Brian Brake House (Former)

73 Scenic Drive, Titirangi, Auckland

  • Brian Brake House (Former), Auckland.
    Copyright: © 2017 Heath Young.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 9649 Date Entered 11th December 2014 Date of Effect 11th December 2014


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 1 DP 81114 (RT NA37D/212), North Auckland Land District and the buildings known as Brake House (Former) thereon. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Auckland Council


Auckland Council

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 81114 (RT NA37D/212), North Auckland Land District


The Brian Brake House built in 1976-7 as two pavilions across a gully in the Auckland suburb of Titirangi is a key Modern Movement building of New Zealand and is the former home of international photojournalist and photographer Brian Brake. The well-preserved design that appears to float in the landscape has a strong Asian aesthetic and is a key work of Auckland architect Ron Sang. Brake was a renowned artist who strengthened New Zealand’s national identity. His work changed the way pictorial books and publications by New Zealand artists were designed; influenced the way the nation promoted itself internationally; and significantly increased awareness of Maori taonga and culture among Pakeha.

The Brian Brake House was erected within the forest of Tiriwa, where Te Kawerau a Maki are the acknowledged mana whenua. Soon after the founding of Auckland as colonial capital in 1840, timber was milled in the Waitakere Ranges. The extensive Kaurilands Estate created in 1925 lay within what became a strong arts community where a number of experimental and modernist houses were built throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

Brake (1927-88) returned to live in New Zealand after a 22-year career overseas, including as a photojournalist whose work was published in magazines such as Life and National Geographic. The Sang-designed pavilion-style house, regarded as one of New Zealand’s finest works of modern architecture, was born of an interactive process undertaken by correspondence with the Hong Kong-based Brake. The roof of the linked sleeping and living pavilions was designed as a shallow reflecting pool. A basement studio enabled Brake to take on fewer assignments but work internationally. A Tatami room reflected Brake’s love of Asia where most of his work, including the highly acclaimed photo essay ‘Monsoon’, was shot. Brake, sculptor Guy Ngan and Sang spent three weeks living at the Titirangi address in 1977 to tune the house into the landscape through the precise placements of plantings and rocks.

The highly acclaimed residence received an Enduring Architecture Award from the New Zealand Institute of Architecture (NZIA) in 2001. It has appeared in national and international publications including The Phaidon Atlas: 20th-Century World Architecture (2010) and is identified by the international working party for the documentation and conservation of buildings sites and neighbourhoods of the modern movement (DOCOMOMO) New Zealand, as one of the top nineteen Modern Movement buildings in New Zealand.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The place has historical significance as a residence with built-in studio commissioned by Brian Brake who was widely acknowledged as New Zealand’s best-known photographer. A noted cinematographer and director at the National Film Unit in the early 1950s, Brake was an international photojournalist with a geographical specialisation in Asia. His work was widely published in the 1950s and 1960s by big-budget picture magazines including Life, Paris Match and National Geographic; his photo essay ‘Monsoon’ shot in India was a particular landmark. Brake’s images of craft and museum objects and taonga, notably those associated with the 1984 Te Maori exhibition, have particular significance for New Zealanders.

The place also has value for its links with the noted architect, art collector and publisher Ron Sang, and with Wellington sculptor Guy Ngan who were actively involved with Brake in settling the design into the landscape.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

The finely modelled, sleek-lined 1970s Brian Brake House erected across a gully has high aesthetic significance as a visually striking design and is widely admired as a masterpiece of restraint and clarity. The residence appearing to float within the landscape derives a strong sense of place from its intimate association with its setting including a water garden, mature native bush and flowering specimen trees. The Asian aesthetic pervading the design including landscape planting, the structure and detailing is highlighted by a stylised tea room with tatami-mat floor and tokonoma alcove for the display of select art pieces. The place has value for the quality and character of its linked interior spaces, timber ceilings, floors and fittings, and the manner in which elements of the structure are juxtaposed to provide views from one space to another, or frame the vegetation or distant vistas beyond.

Architectural Significance or Value

The Brian Brake House with its carefully detailed suspended pavilion forms has significance for illustrating sophisticated international modern influences in New Zealand architecture. The flat-roofed design with narrow floor plan reflects trends in the development of modern architecture in post-war New Zealand and was particularly distinctive within the context of contemporary 1970s architecture which was more typically a modern interpretation of a colonial vernacular. The well-preserved design recognised for its exceptional quality is a highly regarded work by Ron Sang, of the former Auckland architectural practice Mark-Brown Fairhead Sang and Carnachan.

