Megan Edwards has run her own practice Megan Edwards Architects since 1994, focusing mainly on alterations and additions and new homes. Amelia Melbourne-Hayward was invited into her home studio in Green Bay to talk about trends in residential architecture, her experience on the New Zealand Architecture Awards jury earlier this year and her love of warm interior spaces.
Many talented architects can recount several pivotal events from their youth that led them towards the profession. Watching the design and construction of her family’s split level bach on poles at the influential age of 12 was one instance that Megan Edwards readily recalls as important, or, as she says, when she “got the bug”.
Visiting her engineer father’s drawing office was another. He was part of a multidisciplinary practice and worked closely with architects on a daily basis. Exposure to and interest in plans, design and construction led Edwards to choose architecture over fine arts after high school. She attended the University of Auckland’s School of Architecture and greatly enjoyed the range of theories and ideas she encountered in her time there.
After working in London for three and a half years, where she gained her registration, Edwards moved back to Auckland and worked for Lane Priest for a year and a half. She started Megan Edwards Architects in 1994 and has been steadily working at her own pace since then, initially focusing mainly on alterations and additions to the backs of villas and bungalows. Edwards says, “I really like that work – I enjoy creating a contrast, with the old playing off the new, more modern shape”.
Edwards currently works from a home studio in the west Auckland suburb of Green Bay. Fellow architect Allan Eng and designer Jaqueline Bell make up the team. Due to a lack of space for the three, there are loose plans to move to a larger office in Morningside in the near future, although Edwards admits that it’s certainly easier working from home.
Although relatively far from the city, Green Bay is an ideal base for a studio, thanks to the volume of experimental, modernist architecture that took place there and in nearby suburb Titirangi in the 1940s to 1970s. Edwards own home/studio is an example of this, alongside houses such as the Henderson House, Pollard House and the acclaimed home of Tibor Donner, who was chief architect of Auckland City Council from 1946–67.
Edward’s favourite New Zealand house, the Haresnape House, is also in Titirangi. Built by architect, city councillor and teacher Bill Haresnape in the mid-1950s, the house, according to Edwards, is “like Shangri-La – grand and ambitious, with large stone walls and a lot of glass, sited on a cruciform plan anchored on a spur of land that drops away to the sea”.
The Haresnape House is the inspiration for one of Edward’s current works in progress, a large pavilion house with a strong modernist aesthetic in Greenhithe. On the other end of the scale, she is also working on a 60sqm worker’s cottage in Grey Lynn, which she says is “an exercise in absolutely squeezing the benefit out of the small amount of extra space as we can.”
The clients for Edward’s recent award-winning Tawini House in Titirangi wanted a home that related to and reflected this experimental tradition of the area. “We played with that tradition of timber-framed buildings, with a metal roof and a somewhat modernist palette,” she explains.
“Tawini House is designed in the ilk of those older homes, but the geometry is a little different. There is one single roof plane, which falls eastwards over a boomerang plan. We have tried to create a cave-like ambience – the house celebrates a rich interior world but nonetheless still has a strong connection to place.”
Timber features strongly in many of Edward’s designs, and she enjoys creating lofty spaces that are warm in their tone, “so you have the uplifting feeling of being in a large volume but you are still held by the space. With many houses, I find their view just throws you outwards, so I like the strong force of a sheltering roof that creates containment and a sense of cosiness.”
Edwards draws design inspiration from her clients themselves. If they are truly whole hearted and enthusiastic about their project, it creates a real well of energy and is very galvanising for her. More formally, for inspiration she draws upon everything she’s learnt, read and visited over the years, admitting that it might be time to go overseas again to get some exposure to a really different kind of architecture. Mexico, anyone?
Residential architecture is still the mainstay of Edward’s practice, although she is looking to diversify a little and undertake some lower-cost multi-unit apartment work. “There is a definite need for it – I’m thinking of something a little like Gerald Parsonson’s Zavos Corner, where there is a level of intensity and charge but also some privacy possible,” she explains. “We need more of this type of project to add to the stock, to avoid becoming an increasingly split and unequal society,” she says.
She is also intrigued by the idea of alternative retirement ideas. “I’m old enough that some people have started thinking about how they might want to live when they’re older, and it’s just not in the options that are currently available,” she laughs. “I think offering a level of community but at the same time independence will probably suit a whole lot of people”.
As part of the jury for the 2016 New Zealand Architecture Awards, Edwards spent almost two weeks touring the country and seeing the best of what New Zealand has to offer architecturally right now. As well as being mightily impressed with Zavos Corner, Edwards also really enjoyed the simple but rich form making of Te Kura Kaupapa school, which she terms “a hug of a building”. She was also inspired by the simplicity of the small chapel in Le Bons Bay that won the enduring architecture award.
Edwards is well placed to predict future trends in residential architecture. She believes that people are open and talking about sustainability issues, such as good passive design and the use of photovoltaic panels.
As for the oft-cited trend towards smaller homes, she laughs, “People are talking about smaller houses… but when they come to do it, they ask ‘can we just have a room for this and a room for that…’, and it ends up growing again! But I think there’s certainly elevated interest in it, and a larger number of people today have some awareness that well-designed simplicity is a good option.”
And what about dream projects for Edwards herself? Landscape interventions or interesting outdoor art projects excite her. “We’ve got this incredible landscape in New Zealand and sometimes there are aspects of it you just don’t see. I’ve had an idea for an installation where people string red ribbon across the crater of Mount Eden, which creates interesting patterns,” she says. “And as for building projects, a good multi-unit low-ish cost housing project, or a worship space would be just great.”