A talk by Roger Walker / May 2017

On Monday evening I went to a talk by Roger Walker hosted by City Talks at Wellington City Art Gallery. It inspired me. His architecture is interesting for sure, but it was the way in which he approaches the whole industry and design process that really got me thinking. 

After finishing my Bachelor of Architecture in October 2016 I have struggled to discuss the topic, let alone be brave enough to seek out 'real life adult' employment in the architecture realm. The distress and anxiety that the three years at Victoria University caused me (and many others) was like nothing I'd experienced before. My love for architecture and interior design that I have possessed since I was a young kid simply shrivelled, and somehow morphed into this thing that even if I just thought for a minute about made me feel ill. 

  • Concept: A writing on how and why architecture school killed me, and the necessary changes that need to be made in order for students not to die (an exaggeration, but still).

With this horrible sense of doubt, when my Aunt suggested for a third time since finishing my degree that I come and meet her friend Roger, there was 100% resistance from my end. However, this time it wasn't a close and personal dinner, instead a talk at the City Gallery celebrating his recent achievement of receiving a gold medal award from the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 2016. It was only my guilty conscience for turning down previous invitations that I agreed to go along to the talk - and I am so glad I did. 

As a kid I would drive past Roger Walker's Park Mews project and think it was a swimming pool, or castle of some sort - as it turned out it is a medium density housing development from the 70s (One of Walker's earlier buildings). Each week as my mother drove me to gymnastics that building would grab my attention - I loved exploring the different shapes and forms that it was made up of. Walker's infamous circular windows, varying levels and high pitched roofs are the characteristics in which make his architecture so familiar and recognisable as his. A characteristic that is distinctly yours - In my opinion, this is something every architect should aim for in their career. I say this with absolutely no clue as to what mine could be, but that's kind of exciting.

"To have a neutral building that could be multi-purpose - I've never had any sympathy for that". - Roger Walker

I find it funny that I have just described a building in which as a child I could not distinguish what it was used for, yet Roger's statement above still resonates strongly with me in the way he designs. 

Roger's designs are wacky, from the outside it can be hard to define what they are, however it is the unique planning and programming that goes into each of the designs which makes them completely and utterly functional to exactly what they are, forever. He doesn't build (or didn't earlier in his career) with the idea of progression and adaptation of buildings in mind. Instead he takes everything the client desires and develops a functional building for those individuals. It is this element in his process which I think enables him to create the eccentric structures that he does.

"I had a client once who really loved possums, so we attached a 2m high pole with a miniature house for possums onto the top of the roof so possums could live there too." - Roger Walker

His later works have progressed into calmer, more regular designs. Although he still aims for the circle, triangle and square trio that appeared in all his earlier work to surface in some way. To be quite honest, I prefer his later works in an aesthetic sense - but I think what makes them so successful is the process of refining in which he has embarked on throughout his extremely prosperous career.

From the way he spoke about his love for making and creating as a child, his beautiful hand-drawn plans, sections and renders, to the attitude he has towards the building codes and restrictions of New Zealand, his enthusiasm grasped me. I found him relatable to how I used to feel towards design and architecture, and the whole talk made me feel like feeling that passion again. So thank you Roger Walker, and thank you Susan for insisting I come along to the talk.