Cultural Significance or Value

The place has considerable cultural value for its strength of association with the pre-eminent New Zealand-born photographer Brian Brake who made a major contribution to the ongoing development of New Zealand’s cultural and national identity for several decades commencing in the early 1960s, through his images of place, people, and man-made objects.

The design enhances understanding of the evolution of the modern movement in New Zealand. The Titirangi design expressing Brake’s love of Asia, and New Zealand’s place in the Asia Pacific was devised in the broadest sense by Sang, Brake and sculptor Guy Ngan, and illustrates the influence of Asian aesthetics on domestic design; and emerging perceptions of a developing multicultural society.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The Brian Brake House has significance as a highly regarded 1970s residence of late-modernist design that reflects trends in the development of modern architecture in post-war New Zealand when local architecture was being influenced by divergent themes. It also reflects the ongoing development, diversity and appeal of pavilion-style houses; new models for housing; and an increasing awareness of, and respect for, the New Zealand environmental landscape in the second half of the twentieth century.

The place also reflects New Zealand’s development as a modern Asia Pacific nation and multicultural society at a time when ties with Britain were diminishing. It also illustrates the changing nature of domesticity and work in post-1960s New Zealand where it became possible to pursue an international career from a local base.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The private residence with surviving photographic studio has special significance for its close associations with prominent New Zealand photographer Brian Brake whose work contributed to a developing awareness of national identity and character through his images of place, people and cultural treasures. His New Zealand, Gift of the Sea changed the way pictorial books and publications by New Zealand artists were conceived, sequenced and designed, and influenced the manner in which the nation promoted itself on the international stage including at Expo ‘70 in Kyoto, Japan; and Expo ’90 in Seville, Spain. Brake was also of importance in New Zealand history as a person who highlighted the need for New Zealand to create stronger connections with the outside world, and contributed to an enhanced understanding of the nation’s place within the Asia Pacific. His name has come to be associated with a large format style of photography that portrays the dramatic potential of cultural or art objects. His photographs of Maori taonga increased late twentieth-century Pakeha awareness of Maori culture.

The house was designed by Ron Sang, a significant New Zealand architect and patron of the arts, and demonstrates the development of his modernist design approach in domestic architecture.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place

The Brian Brake House is held in high esteem by the architectural community. It received a NZIA Auckland Branch Award in 1986; and in 2001, 25 years after its completion, an NZIA Enduring Architecture Award. It has also been identified by DOCOMOMO New Zealand as one of the nineteen key Modern Movement buildings of New Zealand and has been documented in a range of publications, local and international. The community’s high regard for the Brian Brake House is reflected in the place’s listing in the highest category for scheduled historic heritage in the operative District Plan and the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place

The value of the highly regarded Brian Brake House with its carefully suspended pavilion forms spanning a gully on a difficult site reflects sophisticated international modern influences while incorporating aspects of a refined Asian aesthetic. The cantilevered design articulated as slender linked rectangular volumes providing a combination of spaces of exquisite beauty, appears to float above the tree tops. Largely one-room wide the house of two distinct parts - sleeping and living - linked by a glass-walled bridge, has a seating platform and a glass-walled Tatami room, each supported on a single post, extending from the main linear form. The design achieves opposing objectives of privacy and openness by juxtaposing solid elevations of horizontal cedar boards; with walls of floor-to-ceiling glass away from public view. The design departs from concepts of indoor-outdoor flow traditionally associated with the casual Kiwi lifestyle, but achieves an informal linking of interior spaces with minimal corridors. The house also departs from traditional pavilion design in its absence of wide-overhanging eaves, to create a crisp visual design. Breaches of the flat roof-line by a clerestory window and a tall stairwell contribute to a visually striking composition.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape

The Brian Brake House is part of a broader historical and cultural landscape in Titirangi, an outer Auckland suburb notable for its dramatic topography, outstanding native bush and views that suited architecturally designed solutions. Other experimental and modernist houses nearby include the Donner House in Kohu Road (1947) with second-storey deck with single column support; the Orr-Walker House, Kopiko Road (1965, NZIA Bronze Medal) consisting of two linked pavilions; and the former Atkinson House (1945-6) in Rangiwai Road although all are largely concealed by the bush environment.

Summary of Significance or Values

It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category 1 historic place.

The Brian Brake House is recognised nationally and internationally as an important New Zealand example of Modern Movement architecture. It is a key work of Ron Sang of the highly regarded Auckland architectural practice, Mark-Brown Fairhead Sang and Carnachan. The design is admired for its clarity and restraint, its floating relationship to the landscape, and has been described as open but private; simple but infinitely complex.

