Farewell to modern architect Fritz Eisenhofer
September 01, 2023 | Stories

By David Watt

Renowned architect Fritz Eisenhofer ONZM, passed away at his home at Peka Peka, Waikanae, on 27 July 2023, aged 96. 

KĀPITI COAST: Warm and engaging, and with enduring style, his achievements in his field speak for themselves. 

He was known to be proud of his work, but never boastful, particularly in the presence of friends, who he enjoyed entertaining with his wife, Helen, at their home in Khandallah, Wellington. Visitors to this home of his own design would enjoy the expansive harbour views from the property. 

Friedrich (Fritz) Eisenhofer was born in Austria in 1926. He studied architecture at the Kunstakademie in Vienna after WWII and emigrated to Aotearoa New Zealand in 1953 as part of a group of 200 skilled Austrian tradesmen contracted to build 500 pre-cut Austrian state houses in Titahi Bay, Porirua. 

He gained New Zealand residency and then worked at the Department of Housing before teaming up in a partnership with fellow Austrian architect, Erwin Winkler, in the late 1950s at their practice located at 108 Cuba Street in Wellington. They went on to design, and build, a number of notable homes in the Wellington region.

"Early Wellingtonian coffee lovers will recall Eisenhofer’s stylish modern coffee lounge built in 1964 in Willis Street for well-known businesswoman, Suzy Van der Kwast."

From the 1960s and into the 1970s he designed many modern movement houses around Wellington with good examples of his work being found across the suburbs of Wilton and Khandallah. Also in the early 1970s he made his mark with an extraordinary seaside residence that staggers down the hillside in Paremata, Porirua City, to the harbour below with a private boat shed and jetty.  

Early Wellingtonian coffee lovers will recall Eisenhofer’s stylish modern coffee lounge built in 1964 in Willis Street for well-known businesswoman, Suzy Van der Kwast. It was a very popular meeting place for over 20 years, closing in 1987 to make way for the Majestic Centre.

Their style of architecture adhered to the principles of the modern movement. Eisenhofer’s architectural colleagues described him as a visionary who practised ‘an uncompromised high-style modernism.’

The Eisenhofer home in Khandallah before they moved to Peka Peka, courtesy of Tommys Wellington

In the 2010 New Year Honours, Eisenhofer was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to architecture. 

For much of his working career his work concentrated on what has been referred to as ‘solar gain’ and the relationship of his designs to surrounding landscapes. Nowhere has that been more apparent than on the Kāpiti Coast where Fritz and Helen moved to from Khandallah in the early 1990s to enjoy the coastal climate and landscape views.   

Their home at Peka Peka is dome-shaped, built – and then buried – four metres underground and made from ferro cement. A large north-facing glass wall regulates the temperature by slowly heating the ground floor through summer. This heat is gradually released during winter. The home has a swimming pool and a tropical garden similar to one that the Eisenhofers created in their Khandallah home.

Our sympathies are extended to Helen and family members on the recent passing of Fritz.

Eisenhofer, Fritz
Modern architecture

David Watt | Senior Outreach Advisor Regional Services
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