
He replied ‘I don’t think anyone can change the bu….’
I was just pondering what this meant, when there was another beep.
‘Fuck didn’t finish that. Sort of like the many things I do’

So my dear friend, that is a great pity, but at least there is a huge built heritage of yours which is finished or at least finished enough for people to get it.

Your life made a massive difference.

If you are up there now talking to the great architect in the sky, I will be bloody annoyed if he is not treating you as an equal.

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