Roger Walker: A Disneyland Architect
The 1970s saw the introduction of a great variety of modern techniques, materials, colours and overseas styles into New Zealand. However, it is not surprising that a strong reaction from some architects against the Modernism of the 1950s and the early 1960s emerged during this period. They rejected the reflective curtain-wall and sought to create buildings that related to their surroundings. They changed the shape of the roofs and windows as well as emphasising the light and shade of the facade. To an extent, this reaction was pioneered from single-architect or small practices such as Roger Walker. The New Zealand architect, Roger Walker, was born in Hamilton in 1942 and trained at the University of Auckland School of Architecture. Since 1968 he has worked in Wellington, and is recognised as one of the most individual New Zealand architects of his generation and his work has been featured widely in New Zealand and international architectural publications.
Roger Walker is one of the few architects who has created a new style which has affected the establishment and evolution of a New Zealand architectural identity. During about 40 years of practice Roger Walker has significantly developed his personal architectural style and has contributed to an emerging concept of regional architecture and strengthened the notion of New Zealand architectural identity. Walker has always emphasised that architecture begins with human needs. Therefore, he was to reach a compromise between his strong resistance to the box house and his responsibility towards his client’s requirements. With the use of modern materials and applying the art of juxtaposition, Walker was able to find a design solution, which accommodated all these considerations. Walker believes that the design of houses is one of the hardest tasks that any architect is asked to undertake. His houses are characterised by their unexpected forms, the use of strong colours and by the variety of the materials and textures such as glass pyramid roofs, porthole windows, finials, criss-cross bracing and cantilevered, glazed nooks.
Britten House, Wellington, 1972: The Britten house is characterised by its unexpected forms, the use of strong colours and by the variety of the materials and texture.
The most subtle characteristics of Walker’s domestic buildings come mainly from the freedom with which the buildings are integrated with the natural landscape and this has become an important theme in his work. Walker aims to blend his buildings into the place rather than to make them stand out aggressively. His houses are highly flexible and can be extended if required. Although most of his output is private houses, he has nevertheless designed commercial buildings when he found the opportunity. He has also been involved in industrial buildings, tourist projects, public buildings, social buildings, airport, and religious buildings.
Park Mews, Hataitai, Wellington (1974): is Walker’s most significant contribution to community housing in terms of both theory and design.
Along with his residential buildings, community projects were a main theme in Walker’s work. In 1988 he was commissioned to design a retirement village and medical centre, ‘Ropata Village’, in Lower Hutt. It was an opportunity for Walker to create a modern landmark building and exhibit an exciting and dynamic example of late twentieth-century architecture.
Ropata Village, Lower Hutt, 1988: is Walker’s rebellion against the dreariness of the common atmosphere of commercial buildings.
Walker’s architecture is shaped by his individuality and sensibility and his concept of how the architectural elements are put together. There are many different elements that walker employed to accentuate the physical appearance of his building. He considered building materials as one of the most essential factors in transforming nature into built environment. Hierarchies are another crucial element in Walker’s design process. He respects scale, proportion, and balance to enhance the character of buildings. Light is also an important component of Walker’s architecture. Most of his work demonstrates a strong relationship between light and architecture. He employs light as an expressive and representational tool to give value to walls, windows, materials, textures, and colours in his buildings.
Colour is also one of the major aspects of Walker’s architecture. Colour has been developed as an architectural language and has become a substantial element in walker’s design process. Walker explored colour’s inherent power to provoke a remarkable reaction in the onlookers, as well as affects their perception of the architectural form and space. Walker never hesitated to use bright colours in his buildings. He understands the strong effect that colours can add to any architectural work. He also uses colour to accentuate and enrich the building’s form in order to create a strong architectural statement.
Wakatane Airport, 1974: Walker uses colours to enhance, complement, clarify, and to identify a building’s shape, size, and texture, rather than merely for decorating.
There is no doubt that, Walker’s architecture maintained the continuity of the built environment as well as strengthened the sense of a specific place. Walker’s style is complex and vital and its elements are derived from both New Zealand’s history and vernacular. The most important contribution of Walker to the architecture of New Zealand, most probably lies in his commitment to regionalism and the impact this has had on the current thinking of New Zealand architects. Walker’s buildings show that it is still possible to express by means of a poetic form the inherent order of things in relation to the realities of the contemporary architecture.