Creating Landmarks – Stevens Lawson Architects

Words by Camille Khouri
Photography by Mark Smith

Beginning in 2002 with a small team led by architects Nicholas Stevens and Gary Lawson, Auckland-based Stevens Lawson Architects’s growth has been matched by its reputation, as the practice has become widely renowned for its quality work across a vast array of differently scaled projects. As the studio celebrates its 20th birthday this year, Stevens Lawson Architects’s exceptional versatility is evident, with a portfolio encompassing everything from bespoke homes to award-winning public buildings and well-planned housing developments.

Our practice has grown over 20 years from a small, mainly residential-focused studio into a practice of 20,” explains Gary Lawson. “We have an associate group of four supporting our team and a practice manager. This structure allows us to complete projects ranging from under 100 square metres to over 12,000 square metres with the same focus on design thinking and quality in a supportive team environment.” Key projects over the years have acted like stepping stones for the practice, furthering its design repertoire and attributing awards and accolades to Stevens Lawson Architects’s name.

The Blyth Performing Arts Centre at Iona College in Hawke’s Bay exemplifies the studio’s talent for creating iconic public buildings.

One such residential project is Te Kaitaka in Wanaka, a multi-award winner that took out titles like Home of the Year and Best of New Zealand Design from the Living Channel, as well as being recognised by the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) in the annual awards in 2010. The home hugs close to its hillside site, with faceted geometric forms that respond to the surrounding mountains. Created from a combination of precast concrete and cedar, the house is designed to weather naturally, further merging with the landscape. More recently, finished in 2021, the Mawhiti House on Waiheke Island is widely acclaimed for its apparent simplicity of form, which hides creatively detailed, lofty interiors that are chapel-like in scale and appearance. The sculptural pavilion that leads to the house was designed as a folly for the ‘Headland Sculpture on the Gulf’ exhibition in 2017. With its ribbed timber form, the pavilion has been compared to the skeleton of a whale and also to a Māori whare or meeting house. Both the pavilion and Mawhiti House won NZIA Architecture Awards in their divisions.

The Blyth Performing Arts Centre at Iona College in Hawke’s Bay exemplifies the studio’s talent for creating iconic public buildings. With curves and planes derived from the shapes of musical instruments, this building is an apt setting for the performances that take place there. Similarly, The Chapel of St Peter at St Peter’s College takes its form from the symbol of the cross, which is expressed through an opening that extends up and across the walls and into the ceiling, creating an illuminated cross when seen from within the chapel. Its angular sculptural form in white brick stands as a beacon in its urban and institutional context.

Key to Stevens Lawson’s success is emphasis on cultivating a collaborative studio culture.

More recently, Stevens Lawson has completed HomeGround for the Auckland City Mission. This new headquarters for the Mission provides fit-for-purpose facilities for this much-loved organisation, including apartments for the homeless, medical and detox facilities, a large cafeteria, crisis care and a community centre. The building is designed to lend dignity to those who use it and features a rooftop garden and light-filled interior spaces. “While we are known for our bespoke residential work, we have built up a distinctive body of work in the public realm,” says Nicholas Stevens. The practice has also taken on the challenge of housing affordability in the multi-residential space. On this note, the firm has been involved
in creating a series of new neighbourhoods in the West Auckland suburb of Hobsonville Point, made up of terraced homes with a variety of gabled roof types and floor plans, which create a cohesive yet varied streetscape and cater to many different family configurations.

Key to Stevens Lawson’s success is emphasis on cultivating a collaborative studio culture. When it comes to running projects, while the founders of the practice, Nicholas and Gary, take the design lead, there is a true sense of collaboration within the team that carries each project through to successful completion. For Stevens Lawson, each project is distinctive and unique, responding to the hopes and desires of each client and the specific qualities of its context and environment.

A progressive practice with an eye to the future, Stevens Lawson has proved itself over 20 years as a versatile team driven by a desire to create innovative and engaging designs. The result is a portfolio of iconic buildings that has shaped New Zealand’s architectural landscape.