The place also has special significance for its close associations with prominent international photojournalist and photographer Brian Brake whose film and photographic images of place, people, cultural objects and taonga made a major contribution to developing perceptions of national identity in the latter half of the twentieth century. In the early 1960s Brake’s work changed the way pictorial books and publications by New Zealand artists were conceived, sequenced and designed and also influenced the manner in which the nation promoted itself internationally. Brake’s images of craft and museum objects and Maori taonga, particularly those associated with the 1984 Te Maori exhibition, significantly increased awareness of Maori culture after the 1970s among Pakeha New Zealanders.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Sang, Ron

Ron Sang (b.1938) was born in Fiji to parents of Chinese ethnicity. Migrating to New Zealand for his final year of schooling, he studied architecture at the University of Auckland between 1958 and 1961 before working for Walker and Company.

Sang joined Mark-Brown and Fairhead in 1969. Architects Peter Mark-Brown (1929-1978) and Alan Fairhead (b. 1926) formed their practice known for sophisticated residential designs and commercial, recreational and church buildings, in the mid 1950s. Their Mackower McBeath and Company Limited building in Wellesley Street won an NZIA Silver Medal in 1961. Other well-known designs included the Auckland offices of three different international airlines; and a pensioner housing scheme and a War Memorial Swimming Baths, both in Onehunga. The practice also designed Rainger House in Victoria Street, the Highbury Post Office (1965) the Newton Post Office(1971) and the Mt Albert Post Office, as well as the Berlei Factory in Te Aroha (1962).

Houses including the pavilion-type House for the Sub-Tropics in Titirangi were important precedents for the Brian Brake House (1976). Ron Sang elaborated on the practice’s Californian influences in designing houses - including display pieces for extremely wealthy clients. In addition to the Brian Brake House, residential designs by Sang include the Sargent House in Remuera (1973) built entirely of concrete for the owner of a major construction company; and the Hooper House (1976) in Paratai Drive, Auckland.

Other significant projects by Fairhead Sang and Carnachan include Ponsonby Shopping Centre (1980), fifteen luxury apartments in St Heliers Bay (1987), and the pagoda-style Orient Towers (1988) on the comer of Lorne Street and Wellesley Street, Auckland.

After the firm disbanded in 1993, many of the residential designs of Sang Architects and Company Limited further demonstrated the development of Sang’s modernist design approach and reflected the clean lines, crisp detailing, full height glazing and flat roof forms evident in the Brian Brake House.

Sang was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2000, for services to architecture and the arts. An established collector of New Zealand art, he formed Ron Sang Publications in 2000. The first publication, Len Castle: Potter, won the 2003 Montana New Zealand Book Award (Non Fiction, Illustrative). The sculpture Millennium Tree conceived by Sang (Chair of the Chinese New Zealand Millennium Trust) and artist Guy Ngan (a pioneer of the international modern movement in New Zealand) was presented to Auckland City in 2006 to celebrate the Chinese community’s long association with, and contribution to, New Zealand society.

Source: Registration report for Brian Brake House (Former), Auckland, Register No. 9649, August 2014

Chant, Martin and Toni Roberts

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

J.W. Jenkin Construction Limited

J.W. Jenkin Construction Limited (1960-1996) grew out of a business founded in 1922 by Harry Jenkin, a third generation builder. Harry’s father began building and joinery production in Auckland in 1874. Harry too diversified into joinery manufacture in 1931 and was later joined by his son Jim Warren Jenkin (1925-2008). During the Second World War (1939-45) they produced joinery for the Avondale Hospital, and pre-cut army huts for the United States Army. Jenkin Timber Limited (incorporated 1953) expanded into finger-jointed timber and is currently (2014) a major West Auckland-based export business specialising in patented timber cladding.

Substantial projects by J.W Jenkin Construction Limited (1960-96) include two three-storey blocks of Council flats built in Grey Lynn in 1964. The company also constructed the Brian Brake House in Titirangi in 1976-7.

Source: Registration Report for Brian Brake House (Former), Register No. 9649, August 2014

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Early history of the site

The site of the Brian Brake House lies in Titirangi, within the forest of Tiriwa (Te Wao Nui a Tiriwa).

