Julie Stout, the winner of the Te Kāhui Whaihanga New Zealand Institute of Architects Gold Medal 2021, tells Jeremy Hansen about architecture, activism, her long partnership with David Mitchell and the weight of being the first woman to win the award.
Jeremy Hansen: Let's start at the beginning. Where did you grow up and what was your early home life like?
Julie Stout: I was born in 1958, and I grew up in Palmerston North with my mother, father and younger brother. Looking back I had one of those idyllic Kiwi childhoods. We lived on a half-acre section near the center of Palmerston North with big old trees. Dad worked from home as a draftsman, and he designed our house, which he and Mum built with Uncle Ron. Dad had been a deer culler down the west coast for about 10 years when he met my mother on the Routeburn Track, whisked her back to Palmerston North and then had to learn something other than deer culling, so he went to night school and took up drafting. He was a lovely sketcher, a drawer. I would draw with dad, and often we were drawing mum.
Jeremy Hansen: What was the house like that he designed?
Julie Stout: It was a very simple L-shaped house, but it did have an open plan, which was somewhat unusual for those days. And the bedrooms came off the playroom that went out onto the deck. So, it had that sort of freshness and openness to it, which was different to most houses. It wasn't just a sequence of little rooms. It was beautiful.
Jeremy Hansen: So you grew up in an environment that was conscious of architecture?
Julie Stout: Well, no, it wasn't. I was just conscious that you could draw things. There was a process there, but I wouldn't say the word “architecture” was ever spoken. My Dad was a man of the bush, but my mother was taking us off to art galleries and buying books. I was very receptive. I came home from high school one lunchtime – that's what you did in those days, you went home on your bike for lunch – and announced to the family, aged 14, that I was going to study architecture. There was a look of shock on my parents' faces.
Jeremy Hansen: What were they shocked by?
Julie Stout: I think they were shocked that I actually knew what I wanted to do.
Jeremy Hansen: What do you think led you to that decision, at age 14, to become an architect? A lot of kids your age wouldn’t have understood it as a career possibility.
Julie Stout: Palmerston North Girls High School was fantastic because the teachers there were absolutely wonderful; a lot of them were the wives of professors and lecturers at Massey University and they were really great at making you work and aspire. And I always loved art. So I did the arts course and that always had art history in it and all those fabulous books and slides of Rome and that kind of thing. So, who wouldn't have been attracted to that?
Jeremy Hansen: It’s still a leap from that sort of study to wanting to make buildings.
Julie Stout: There were a couple of other triggers. The school had all these older buildings and big spaces and lovely big windows. Then one school holidays they'd built a new classroom block, this two-storey monstrosity, and I came home irate about it and said we should be doing something about it. I was one of those children that got on my high horse. Also about that time, they built this big building [the Palmerston North Civic Centre, by Maurice Patience & Son] out into The Square, a Brutalist civic thing. And that was like, whoa, where did that come from? It was an intrusion into that very set space. But at the same time you could tell it was an intentional act.
Oh, and I’ve just remembered another architectural experience. One of my best friends at high school, her father was the Vice Chancellor at Massey University, so we'd go and have sleepovers at her place in this fantastic old Arts and Crafts building, which I thought it was done by Lippincott but I've subsequently found out it wasn't. It was a big old-fashioned homestead that had high studs, timber panelling, double-height casement windows that you could run in and out of, sleeping balconies, and a big dark panelled stairway with oil paintings of past VCs on the wall. So, it was just a completely different spatial memory for me that shook me into realizing there are other ways to do things.
I also have to say that the other huge influence on my life was the fact that my mother was from Kirribilli in Sydney. We'd go there to see the family. So I had this sort of dual homeland in my head: Palmerston North and Sydney, this amazing city. It wasn’t so much about the architecture there, just that it was a powerhouse of energy. Dad was into engineering, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge featured prominently in their honeymoon photos. And then the Sydney Opera House was built. So architecture was always in the background. It’s such an interesting subject that slowly pervades you. So, from age 14, that was what I was going to be.
He was a lovely sketcher, a drawer. I would draw with dad, and often we were drawing mum.
Jeremy Hansen: I have another Palmerston North question: did Warren & Mahoney’s new buildings at Massey University register with you then?
Julie Stout: No, not really. I was probably grappling with Modernism, trying to come to terms with it.
Jeremy Hansen: It doesn't sound like in these teenage years that a love for Modernism was instinctual for you.
