Herriot Melhuish O’Neill Architects - Wellington, Christchurch, Auckland, Tauranga

New Architect for HMOA Auckland: Meet Matt Robinson

November 19, 2019

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We’re maxing-out on the Matts in the Parnell studio with the exciting appointment of new senior architect, Matt Robinson, joining director Matt Pearson and his team.

Matt comes to us from Plus ArchitectureLeuschke Group Architects and RTA Studio and has over fifteen years’ experience in commercial and residential architecture. He's worked on a range of multi-unit projects like Balfour Apartments Parnell and Pacifica Apartments (under construction), as well as multiple high-end houses, including a new home for his brother on the Robinson family farm near Cambridge. 

Farm house designed by architect matt robinson

Robinson Farm House, Cambridge

We asked Matt how he came to architecture and what it was like to work on his own home ... 

Matt, you initially trained as a landscape designer, how did that lead you to architecture? 

Growing up on a Waikato dairy farm, I spent hours driving tractors around in circles on the rolling, rural landscape at the base of Mt Maungatautari. I was always fascinated by how you could play with the landscape by changing the texture of the soil or cutting grass in different directions.

Bored with tractor driving, landscape design was an exciting transition. I could move on from cutting grass to designing large rural environments or small backyards. I loved seeing landscapes evolve and develop as the planting grew and changed with the seasons.

I got interested in how landscape and built forms can be integrated, and frustrated when I saw that the architecture often had no connection to the site. In my role as a landscape designer, I realised I was attempting to merge or conceal the buildings if they had no relationship with the surrounding space.

Pukawa house architect

Pukawa House by Brian Elliot 

It was when I started staying at my parents-in-law’s bach in Pukawa that I really understood what it felt like when the connection worked. Designed for them in the 1980s by architect Brian Elliot, the built form seamlessly combined with the landscape and I felt a sense of grounding and calm whenever I went there. That experience was partly what inspired me to study architecture.

pukawa house by jack cantlon

I see architecture and landscape as a whole, not two separate disciplines. It's important to me that they are integrated, whether that's an internal living space with large glazed openings overlooking a garden, or the roofline of a house that aligns with the ridgeline beyond.

Pukawa bach designed by Jack Cantlon

We now sometimes rent the Pukawa bach off its new owners and I take my own children there (twins Phoebe and Jasper pictured above with Alfie).

You've had both your brother and your wife as clients. What was it like designing for your own home?

Renovating our ex-state house in Westmere (when we'd just had twins) was the most stressful and the most rewarding project I have worked on!

Westmere house designed by matt robinson

The extension has doubled the size of the original two-bedroom house, adding linked dining and living rooms with a mezzanine bedroom/study upstairs.  My design centred on the dining room table, as the heart of family life, with large glass sliders opening out onto the garden.

Matt Robinson Architect Westmere
I love seeing the way my family inhabit the space and enjoy using it, from my seven-year-old, Phoebe, doing headstands with her feet up the wall, to her twin brother, Jasper, riding his bike around the dining table. 

NIkau Palm matt robinson architect

The nikau palm, a centrepiece of the garden, looks fantastic lit-up at night, especially with rainwater running down the trunk. 

Matt Robinson architect westmere 1

I am currently working on Stage 2, redesigning the old state house section. I'm always amazed by how much you learn when working on your own projects when you are constantly questioning your decisions.

What do you do to relax (when you're not working on your home)? 

I love living in Auckland, and all the complexities the city has to offer, but am also lucky to be able to often head off in the weekends. We take our three children fishing off the wharf at Ti Point near my wife Penny’s parents' house, and I go surfing at Pakeri.

Issy and Matt

We also head down to the farm where my teenage daughter, Issy (pictured with me above), has driving lessons in the paddock, backing around fence standards, and the twins love turning on the cowshed for milking. It’s fun taking the kids to the local events in the district like the Guy Fawkes bonfire party. I also have two Vespas in storage at the farm, one is the same age as me and was previously owned by the Sisters of Assumption nuns in Otara. It's great getting them out for a run on the country roads in the open space.

Robinson kids at the farm of architect Matt v2

How's it going so far in the HMOA Auckland studio? 

I am definitely enjoying the culture of HMOA—getting that balance right between spreadsheets and good-time-vibes is hard to find. HMOA is about working as a team to come out with the best overall design solutions.

I bring a strong background in landscaping, new houses and multi-unit residential developments to the practice, which I am keen to develop further. I love working with clients, am always excited about design and like to be challenged. I enjoy the dynamics of architecture—weaving together the complexities of the client’s needs, the site and budget, is always an exciting and fun process.

I’m looking forward to being part of the further development of the HMOA crew, and of course bringing new projects to the Auckland studio.

Do you think New Zealanders understand the value an architect can bring to a new home or renovation?

With the rising cost of construction, I am always keen to talk people through the pros and cons of working with a registered architect as opposed to other options, like volume-home companies or draughting services. Architects are about creating spaces that are unique to their clients (and the site), that will always surprise and give a sense of joy. It’s about understanding how a client lives, or wants to live, and working closely with them to achieve this within their budget.

In saying that, most people who come into our office already get it; they understand the rewards that can be gained from an architecturally-designed home or renovation.