Early traditions refer to the Waitakere Ranges as a place where Turehu and Patupaiarehe resided. The area was settled by Toi Te Huatahi’s descendants, by Maruiwi (Maui’s descendants), and by Ngaoho (Te Kawerau a Maki’s forebears). Titirangi (the edge of the heavens) was named by the tohunga Rakataura of the Tainui canoe. Te Kawerau a Maki are acknowledged as manawhenua, but Waiohua and Ngati Whatua peoples also have ancestral interests.

The first recorded European visitor to the area was the missionary Samuel Marsden, in 1820. Following Ngapuhi incursions during the Musket Wars in 1825, most Te Kawerau a Maki sought refuge with kin in the Waikato. Returning in 1836, they initially resettled at Kakamatua.

In 1840, Ngati Whatua’s offer to transfer a large area of land to the British Crown for the creation of a colonial capital at Auckland was formally agreed. Crown purchases of Te Kawerau a Maki land commenced in 1848. Timber milling had begun on the eastern side of the Waitakere Ranges in the early 1840s. In 1854-5 the Crown granted Hibernia Smyth (d.1883) adjoining Allotments 27 and 50 in the Parish of Waikomiti. Smyth, a pioneer of the timber industry of the Auckland province, had arrived in Northland in 1839. His Waikomiti grants encompassed a place known as Okaurirahi (Big Kauri).

In 1925, an Auckland-based company created the extensive Kaurilands Estate subdivision on part of the recently purchased Smyth holding. At this time, road improvements and growing rates of car ownership were increasing public awareness of the Waitakere Ranges. The site of the Brian Brake House was part of a three-lot View Road parcel bought in 1927 by former jewellery retailer Alfred Mills Skeates (1876-1936). John and Marguerite Chinnery-Brown bought two of the lots in 1963. The western portion of View Road was renamed Scenic Drive, shortly before Lot 104 was subdivided into two in 1968. Hong Kong-based photographer John Brian Brake (1927-88) bought both lots in 1974.

After the Second World War (1939-45) a distinctive artistic community had developed in Titirangi, attracted by the physical environment and availability of cheap land beyond traditional suburbia. An increasingly design-aware clientele and the bush environment provided opportunities for architectural innovation. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s a number of experimental and modernist houses were built; followed in the 1970s by pole houses on sites previously deemed too steep or unstable.

Construction of the Brian Brake House (1976-7)

The pavilion-style Brian Brake House designed by Auckland architect Ron Sang (b.1938) of Mark-Brown, Fairhead, Sang and Carnachan, is regarded as one of the finest works of modern architecture in New Zealand. Pavilion-style buildings of the Modernist era were typically freestanding, low, flat rectangular prism forms, with a single flat roof extending beyond the building footprint. They often included an open plan and large amounts of floor-to-ceiling glazing. The archetypical Modernist pavilion was Mies van der Rohe’s German Pavilion for the Barcelona Exhibition of 1929.

Wellington-born Brake had moved overseas in 1954 and in 1957 doubted he could return, on account of the undeveloped state of the arts. In 1976, he commissioned a house on the site found by portrait photographer Spencer Digby for whom he had worked as assistant in the late 1940s.

Hong Kong-based Brake engaged an overseas architect to design a traditional Japanese-style farm house for the Titirangi property. However, after New Zealand artist Guy Ngan introduced Brake to Ron Sang, Brake adopted an alternative concept. Fiji-born Sang, whose parents had migrated from South China in 1925, had moved to New Zealand in 1957 and studied architecture between 1958 and 1961.

When Brake returned in the 1970s, New Zealanders were becoming more aware of their place in the Asia Pacific region and less reliant on Britain. Intensely aware of Japan throughout the Second World War (1939-45), New Zealand experienced an attitudinal change in the late 1950s. Domestic architecture such as Ivan Juriss’ own house (1953-6); the Sumpter House by James Hackshaw (1956-7); and Toomath and Wilson’s Mackay House (1959-60) reflected the growing influence of Japanese architecture in the local vernacular. By the early 1960s local magazines featured articles on Japanese culture, and a developing awareness of Japanese-influenced aesthetics (partly attributable to a growing local studio pottery movement) was increasingly reflected in the home and particularly the pavilion-style house. Brake’s images of contemporary life in Japan in 1964, published in Life in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympic Games, also contributed to the interest.

Sang’s visually striking design for the steep Titirangi site was the result of an interactive process undertaken by correspondence with Hong Kong-based Brake, a collector of fine art and perfectionist with an eye for detail. The outcome was a rectangular cantilevered structure of two linked pavilions. Two elevations were clad in cedar; two in glass. The entire roof, visible from Scenic Drive, was covered by a shallow pool designed to reflect the bush and fallen leaves. The design accommodating Brake’s sophisticated sensibilities incorporated a studio suite, enabling him to take on fewer assignments but still work internationally.