Julie Stout: No, it wasn't. It wasn't until I came to architecture school that it started to click. It applied to art too. Pat Hanly taught us drawing at architecture school and getting to understand his paintings was a real eye-opener. Things didn't have to be literal or pretty or picturesque; there was a more conceptual undercurrent there with a deeper meaning.
Jeremy Hansen: Did Sydney entice you as a university possibility or was it too far away?
Julie Stout: I'd barely been to Auckland before, which was a proper city with beaches. One step at a time were my thoughts. And I lived in the centre of Auckland with my brother at Courtville, so I felt like I had completely landed on my feet and found my home. It's that lovely feeling, which is what I enjoy about teaching now, when you're with people who are feeling like their lives are just starting to open up and they're so receptive to anything. It was really stimulating. It just felt like I found my family: I was in the same year as Patrick Clifford and Malcolm Bowes, and Rewi Thompson was a bit ahead of us. Lindley Naismith and Elizabeth Farrelly were the year ahead. And so you make friendships that continue all through your life. And the architecture school was by then about 30 percent female students, so there was a feeling of that opening up as well.
Jeremy Hansen: Were you developing a sense at that point of what you wanted to design? Were you aspiring to designing houses or civic buildings? Or were you thinking about other things altogether?
Julie Stout: I was just trying to do anything. How the hell do you do this? How do you take in all this information and make something of it? But there was very strong understanding at the school – or in some quarters anyway – that you were designing for this country, that there was something special about here, and that your architecture should be of this place. John Goldwater was one of my first teachers and a lovely, gentle man. And Mike Austin was teaching Man and the Environment studies, and David [Mitchell] was teaching environmental control.
Jeremy Hansen: What was environmental control as a subject?
Julie Stout: Well, it started off being more like plumbing and drainage. But David then took that subject and expanded it more to literally an environmental response, about how your buildings should respond to the environment. This was the time that the Whole Earth Catalog was coming out, Reyner Banham was writing and there were a whole lot of alternative ways of thinking about living and building. David was sort of articulating that for us.
Jeremy Hansen: Did you have people who you could look to as role models in the profession, people whose career trajectory you felt you could emulate?
Julie Stout: I didn't, but I soon met a whole lot of people like John Scott and Marshall Cook. There was this larger social grouping of people that students were caught up in through the studio masters. There'd be parties and things happening that you were involved in, so you met really stimulating, interesting people who would bring a whole gang of us into their lives. It’s something I miss a bit, and I sort of wish I’d done a bit more of it for my students.
...architecture was always in the background. It’s such an interesting subject that slowly pervades you.
Jeremy Hansen: It sounds like you found yourself part of a genuine community.
Julie Stout: Totally. And that's one of the great things I feel about being an architect: the collegiality. People are genuinely fond of each other, despite often competing.
Jeremy Hansen: What did you do when you finished your degree?
Julie Stout: Well, I took a break at the end of third year and went traveling on one of Kerry Morrow's study tours. A gang of us went over to America and hired cars and went from LA, where we saw the Schindler house, the Eames house, and then flew to Chicago and saw all the work there. I ended up travelling around America, staying with people I met, and then I travelled around Europe and England for a year, then came back via Melbourne thinking I'd go there to finish my degree. But then I came back, finished my degree at Auckland, and worked for Marshall Cook. He put you right into the deep end, doing house alterations and working on townhouses. He’s just a great humanist; it was really lovely working with him and learning the tools of the trade, which you don’t get in architecture school.
Jeremy Hansen: What made you choose Auckland instead of Melbourne?
Julie Stout: Well, David and I were falling into each other’s orbits and that got a bit complicated. We were together on and off. Actually after a while I decided we were off and I got a job in Fiji with Murray Cockburn for about nine months or so, working in the Pacific with a whole new world of people, culture, the unbelievable sensuousness and heat and all those fabulous plants.
Jeremy Hansen: What were you working on there?
Julie Stout: The main project was for a woman's collective in Nausori, outside Suva. The women there had raised money to build their own community centre. It was a really special project to be part of, witnessing what these women were accomplishing. It was a real privilege.
Jeremy Hansen: What happened when you came back to New Zealand?
Julie Stout: Well David had come up [to Fiji] quite a few times and at that point, we'd decided that we'd buy a boat and sail the Pacific. We were working towards that and living together in Courtville.
