Sir Miles Warren: A lifetime dedicated to architecture

December 15, 2021
It is with great sadness that Warren and Mahoney acknowledges the passing of Sir Miles Warren, a founding partner of the practice. Our thoughts are with his friends and family.

Sir Miles Warren, the first New Zealander to be knighted for services to architecture, passed away on 9 August 2022 at the age of 93. Born in Christchurch in 1929, Sir Miles’ achievements throughout his career leaves a lasting imprint on the aesthetic of New Zealand’s architecture.

In 1955, Sir Miles Warren began a long and successful partnership with Maurice Mahoney. Together, they created the practice known to this day as Warren and Mahoney. The partnership and firm proceeded to design many buildings regarded as the benchmark of New Zealand modernism including Christchurch College (now known as College House), the Dental Nurses School, and the Harewood Memorial Gardens Crematorium.

In 1974, Sir Miles was awarded a CBE and in 1985 he was knighted for his services to architecture. Sir Miles was given the country’s highest honour in 1995, when he was admitted to the Order of New Zealand. In 2003 he was named one of ten inaugural ‘Icons of the Arts’ by the Arts Foundation of New Zealand.

Sir Miles was best known for his work on the Christchurch Town Hall. Designed when Sir Miles was just 35, the Town Hall is a masterpiece of national and international significance, and recently won ‘Enduring Architecture’ recognition at the 2021 New Zealand Architecture Awards.

Outside of his hometown, Sir Miles spearheaded the design of the award-winning Michael Fowler Centre, and Parliament House, both in Wellington.

Today, Warren and Mahoney’s 400 staff across eight studios in Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland, Tauranga, Dunedin, Queenstown, Sydney, and Melbourne remember Sir Miles’ legacy, which continues to live on through their work.

Two current Principals, Andrew Barclay and Peter Marshall, reflect on his impact, influence and character.

A storm of creativity – Andrew Barclay

“Miles’ attitude to architecture, his energy and his innate confidence has not only created a range of exceptional buildings, but it has propelled many similarly hungry architects to form their own successful practices. Miles generated a storm of creativity and competition across New Zealand during the late 20th Century.

“I remember my first day at Warren and Mahoney in 1985. Miles took me to a very simple but memorable lunch, and I gathered the audacity to ask him a question: “Miles, what would you do differently if you started again”. Miles looked at me from under the hedge of his famous eyebrows and I thought I had crossed the invisible line of over-familiarity. “I would take it all far less seriously,” he said. I have always remembered that, but failed to learn from it, in perhaps because all of Miles’ daily actions modelled the deadly seriousness of his natural drive and ambition.

“Miles, at his best, was a master craftsman and a world-class leader and mentor. He did it all from instinct, refreshingly disrespectful of authority, policy, and method. His life has been an expression of what Nietzsche might have called a ‘will to power’ – a drive to understand and shape his environment. On that journey he has influenced - directly and indirectly – thousands of creative individuals across many decades."

Master of Architecture – Peter Marshall

“Miles Warren worked a lifetime and created a legacy that few architects could imagine, let alone create. A master of the art of architecture, he was also master of the business of architecture, and together with Maurice Mahoney, spent 37 years engaging with clients ranging from residential clients and churches through to developers and government ministries. No other architect in Christchurch, or New Zealand, can lay claim to the footprint he left on our urban environment.

“Miles had a passion for architecture and devoted his entire life to the design of buildings and the spaces between. He was articulate, well read, intelligent, charming, and passionate about design, and inspired others to emulate.

“In the early years he was focused and unrelenting. Performance was everything. He was very focused on what he wanted to achieve. His standards were high and to work with him, yours had to be high too. I remember those first days in the office as a young architect, writing out the alphabet in W+M capital letters until they were acceptable for final drawings!

“He was incredibly ambitious and competitive - to lose a major project to a competitor would drive him to distraction, but he would pick himself up and push on. The practice has retained this drive – it is part of our DNA.

"Miles was also a raconteur. Each morning and afternoon tea he would join the staff whenever he could and regale us with stories of clients, with architectural anecdotes and questions on our thoughts on the matters of the day. It was a marvellous ritual that brought the office together in more ways than one.

“Miles was also an artist in his own right. His watercolours, particularly from his travels, were sublime and it was a joy to recently find many of these carefully stored in an upstairs Studio at Ohinetahi.

“Miles’ eye for detail never left him. I would take both Miles and Maurice through the Christchurch Town Hall as it was being strengthened and restored, and he would marvel at what was being undertaken. He would then point out the myriad details we had (supposedly) not considered, and ask constantly about finishes. Rightly, most concerned and insistent that the colour scheme be retained!

“Miles was a unique person and a unique architect and his legacy will live on.”