Internally, the front door opened onto an entrance gallery in a living pavilion. Spaces flowed in traditional pavilion style notwithstanding full-height partition walls defining living, dining and kitchen areas. The kitchen was hidden. Walls were needed for the display of Brake’s sizable art collection. At the east end of the living pavilion was a roofed deck.

A glass-walled bridge spanned what became a Japanese-inspired water garden. A second pavilion housed an open-plan study, two bedrooms, and two bathrooms. A Tatami room (a stylised tea room named for a set of mats that were a gift from Brake’s Japanese publisher) was linked to the front gallery of the sleeping pavilion.

The lower storey consisted of two half-basements. The west basement was a workshop.

The east basement contained Brake’s photographic studio. The main studio space, shown as a rumpus room on the floor plan, doubled as a private theatre. Two rooms opened off the west side: a lavatory; and a large store / strong room with built-in bench space and shelving. Built-in furniture in the rumpus room included a bench and cupboard unit; and a workbench with built-in light box, drawers, cupboards and knee space. Off the east side of the rumpus room was the darkroom in which a stainless steel tray and a printing bench occupied opposing walls. The northeast corner of the basement accommodated the developing room, which was accessed from the rumpus room via a small lobby that contained a stainless steel tray, the projectionist’s window and controls for lighting in studio with its drop-down screen.

The technically challenging project was erected by Mt Roskill company J.W. Jenkin Construction Limited. Engineered landscaping retaining walls were built alongside the house which spanned a gully. These diverted stormwater and facilitated the creation of a Japanese water garden fed by a natural spring. Brake, sculptor Guy Ngan, and Ron Sang spent three weeks living at the address in 1977, ‘to tune the house to the landscape through the precise placement of plants and rocks’.

Subsequent use (1977- )

The Titirangi residence was the permanent home of Brake and his partner Wai-Man Raymond (Aman) Lau.

Although the achievements of the intensely private Brake had never been set out in any detail, New Zealanders had a distinct sense of him as a celebrity. As a photojournalist during the golden age of international picture magazines his work provided a clear window on the world, bringing far away places into readers’ living rooms. Conversely his New Zealand, Gift of the Sea published in 1963 gave New Zealanders an image of, and for, themselves. Creating stronger connections with the outside world was important to Brake when he returned in 1976. His belief that New Zealand could be better promoted overseas intensified over the following decade.

Prior to leaving New Zealand, Brake was a cinematographer and director at the National Film Unit (NFU). His Snows of Aorangi (1955) was made when colour was a relative novelty at the Unit. Placed first equal at the Brussels International Tourist Film Festival in 1954, an edited version of the film was later nominated in the documentary category for an Academy Award in 1959. With few opportunities to pursue a film career locally, Brake went to Britain in 1954.

After joining photo agency Magnum Pictures, he traveled as a photojournalist selling his work to international magazines including Life, Paris Match and National Geographic. Chance photographs taken of artist Pablo Picasso at a bullfight were an early coup. Brake, for many years the only Magnum member from outside the United States or Europe, was elected the agency’s European vice-president in 1958. As the only independent Western photographer to cover the tenth-anniversary celebrations of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing in 1959, his images were keenly sought by American magazines as entry to China was barred to United States citizens. Along with earlier photographs taken in 1957, Brake’s images of China have increasing historical value.

Brake’s landmark photo essay ‘Monsoon’ shot entirely in colour in India and first published in Life in 1961, took photojournalism in a new direction. Drawing upon his experience at the NFU the sequencing of the photographs created the narrative. Life subsequently commissioned assignments on Japan; the Roman Empire; and, a notable six-part series on ancient Egypt.

With the collapse of big-budget picture magazines in the early 1970s, Brake turned to illustrative and studio work; and set up Hong Kong-company Zodiac Films for documentary making. Three cultural works relating to Indonesia (Borobudur, Batik and The Ramayana) appeared on New Zealand television.

Brake returned to New Zealand to photograph for New Zealand Potters: Their Work and Words (1976); and in 1975 was commissioned for a project realised as Art of the Pacific (1979). The singular style and commercial success of his earlier New Zealand, Gift of the Sea co-authored with Maurice Shadbolt had changed the way pictorial books and publications by New Zealand artists were conceived, sequenced and designed. The 1963 publication, a touchstone for New Zealanders, was closely echoed by the New Zealand Film Unit in This is New Zealand! created for Expo ’70, the World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan.