Jeremy Hansen: And it was about this time that you became part of the battle to save Courtville, which was then threatened with demolition. I’m thinking this is one of your early experiences of urban activism, something that later became a big part of your life.
Julie Stout: They were our homes, the Courtville apartments, and a great community of people lived there. It was all administered by the Public Trust for the Ministry of Railways. And Richard Prebble, who was Minister of Railways, wanted to sell the land and the buildings – quite rightly, in a sense, because they had nothing to do with railways. But the buildings weren’t protected, and this was the 80’s when developers were pulling down heritage buildings all around the inner city. The residents mounted a campaign and eventually went to the High Court, which ruled that if the buildings were put up for sale, then the residents would be the first people to have the option of buying them. Helen Clark, then a junior member in Cabinet, stood up for us in parliament against her fellow ministers. She’ll go far, we all said. So the buildings were saved, but ironically after all that, many of us gradually moved out.
Jeremy Hansen: Meanwhile, you were on one hand putting down roots by buying land in Freemans Bay, but on the other you were heading off sailing round the Pacific.
Julie Stout: I don't know what came over me, but David and I decided we'd go for a trial sail to see if we could hack it. We’d done a bit of sailing here, but it was a big leap. We took six months off in 1988 and sailed a loop around Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, then back to New Zealand. We developed a real interest in what Pacific culture and architecture was about.
Helen Clark, then a junior member in Cabinet, stood up for us in parliament against her fellow ministers. She’ll go far, we all said.
Jeremy Hansen: And were you designing the Heke Street house as you went?
Julie Stout: Yeah. It was something to talk about over drinks. We were always talking about it, working on it together.
Jeremy Hansen: How did the experience of being at sea shape the design of that house?
Julie Stout: Well, it was the sense of dark interiors that we liked in the New Caledonia and Fiji houses, that you’d go into this darkness and be looking out at the light in a framed view. And also the lightweight woven nature of construction, the poles, the woven walls. But at the same time it was also influenced a lot by Japanese design, like the panelling and the back yard – the fishpond was very much that borrowed Japanese view. So it's a real mélange of architectural gestures, but it is more of a Pacific-focused house. It was also that process of constant reiteration you get when architects are able to do their own house. The indulgence is unspeakable! But it was us pushing each other to be different and more extreme, I think. It was almost an obligation to push boundaries for ourselves and try more radical ideas, to strip away the conventions we all get tied to. At one point we had the bed floating in the pond, another level of lunacy.
Jeremy Hansen: So you got back from sailing the Pacific and get on with building the house.
Julie Stout: It was 1988. David went back to work and I worked on doing the working drawings [for Heke Street]. David and Jack [Manning, who had a practice together] split and David and I started working on other projects together.
Jeremy Hansen: Did the house live up to what you’d dreamed up on the boat?
Julie Stout: Yes, totally. I mean, there's always the sheer relief too as it takes shape and is slowly finished. It was a tiny house, but every project becomes Herculean. Julian [Mitchell, David’s son] and Robert Hancock built it. It was really lovely to have it as a place to share with others too.
Jeremy Hansen: It sounds like you had this very satisfactory home and social life, but the wanderlust was still there?
Julie Stout: Yes. It's addictive. In the background was the 1987 financial crash and recession, and we were not going to stay home and mope. And David kept saying, "I'm getting older" – he was about to turn 50 – “I'm going to die soon. We've got to go, we've got to go." He could feel me starting to put down roots and wanting to fuss about in the garden. So he uprooted me and off we went again. The plan was to sail to Japan and get a job there and sail around the Japanese archipelago. So in 1992, we went back through the Pacific, which was terrific. But while we were in Papua New Guinea, the economic bubble burst in Japan and John Mortenson, who was in Japan at the time – I don't know quite how he contacted us, but he did – said "Don't come, there’s no work, go to Hong Kong." So we went to Hong Kong and stayed. We stepped off the boat and went to Marks and Spencer and bought some big suits, and we got jobs pretty quickly.
Jeremy Hansen: What kind of work were you doing in Hong Kong?
Julie Stout: I was doing all sorts of big projects in parts of China that I never got to see. I’d get told, "This needs umpteen apartments and a shopping mall and blah, blah, blah." And all those notions of context and sense of place and all that stuff that was woven into my psyche had to go. I don’t even know what happened to those projects.
...it's a real mélange of architectural gestures, but it is more of a Pacific-focused house.
