In 1994, Sir Miles Warren (1929–2022) retired from Warren and Mahoney, the Christchurch architecture practice he co-founded in the late 1950s. He didn’t stop working; he continued as architect for Christ’s College, his old school, sat on boards and served on committees, and at Ōhinetahi, his home at Governor’s Bay, devoted himself to the development of one of Aotearoa’s finest gardens. But he was now free to pursue, in tandem, two life-long passions: travel and watercolour painting.
Over the next decade, Sir Miles went on annual painterly vacations in summer-season Europe, often accompanying artist John Coley, the former director of Christchurch’s Robert McDougall Art Gallery, and his wife, Fay, the expeditions’ organiser. The Coleys’ costs were subsidised by the sale of the watercolours John painted but Sir Miles had no remunerative pressure and gladly ceded control of travel logistics. For him, the European journeys were pure pleasure; like an eighteenth-century gentleman artist, he would set up his portable easel in a corner of a Tuscan piazza or alongside a Roman ruin.
True to amateur tradition, he would wryly downplay the resulting watercolours. Beneath the self-deprecation, however, Sir Miles took drawing seriously. He always had. As a child he had painted watercolours, untaught. As an apprentice architect in the post-war office of Cecil Wood he applied lettering and washes to Wood’s exquisite linen drawings and in evening classes at the Christchurch ‘Atelier’ he worked on the painstaking Beaux Arts-style renderings of Classical architecture then required for professional qualification.
Throughout his career, Sir Miles produced watercolours that both documented and promoted his buildings. As a painter, his perspective was avowedly architectural, as is demonstrated by this selection of his watercolours from the collection at Ōhinetahi. “He cannot resist the detail”, an art teacher remarked of one of his student watercolour sketches. Fifty years later, Sir Miles was happy to admit, “I still cannot.”
Sir Miles Warren (1929–2022) was one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s leading later twentieth century architects. Educated at Christ’s College and Auckland University College’s School of Architecture, he worked in Christchurch architecture practices and the architecture department of London County Council before going into partnership with Maurice Mahoney (1929–2018). Christchurch-based Warren and Mahoney’s notable buildings include College House (University of Canterbury, 1964), Christchurch Town Hall (1972) and the New Zealand Chancery in Washington D.C. (1981). With his sister Pauline and brother-in-law John Trengrove he made the celebrated garden at Ōhinetahi, Governor’s Bay. He was knighted in 1985 and appointed to the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1995.
John Walsh is a writer specialising in architecture. He edited Architecture New Zealand magazine from 2002 to 2011 and later worked for Te Kāhui Whaihanga New Zealand Institute of Architects as communications manager. He is the author of several books on New Zealand residential architecture and edited the publications accompanying the New Zealand exhibition at the 2014 and 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. Latterly he has written guides to the architecture of Auckland (2021), Wellington (2022) and Christchurch (2023), published by Massey University Press. He has contributed to publications ranging from Architectural Record (US) and Interstices to North & South, The Listener and Here.
Objectspace at the Sir Miles Warren Gallery is supported by The Warren Trust, Christchurch City Council, Cemac Commercial Interiors, Te Kāhui Whaihanga New Zealand Institute of Architects, Athfield Architects and Karen & Hamish Doig.