Brake and Lau undertook alterations and additions to their Titirangi home in 1980. Reflecting the owners’ changing needs and use of the house, these collaborative changes designed by Ron Sang included conversion of the east deck into a family room with a north-facing deck. Natural light was improved in the kitchen by re-glazing the south-facing tinted window to which a low window was added immediately above. Built-in fittings were added in the study on the west pavilion ground floor. A new stairway provided access for a guest suite in the former west workshop basement. Here the doorway in the south wall was in-filled with concrete blocks and a new doorway created at the northern end of the east wall and a new north-facing deck was provided. In the east basement, a laundry facility (relocated from the ground floor) and a combined editing room occupying part of what was originally shown as the developing room and wet area now opened onto a ground level deck.

Brake was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1981. At this time work for corporate clients including The Fletcher Group, and object photography was becoming increasingly important. Brake’s dramatic style of photography for museum and craft objects in the 1970s and 1980s led New Zealanders to equate his name with large format photography of cultural treasures. His images of taonga Maori achieved iconic status, New Zealanders associating them with Te Maori exhibition that toured the United States in the 1980s. The photographs portrayed the dramatic potential of an object as a stunning example of taonga and exhibited an awareness of Maori values and attitudes to taonga.

In 1985, the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) made an Auckland Branch Award to the Brake House.

Brake promoted a New Zealand Centre for Photography (1985-2010) as a way of improving the profile and quality of local photography. When Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited in 1986, the New Zealand government presented a portfolio of Brake’s ‘Monsoon’ series as a demonstration of connection between the two countries.

Following Brian Brake’s premature death in 1988, his work continued to appear under Lau’s stewardship. A 1990 exhibition, Brian Brake’s New Zealand visited many international venues. Locally, an audiovisual title Gift of the Sea was shown at a sesquicentennial exhibition touring 34 centres. Brian Brake: The Beautiful New Zealand, an audiovisual using 3,000 images, was shown in the New Zealand pavilion at Expo ’92, the World’s Fair in Seville, Spain. Lau subsequently donated Brake’s film, photographs and archival material to the nation for the benefit of future New Zealanders and scholars.

The Titirangi house was sold in 1991, and fell into decline. In 1999 new owners refurbished the kitchen and bathrooms. With architects Martin Chant and Toni Roberts as advisors, part of the partition wall was removed between the kitchen and dining room and more extensive glazing introduced in place of existing windows on the south wall of the kitchen to provide better light to both rooms.

Possibly at this time also, the laundry was relocated into the darkroom within the eastern area of the basement studio and a wash-hand basin installed in the former developing / editing room.

In 2001, 25 years after its completion, the Brake House was awarded an Enduring Architecture Award by the NZIA.

The work of architects like Ron Sang who pursued a more international, less colonial type of architecture in the 1970s in New Zealand, constituted a rare individualism that would in other places be termed late-modernism. As part of a growing support for the recognition of the heritage values of modern buildings, the New Zealand subsidiary of DOCOMOMO - an international working party for the documentation and conservation of buildings, sites and neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement - put together a ‘top 19’ places. The Brake House was included in the international publication, The Modern Movement in Architecture: Selections from the DOCOMOMO Registers (2000), for its special architectural significance. More recently, the house was one of seven New Zealand buildings featured in The Phaidon Atlas: 20th-Century World Architecture (2010) which includes over 750 outstanding works built between 1900 and 1999.

The house remains a private residence.

Physical Description

Current Description


Brian Brake House lies a short distance to the west of Auckland’s neighbourhood shopping centre Titirangi located at the eastern end of the Waitakere Ranges. Titirangi is a highly regarded scenic residential area with a number of significant modern houses and has a longstanding reputation as a suburb favoured by the arts community.

A number of experimental and modernist houses built from the late 1940s through the 1970s include the Atkinson House (1945-6) in Rangiwai Road, designed by Tibor Donner and later used as the Titirangi Community House. Architect Bruce Henderson’s home (1949-55) is located at Titirangi Beach Road. A number of works in the broader locality are by architects with an affiliation to the Group Architects including Bruce Rotherham, James Hackshaw, Alan Wild, and Group founder Bill Wilson. Domestic works by other architects of note include the Pollard House (1962) at Wood Bay by Imi Porsolt.

