Collapsing hierarchies: party walls, the rarefied, and the common by Sam Kebbell

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Architects in Wellington during the 1970s embraced what they considered to be a universal context for modernity in pursuit of a common architectural language. They were criticised by a generation of regionalists that followed them in the 1980s for ignoring the idiosyncrasies of place and people that make a local architecture distinct. Since the 1990s, architects embraced much more particular contexts, including the idiosyncrasies of a site and client, in the pursuit of rarefied institutional, corporate, and personal expression. Recent enthusiasm for the particular is a long way from the universal contexts of the 1970s, and a common architectural language is a long way from the more recent rarefied forms of expression, but the legacy of these shifts remain a critical background to the contemporary discussion here. How then, might a practice embrace both particular and universal contexts, and through those, both rarefied and common forms of expression?

My original contribution to knowledge is the explanation of my approach to practice, which is a response to this question. This study is undertaken through my contribution to the architectural practice, KebbellDaish, through which I have sought to collapse hierarchies that emerge around the rarefied and the common. The work shows that it is not an absolute hierarchy, but a dynamic between high culture and vernacular, modesty and ambition, crude and refined, and so on. The dynamic is played out on a few walls of each project, through overlaps of personal and public interests, the realities of particular circumstances, and speculations on a project’s context: from neighbourhoods to cities, regions, typologies, and cultural conventions.

Year: 2016
Examiners: Ulrich Hahn, Murray Fraser  Supervisors: Professor Richard Blythe, Assoc Professor Paul Minifie, Prof Katharine Heron

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