Jeremy Hansen: You spent about 18 months in Hong Kong. What made you come back to New Zealand?
Julie Stout: Jenny Gibbs [an art patron for whom David had designed two houses] sent a fax to David saying, "Alan and I have just bought the Telecom Exchange in Wellesley Street. We'd like to make a new contemporary art gallery. Are you interested?" The thought of coming back and seeing our friends and family and working for ourselves again was just not to be missed. So we left the boat in Hong Kong and flew back home.
Jeremy Hansen: I remember being in Auckland at that time and the New Gallery, as it was called [it was the contemporary art wing of the Auckland Art Gallery], being quite a source of excitement.
Julie Stout: It was great, working with Jenny and Alan, and [curator] Alexa Johnston was involved from the art gallery. It was this really small project team, and we just got on with it. We roofed over the light well and you could tell we’d been to Hong Kong, because we put in an escalator to bring people up from Lorne Street. It was just making the spaces big and open and controlling the light. I'm very sorry that they ended up selling the building to fund the new extension to the art gallery, because I don't think the refurbished art gallery really has that same sense of raw space that contemporary art works well in.
Jeremy Hansen: With a high-profile project like that, did it feel like Mitchell and Stout was a practice that had momentum then? Did work start to come in pretty steadily?
Julie Stout: Well, actually we took off again. I think if you wrote a career manual, you wouldn’t have our modus operandi as something to emulate! While we were winning national awards we were saying, "thanks very much" and "see you!" We went back to Hong Kong and got the boat and headed off again down through Borneo. You may think we were just sitting around drinking pina coladas, but we actually worked quite a lot through that. Trevor and Jan Farmer wanted a new house in the Bay of Islands, so we came back briefly for that and did the design and documentation. We were very blessed with lovely tolerant clients and other houses.
Jeremy Hansen: What characteristics do those houses you created have in common? What themes were you able to explore in designing them?
Julie Stout: The Farmers’ house, Waitamariki, is on a beautiful site in the Bay of Islands. The idea was to sink the house so it didn’t rise above the brow of the hill, and have grass grow over the roof. The mass of the big stone walls holds the shape of the house against the land, and light coming through the roof creates a different spatial play. It’s a very calm house.
I think in a lot of our houses the joy comes from working the section like this, working out how the building fits in with the land. This is also the case with the Otoparae House, out of Te Kūiti, where we created a sunken verandah space at the back with screens that open out. The building becomes an active thing that engages with its site, and the openable screens force the people to interact with it as well. There’s nothing much that’s push-button about our houses. At the Waiheke House, for example, the guest rooms are elevated like little nests surrounded by shutters, and you really have to wrestle those shutters down.
Jeremy Hansen: The Waiheke House also contains that wonderful high-ceilinged space with a grand piano.
Julie Stout: A lot of thought went into how each room in that house would create a different mental and spatial experience. The piano room is a very internal space that responded to the clients’ request for a space to think in. In some ways it’s quite a spiritual thing: the focus is elevated with a high ceiling, and there’s light spilling down a wall that is curved upwards to make it feel less rigid and contained.
Jeremy Hansen: Do you see the houses you designed as a continuum or are they quite independent of each other, design-wise?
Julie Stout: All our houses are quite expressive; there’s always some strong idea or response there and it’s also expressed very strongly in the construction methods. David’s big thing was that you have to move people. The buildings have to touch people and to do that you have to create a space that embodies what the activity is and what its context is, the framing of the view in some way, the fall of light, the embrace of people within that space. It’s endlessly fascinating how you mix all those things together, that’s the art of it. It’s the utterly captivating thing about being an architect: you’re composing these spaces. There’s a big responsibility in that.
Jeremy Hansen: Architecture doesn’t generally seem to exist outside fashion, but a lot of your work does. Was this a conscious act of resistance?
Julie Stout: Fashion and style is huge, increasingly so. But you can’t afford to look at magazines as you’re trying to develop your own style as an architect. Magazines were banned in our house. David took a far more authoritarian approach than I did. It’s a bit like being an artist: you like to be aware of what’s happening and what’s interesting, but then you have to park it and do what’s true to your eye and what your feelings are telling you.
Jeremy Hansen: And what is your eye looking for?
Julie Stout: One strives for beauty. That’s the great optimist in me. You strive to have something that’s the right fit, that’s got a poise or a repose to it, that sits into its context in an interesting way, that becomes part of its context, and has beautiful spaces inside. That really moves you and touches people.