Site and building exterior

The Brian Brake House consists of two long, linked pavilions constructed across a gully. It reflects trends in the development of modern architecture in post-war New Zealand which was influenced by divergent themes including: international modernism; and national and regional modernism. In residential design, international modernism reflected the refined flat-roofed pavilion type. The Brian Brake House, with its carefully detailed suspended pavilion forms, reflects sophisticated international modern influences and was particularly distinctive within the context of contemporary 1970s architecture which was more typically a modern interpretation of a New Zealand colonial vernacular.

The Brian Brake House is admired for its clarity and restraint and its floating relationship to the landscape. The design is described as open but private; simple but infinitely complex. It departs from concepts of indoor-outdoor flow associated with casual Kiwi lifestyles; but is nevertheless an essentially New Zealand house, its informal linking of spaces with minimal corridors reflecting ongoing design trends.

The house occupies a narrow platform on a steep site dropping away from Scenic Drive. It stands in maturing native re-growth that includes kanaka, kauri, ponga, nikau and cabbage tree. Closer to the house, tall bush on the valley sides has been supplemented with exotic flowering species including magnolia, camellia and rhododendrons to form a planned landscape established as part of the original design. The steep driveway terminates in an outdoor entrance court. The flat-roofed double garage of concrete block construction is partly buried in the hillside. Almost every view of the house other than from the entrance court is obscured by bush.

Notwithstanding the challenging site, the construction methods and materials employed are not unusual. A water garden adjoining the concrete block basements on the north side of the house illustrates an overarching theme of working with, not against, the site. From below, heavy structural elements are evident but not in conflict with the aesthetic of the Japanese water garden. Unlike traditional pavilion designs, the Brian Brake House does not have eaves. Rectangular, cedar-sheathed rain heads drain by cords threaded with alternating rectangles of cedar.

The south and west elevations of the linked pavilions are clad in horizontal cedar weatherboards. These crisp-edged volumes present an almost solid façade. Extending above the flat roof is a stairwell with a steep pentice roof. The two main volumes of the house are delineated as a separated sleeping and a living zone connected by a glass-walled bridge. The upper level of the north elevations have walls of floor-to-ceiling glass which create an intimate connection with the surrounding vegetation and provide distant views across Auckland. The Tatami room and a seating platform, each supported on a single column, project out into the tree-tops.


The cantilevered residence is approached by a long, elevated, canopied entry deck.

The design is admired for the manner in which subtle planning injects drama into the spaces of the interior. A large clerestory window in the dining room allows glimpses of the tree tops, and the staircase with glazing draws in views of a liquid amber tree.

The centrally-located, full-height door opens onto an entrance gallery in the living pavilion. Tall front doors, a hallmark of Sang’s residential designs, were inspired by those of Chinese temples. A number of other Asian elements evident include detailing and the stylised tea room with a tatami-mat floor and tokonoma alcove.

The home is fully integrated with a good balance of solid and void, timber and glass. The long floor plan ensures rooms face the sun. Internally, most areas have as their focus views of the surrounding planting or the distant view back to Auckland. The walls of floor-to-ceiling glass together with the hovering Tatami room and the outdoor seating platform provide a strong sense of place and intimate association with the lush foliage and stunning views.

The upper level of the living pavilion contains three main areas. Floating ceilings are of tongue and groove tawa; and the floors are tongue and groove rimu. The living room has an elevated hearth fireplace. Built-in rimu timber shelving and units (slightly raised off the floor for ease of cleaning) are to Sang’s design. Opening off the dining area is a galley kitchen. Retracting sliding doors connect the dining and family spaces.

Transparent corners where the glass meets without mullions or visible structure, as in the Tatami room, were revolutionary when Sang first instigated them in the 1960s. Apart from alterations commissioned by Brake including installation of the west stairs; and a more recent refurbishing of the bathrooms by later owners, the upper floor of the sleeping pavilion is largely unaltered and retains built-in furniture to Sang’s design in the bedrooms, gallery and study area.

The room layout of the basement photographic studio suite remains (2011) largely as it was following alterations commissioned by Brake in 1979-80. The lavatory and the secure store open off the west side of the main studio space respectively. The former studio / theatre space retains fixtures including built-in bench and cupboard units - including Brake’s north-facing workbench with drawers, light box and full-length overhead task light. A ceiling-mounted drop-down projection screen, and a pair of flanking, wall-mounted speakers remain. The partition wall between the studio / theatre and the former editing room retains the projection window. Extending the length of the south wall of the former editing room is a bench unit with two above-bench shelves - mounted on the face of one of which are labeled studio lighting controllers. The darkroom retains original elements of significance including the built-in stainless steel tray extending the length south wall with under-bench storage that includes sliding mesh racks at one end. Part of the printing bench with a light-box also remains.


