Author(s): Simon Devitt
This is a true cross over book; part architecture, part photographic excellence, part social history and definitely the story of a family, the architect and their house. Portrait of a House is a photo book by photographer Simon Devitt in collaboration with graphic designer Arch MacDonnell (Inhouse Design). This is Devitts first foray in the photo book genre. His book explores the Athfield House - the 'village on the hill' - an architectural experiment that Ian Athfield started in 1965 on the Khandallah hillside in Wellington, and which he is still altering and extending today. The house is renowned in bohemian and academic circles for its many colourful dinner parties and occasions, and is infamous with neighbours past and present for the antics of its free-range livestock and frequent run-ins with Council. Roosters have been shot, construction shut down and architectural pilgrimages made. At last count 25 people live in its array of buildings, with 40 people working for Athfield Architects within its walls. Ironically the property was given a heritage listing by Council a number of years back, despite the years of acrimony, to which Ath laughed "what a bloody cheek!" and had the status changed to 'organic heritage' so that he could continue working on it. So the maverick architect has created an important piece of New Zealand history. About his almost 50-year experiment he understatedly concludes, "it hasn't been entirely successful but it hasn't been a failure." This is an extraordinary story told though Devitt's sensitive eye, blended with historic photographs, paintings and drawings from the Athfield archive. Clare Athfield's contribution of her own recipes (dating from the 1960s until now) complements a selection of personal letters by family, friends, colleagues and clients which are insightful and often very funny - memories that make Simon's photographs all the more potent in their beauty and silence.