The room

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Devitt explores how Ath's recent passing lends a new meaning and an added poetry to the architect's empty chair portrayed here.

Devitt explores how Ath’s recent passing lends a new meaning and an added poetry to the architect’s empty chair portrayed here. Image: Simon Devitt

I first met Ath back in the summer of 1999. Ath and his wife Clare were about to drive onto the Picton ferry headed for Awaroa and I had five minutes to capture the portrait I needed for one of my first assignments for Urbis magazine.

Since that day, I have had the privilege and good fortune of photographing dozens of projects for his architecture firm and for Julia Gatley’s book Athfield Architects.

More recently, I published my own account of his home, Amritsar, the village on the hill. I photographed, recorded interviews and recounted stories, all over an eight-year period. My book, Portrait of a House, gave me the opportunity to spend a great deal of time with Ath and Clare. There are many lively and funny accounts I could retell but it is a very quiet moment I remember most fondly: sitting on the couch with Ath in front of the telly like age-old whanau, watching a rerun of Billy T. James, with a cuppa and sharing a chuckle.

On my first camera-toting visit to Amritsar, as I began gathering images for my book, I shot this photograph through one of the rooftop portholes looking down into the sitting room. The reflections seen in the image are the fast-moving clouds that accompanied me on a very windy, sunny Welly day.

The seat (above), where both Clare and Ath sat regularly, is empty.

It is hard to believe a man, this fantastic man, so alive, has left the building. Rest in peace, friend.

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