Defiant Architecture


Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre

Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre

Riverside Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Riverside Museum

We’ve been stimulated and inspired by several films in the recent Resene Architecture and Design Film Festival, particularly three about extraordinary women, and two about New Zealand’s own Ian Athfield.

Three Women’s Worlds

Those who Dare, Win featured Zaha Hadid,  born in Baghdad in 1950, and  widely regarded as the most extraordinary architect in the world at present.  Her work includes  public buildings in the Middle East, China, Europe, the UK and the USA, each of them unique and spectacular, like the Heydar Aliyev Cultural centre in Baku, Azerbaijan, or the Riverside Museum in Glasgow, Scotland

Gray Matters was the story of Eileen Gray (born in Ireland in 1914), who  became a famous furniture designer.  She was a forerunner of most modern design schools, had a profound influence on other furniture makers, and her original works still sell for extraordinary prices.

Eileen Gray's  Dragon Chair

Eileen Gray’s Dragon Chair

She also became a highly respected architect, especially for the three homes she designed for herself. She went on designing new forms in new materials ( like a folding screen in hot-pink plastic, foreshadowing punk) almost till her death, at 98, in 1976.

The SESC Pompeia - old factory buildings converted to a mulit-purpose arts and community space

The SESC Pompeia – old factory buildings converted to a mulit-purpose arts and community space


Precise Poetry: Lino Bo Bardi’s Architecture was made to celebrate what would have been her 100th birthday.  Born in 1914, Lina Bo Bardi, an Italian-Brazilian architect, became famous for her commitment to people-centred architecture; many of her projects were community spaces, empowering the people who used them.  The film recounted political and personal events which shaped her work, and showed us major projects in São Paulo Museum of Art and Salvador de Bahia. The SESC Pompéia building which she designed expresses her commitment to the democratisation of the arts, and provides for a wide range of community spaces and activities.


What a wealth of extraordinary furniture and buildings, and creative people to celebrate! But in the course of learning more about these women we discovered another story – the obstructions put in the way of women architects, and the many who become or  remain invisible:

New Zealand’s own: Sir Ian Athfield


Athfield’s house-offices-village in Khandallah, Wellington

Known for everything from his own eccentric hillside-flowing home in Khandallah, Wellington, to major civic projects like the Wellington Public Library and the Waitakere Library/Unitec complex in Henderson, Ath (as all his friends and colleagues called him)- the late Sir Ian Athfield –  has become one of the most influential and creative architects in Aotearoa during his lifetime.


Wellington Public Library

We saw two films about him: Architect Athfield (1977, directed by Sam Neill), was about his prize-winning proposal for re-housing 140,000 slum dwellers in the Philippines.  The second, Architect of Dreams, directed by Geoffrey Cawthorn in 2008, celebrated his passion for urban design and his radical commitment to sustainability and community-building.




  1. We’re so glad you enjoyed this years films! Wellington we’re just about to open at The Embassy before heading down to Dunedin and Christchurch! Look out for the Athfield Commemorative talk by Athfield Architectes on June 6.

    WELLINGTON Embassy May 28 – June 10 | DUNEDIN Rialto June 11 – 21 | CHRISTCHURCH Academy Gold June 25 – July 8

    The full programme is downloadable at

    Warmly, Tracey Lee & Clare

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