You strive to have something that’s the right fit, that’s got a poise or a repose to it, that sits into its context in an interesting way, that becomes part of its context, and has beautiful spaces inside. That really moves you and touches people.
Jeremy Hansen: As you said that my mind went to your own house you’re speaking to me from today at Narrow Neck, which seems almost anti-contextual given that it’s a three-storey building in a fairly low-density suburb.
Julie Stout: It makes a statement of increasing intensification in our seaside suburbs, being three dwelling units, but it’s still trying to fit a context. This house became far less about being a suburban house than being its own landscape at the beach with the cliffs. Also, the landscape needed to be mature around it, and it’s only in the last couple of years that’s happened. It’s amazing how many people comment on that – the rawness and in-your-face-ness has gone and it’s a lot softer. I’ve just been trimming the vines and nature is taking over, which is fine.
Jeremy Hansen: Which other architects have inspired you?
Julie Stout: Here in Australia and New Zealand architects are fortunate to have the opportunity to do a lot of houses. There are a lot of terrific residential architects. Richard Leplastrier, Pete Stutchbury and their partners are good friends, Brit Andresen in Brisbane, and Glenn Murcutt, people who are really working the craft of timber and have been hugely influential on me in terms of developing an architectural response to the conditions of your own country. Construction being a part of that: the inventive making is just as important as the spatial play you go through.
Jeremy Hansen: You worked closely with David when he was Creative Director of New Zealand’s first contribution to the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2014. Rem Koolhaas was curator of the overall Biennale and was interested in the theme of ubiquity in modern architecture – that location is no longer important. But the exhibition you created ran counter to that theory, suggesting that New Zealand architecture still spoke strongly of its unique location. Can you talk a bit about that?
Julie Stout: It was something that came from our sailing and experiencing the architecture in its oceanic context. Far from modernism absorbing regional architectures, our proposition was that European and Māori architecture had actually influenced each other here and created something special to this place which was still evolving. Māori architecture had evolved from the great cultural migration across Oceania reaching a new land. Europeans on arrival here were forced to embrace a different way of building, a timber tectonic. And their buildings, like the churches, affected the development of the wharenui. Also, the influence of Japanese architecture on New Zealand architects in the 50s, with its lightweight, wall-less pavilions. The Japanese concept of open connecting space, or Ma, directly links to the Oceanic concept of Vā. The Venice Biennale enabled us to really explore and articulate that cross-pollination of architectural languages, and it was just perfect for David to move on in a positive way from The Elegant Shed [his 1985 book with Gillian Chaplin]. Now our awareness of developing an architecture of social openness, flexibility and resilience to earthquakes is creating something special here and it’s terrific to see the growing number of Māori and Polynesian people in architecture making their own discoveries.
European and Māori architecture had actually influenced each other here and created something special to this place which was still evolving.
Jeremy Hansen: The curation of the Venice exhibition related to your travels, as you’ve said. And we’ve jumped ahead, because your travels went on for some time after the design of the Waitamariki House.
Julie Stout: They did. After the Waitamariki House was designed, we were in Singapore for a bit, and around Asia for quite some time: Malaysia, Thailand, traveling overland to Indonesia and up to Japan. Then mid-1999, we sailed across the Indian Ocean to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, to Oman and Aden, across to Eritrea, then up the Red Sea via Egypt and the Suez Canal. We then sailed to Cyprus and spent quite a bit of time there, and then across to Turkey and Greece.
Jeremy Hansen: And when you're doing this, were there times where you were thinking of throwing it all in and coming back, or did you want to stay on the boat forever and just carry on?
Julie Stout: I don't think we knew. I mean, there was so much to see around the Mediterranean, so we were just doing that. It's just the luxury of travelling by your own boat, of being able to just spend time in that landscape where there have been ancient cities, where you can watch the sunlight come up and go down, and you just see the shadows of past buildings on the land, and the fabulous villages and places to wander through. I think we were just sort of waiting for something to happen that would illuminate our fate, and that happened: We discovered David had prostate cancer, and he had a test at which point he got some infection. We were alone in this boat yard out of Marmaris, and the first storm of the season came through. All the rigging of these hundreds of boats on the hardstand was banging, and there was an arcing electric cable nearby in the darkness. David was completely out of it with a fever. I thought he was going to die. I think that was the worst night of my life. And the doctor said, "Go home, get treatment at home." Within about three weeks, we were back in Auckland. It was like, "Whoa, what happened?" That was December 1999. It was a bit of a shock at first, but it meant David got really good treatment and we were back with family. And the kids, [David’s son and daughter] Julian and Tess, were starting to have little mokopuna. So it's funny, isn't it? You just never know quite what's going to unfold, but actually it turned out to be the right thing for us.
