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Interview: Alec Brue talks about Architectural Drawings of Christ’s College

Alec Bruce was born in Blenheim and boarded at Christ’s College where he was head prefect. He completed his degree in Auckland and has been a practising architect in Christchurch since 1985. His first collaboration with Sir Miles Warren was in 2000. Design awards received by Alec during his career include many for adaptive reuse and restoration of heritage buildings. Alec has a deep respect for the skill and mastery of the architects who preceded him at Christ’s College. He continues to apply his knowledge of Christchurch’s distinct architectural traditions to his projects and professional life. Alec talks in NZ Booklovers about Architectural Drawings of Christ’s College.

Tell us a little bit about Architectural Drawings of Christ’s College.

It is primarily a book to acknowledge the 43 years Miles Warren spent assisting Christ’s College as the college's architect. Christ’s College has a very distinctive presence in the city’s cultural precinct with many stone buildings designed by leading architectural figures. Miles Warren has been a very committed and passionate architect throughout his career, and has been a remarkable steward of the college's architectural legacy. As Christ’s College has very good records of the drawings from which it’s buildings were built, it seemed appropriate to make a record of the buildings that make up the campus using these drawings. It also is a record of several important buildings which were demolished as a result of damage in the Christchurch earthquakes, which are still very firmly in the memories of those who attended the school in the decades up to 2011.

How did you work with Sir Miles Warren to create this book?

It was a steady collaboration. It was Miles’ idea and he had no trouble convincing me. Miles provided all the drawings he had and had them photographed and made them available. We also looked through the College’s archives with the archivist Jane Teal, looking for the gems and historically significant images. Miles decided who would write the text for each building and we provided each other with copy for comment and minor refinements. It was my job to pull it all together with editing and collating the digital copies of the best drawings for each building, where we could source any at all, and then work with the publisher on the layout. The final task was attribution, which presented some challenges. It is not a particularly academic book, and it was not intended to be. Miles set the tone with it being quite architectural mixed with personal memories of his time at school. It has been a most enjoyable learning experience. How did you go about researching the various sections of the book?

We made a list of which buildings would be included and then found the best drawings and started writing. We both know the buildings inside out and back to front. The buildings tell their own story which starts with the drawing of each. The drawings point us back to the individual creativity and technical competence of each architect and how this is then translated graphically for others to build from.

What was your process or routine in creating this book?

Constant refinement of lists and spreadsheets. The text was relatively easy compared with looking through the different versions of drawings obtained from different sources to find the ones which were of most interest. Jenny May, a local heritage consultant and close personal friend of Miles’ was very helpful with the review of text and selection of images. What do you hope readers will take away from reading Architectural Drawings of Christ’s College?

Firstly a more detailed knowledge of the different architects who built at Christ’s College and the buildings they each designed, and secondly that the graphic methods by which buildings are conceived and then drawn have changed from a manual process to a digital one in the course of about 35 years. Miles Warren possessed the full repertoire of drawing techniques an architect trained in manual drawing techniques could ever be called on to provide (and other artistic abilities as well), which was the foundation of his success as an architect and provided him with his ability to see the skill and ability of other architects through their drawings.

What is the favourite book you have read this year, and why?

The Shagroons Palace (The history of the Christchurch Club). I love Christchurch and Canterbury and how the colony was founded on pastoralism and how this influence is still strongly felt in the province today. What is next on the agenda of you?

I’m still catching my breath after the hectic years in practice which resulted from the Christchurch earthquakes. In some ways it is still not over. Continuing to work as a practicing architect with my colleagues in our practice, but at a less intense pace. Not another book, at least not for a while. Helping our younger daughter Anna get established as a portrait artist. Seeing more of our beautiful country with my wife Deborah.

Quentin Wilson Publishing


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