Jeremy Hansen: What are the other works that you made as Mitchell and Stout that you feel most proud of?
Julie Stout: The Heke Street house is obvious. All our houses I'm pleased with, because it's such an intense relationship with the client, and doing something for them that opens up their world to their dreams, and I think gives them something extra. So that always appeals. And working on the public buildings has always been really rewarding. I'm most proud of Te Uru Gallery, I think. We had fantastic clients who had great trust in us and a great team working on it.
Jeremy Hansen: I wanted to ask you about one of the other really important arcs of your career, and that’s your work with Urban Auckland which for a long time has played a really vital role in the shaping of the city. How did you become involved in that?
Julie Stout: That's been a fantastic thing to be part of. It was all started while we were away, with Amanda Reynolds and Malcolm Walker and Don McCrae fighting for the preservation of those fabulous old buildings in Britomart. And what a thing to thank them for, what a legacy. Urban Auckland formed out of that. After returning, in 2000 I got involved with the NZIA Urban Issues Group, with Graeme Scott among others. We were doing submissions around things like preserving view shafts down streets to the harbour, which really are important in the legibility of the city. There was a mayoral debate in 2004 and we'd been fighting John Banks, who wanted to put a V8 car race around Victoria Park and the CBD area. And so we organised a mayoral candidates debate and pushed our idea that the city development should be led by design and there should be an urban design champion, and if we were to compete with Sydney and Brisbane and Melbourne, we had to really up our game on the quality of our spaces and how we lived in our city. We put this to the panel of mayoral candidates, one of whom was Dick Hubbard. And he immediately stood up and said, "I agree with everything you say. I'll make that the first plank of my candidacy." So we were delighted when he won. He set up the Mayoral Forum on Urban Design, which brought together developers, landscape architects, planners, academics, architects and more, and we were all in the room together discussing how to make the city better. We were building up a community of people who were all united about making Auckland better. The formation of an Auckland Design Office, a unit that worked under the mayor and an Urban Design Champion, came out of that raft of initiatives and later the Urban Design Panel was formed.
Jeremy Hansen: So you had some important wins. What was the mission of the group after that?
Julie Stout: I became Chair of Urban Auckland in 2011. We’ve been involved in a number of actions but by far the biggest and highest-profile was challenging the Auckland Council and Ports of Auckland in the High Court over their proposed expansion of Bledisloe Wharf into the Waitematā Harbour in 2015. That was major, especially as the campaign developed and Stop Stealing Our Harbour was formed. What was exhilarating was that so many people came out to show their concern for their city and harbour. And we won the court case! “Victory for Activists” was the Herald banner. What we won was what we had been lobbying the Mayor to implement for years – a proper study into the long-term future of the Ports of Auckland that took in social, cultural and environmental issues as well as economic. It seems insane now that we had to fight for that. So the next year was spent involved in the Ports Future Study and the Consensus Working Group – a roundtable of stakeholders, business, shipping lines, economists, iwi, community, environmental representatives, a really interesting mix not unlike the Mayoral Forum on Urban Design in 2005. Out of that came the recognition that the Port will have to move in 25-30 years. To cut a long story short, we are now working to ensure that planning for a future ports strategy is underway.
Meanwhile Urban Auckland has also had two recent successes: stopping the large concrete dolphins for mega-cruise ships being built off Queens Wharf through mediation in the Environment Court, which led to discussions with the Port about allowing big cruise ships on Bledisloe Wharf and working with Stop Stealing Our Harbour to stop a long concrete wharf off Halsey Wharf for the America’s Cup bases. Seems so obvious now, but all of these have been real hard-fought battles.
Jeremy Hansen: How do you feel about the city's trajectory now? Because you mentioned the Urban Design Champion and the Auckland Design Office, and they’ve now been done away with.
Julie Stout: The city has certainly improved in the last 20 years. People now get urbanism, what it's like to be living in a city, intensification. But I think Auckland Council have lost their way in devolving the Design Office. In a time of such rapid growth to not have something like the Auckland Design Office or some entity that's overseeing the shaping of our city in a more holistic, creative way is just a travesty. I feel like we've gone full circle in 20 years and we're back down the bottom again. Planners and managers run the show and the creative people, people who can have a vision or a big idea about the city, have no part in it. There's no overall cohesion and no one to speak about it either, no one to sell the ideas or even just explain them to people as to what the city could be like.
Jeremy Hansen: You’re teaching at the University of Auckland now, and I wondered if the groups of students that you engage with make you feel optimistic about the future? And not just about the city – this is a generation that’s grappling with historic challenges in terms of climate change.
Julie Stout: I have to admit I lie awake at night worrying because the issues that we're facing are huge. But as we change as a society and become more multicultural, it's really exciting as to what we could do here. I find that a cause for optimism because the students totally get that.
Jeremy Hansen: You mentioned this overriding concern with shaping a distinctly New Zealand architecture when you were at university. Are these still the architectural conversations you're facilitating at the school? Or do they seem secondary in their nature now?
Julie Stout: The conversations have just got richer. It's just so interesting. For a start, recognising Aotearoa as a bi-cultural environment. As architects and urbanists, we are trying to understand what that is and how we shape our environment. And then also the multicultural aspect, how all these people now call this place their home. How do they feel as though they belong here? And so, to work that through is an interesting issue, if you're an artist or creative.
I have to admit I lie awake at night worrying because the issues that we're facing are huge.
Jeremy Hansen: You’re the first woman to win the Gold Medal. Why has it taken so long, and what does that suggest about architecture as a profession? And what kind of responsibility does it place on you?
Julie Stout: It's sort of a rather sad commentary, in a Groucho Marx kind of way, that I'm the one and the first. And I know I'm not that special, so I'm very humbled and I acknowledge it, but I think it's just the way it's been. There are a lot of factors at work here. My mother was super-bright and she wanted to be a biologist. She came to New Zealand and worked at DSIR, but then met my father and that was it, she was then a wife and mother. She, I think reluctantly, accepted that. I'm in a generation where I was encouraged to go to university and was supported financially and emotionally in that and to know it was going to be a career. Also I was fortunate that I came in at a time when there was a growing critical mass of women enrolled in architecture and, even more so, have a support group. Over the last 10 years Architecture + Women have done a phenomenal job of keeping the cause in front of the profession, providing support and shining a light on improving the profession for women architects.
And there are other things too, like me not having kids. And I’m never quite sure how big a factor that is, because it’s hard to say in the absence of them, but I’m aware of how many careers are changed by having families, and a lot of women, and men, have to really struggle with that. And luck plays a big part in it. But also, there’s hard work and perseverance and tenacity – essential if you're going to get anywhere with architecture.
I was also lucky in that I was supported in my professional career. I mean, how lucky was I to meet David? He was very supportive of me, but also to share our lives together. Being your own boss, having that independence and that financial independence. So I feel very lucky to have been my own boss and to be able to do projects that I want to do and how I want to do them. And to have the clients who have gone with that as well. There’s no way I’ve done any of this on my own, so I feel very humbled to be singled out. It's a bit like learning Te Reo and teaching New Zealand history properly in our schools: I just hope that in the very close future, we look back and say, “why did that take so long?” and that being a woman architect winning a Gold Medal is not unusual.
Jeremy Hansen: We haven’t yet talked about what you’re designing at the moment. Because you are working on some things right?
Julie Stout: Yes. After David died [in 2018], I couldn't bear the thought of designing without him. But, thanks to a dear friend insisting that I do a house for him, I'm now back in the saddle and loving it. So that's been great. And working with Julian [Mitchell] and [his partner] Rachel [Dodd – the practice is now called Mitchell Stout Dodd Architects], they are so talented and share the same ethos, so it's a real delight and pleasure to be back, working in a team again and picking up the pencil.
Jeremy Hansen: How would you describe your architectural approach nowadays? Do you have a way to define it?
Julie Stout: Well, like with any creative act, things come to you. Often, I've found when you pick up a pencil and a glass of wine, it all flows...[laughs] But no, working out what the big idea is is always something that I think David was strong on and I've really picked up on. Working out what is really driving the design and focusing on that. Plus the sheer delight of drawing your way through a problem and nutting out what it is, it’s just such a pleasurable way to work. As I remember watching my dad doing. I highly recommend it.