Modern International-influenced residential architecture

The Brian Brake House, with its carefully detailed suspended pavilion forms, reflects sophisticated international modern influences. The residence is one of a number of significant modern houses built in Titirangi and West Auckland; the dramatic topography, outstanding native bush and views encouraging architecturally designed solutions. Important Auckland precedents for the Brake house are: Mark-Brown and Fairhead’s House for the Sub-Tropics (1954-55) designed for N.R. Brown, in Waima Crescent; and Rigby.Mullans’ Greer House in Swanson (1959-60) pavilion types suspended in bush-clad settings. Both have been altered, the Greer House substantially. Mark-Brown and Fairhead’s Orr-Walker House, Kopiko Road, Titirangi (1965, NZIA Bronze Medal) consisting of two linked flat-roofed pavilions without eaves and with large areas of floor-to-ceiling glazing allowing views through from one space to another was also an influence, but follows the contours of the site rather than floating above the bush.

Other notable houses in the Titirangi area include Tibor Donner’s house at 50 Kohu Road (1947) with second-storey deck with single column support; architect Bill Haresnape’s own house at 4 Otitori Bay Road (1955-8) which received an NZIA Award for Enduring Architecture in 2009; and the Foley House designed by Brenner and Associates (1958). All reflect the influence of international modern; with flat-roofed pavilion forms and large areas of glazing. In wider Auckland, the Blumenthal (or Mondrian) House (1958) in St Heliers, by the Prague-trained architect Vladamir Cacala is noteworthy.

Nationally, significant early modernist houses include the Kahn House, Ngaio (1941-2, Register No. 7633, Category 1 historic place); Lang House, Karori (1948-54, Register No. 7447, Category 1 historic place); and the Hirschfeld House, Kelburn (1956-8, Register No. 7478, Category 1 historic place) three Wellington designs by Ernst Plischke who worked in Vienna and New York before emigrating to New Zealand in 1939. Architect William Alington’s pavilion-style home in Karori (1959-62, Register No. 7698, Category 1 historic place) is a largely unaltered late example of Modernist architecture in New Zealand.

The Brian Brake House was recognised by DOCOMOMO New Zealand as being among the top nineteen modern buildings, sites and neighbourhoods nationally. Other individual houses so recognised (apart from the Kahn and Alington Houses above) are the Haigh House (1941-2, Category 2 historic place) designed by Vernon Brown but relocated to Kaipara; the Group Construction Company’s, First House, Takapuna (1949-50); and the Buck House, Hawke’s Bay (1980, Register No. 7628, Category I historic place) by Athfield.

Residences associated with noted twentieth-century creative artists

The Brian Brake house was commissioned by noted New Zealand documentary-maker, photojournalist and photographer, Brian Brake.

Registered residences that have strong associations with those in the creative arts include: Katherine Mansfield’s Birthplace, Thorndon (Register No. 4428, Category 1 historic place); the Ngaio Marsh House, Christchurch (Register No. 3673, Category 1 historic place); and, the Frank Sargeson House, Takapuna (Register No. 7540, Category 1 historic place). Whare Tane, Epsom (Register No. 4503, Category 1, historic place) was commissioned by illustrator and cartoonist Trevor Lloyd famous for popularising the kiwi as New Zealand’s national icon. Others are the Rita Angus Cottage, Thorndon (Register No. 2291, Category 1 historic place); the McCahon Cottage, Titirangi (Register No. 5259, Category 2 historic place); Lilburn House, Thorndon (Register No. 7645, Category 1 historic place) the home of the celebrated New Zealand composer; and Martin House, Hastings (Register No. 7686, category 1 historic place) designed by prominent architect John Scott for potters Bruce and Estelle Martin.

The homes of Sargeson, Lloyd, Lilburn and the Martins were commissioned by the artist(s).

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1976 - 1977
House and garage constructed

Original Construction
1977 -
Construction of landscape retaining walls

1980 -
Alterations: Including conversion of roofed deck (east) to family room; stairway added in sleeping pavilion; guest suite developed in west basement; developing room and lobby converted to laundry and editing room (east basement)

1999 -
Alteration: Part of partition wall removed between dining and kitchen; kitchen windows replaced by more extensive glazing; bathrooms refurbished

Laundry relocated into darkroom; washbasin installed in former developing / editing room (east basement)

Construction Details

Concrete block basement; timber-frame supported by beams and columns (both concrete and steel); cedar cladding and floor-to-ceiling glazing; butanol roof

Completion Date

8th August 2014

Report Written By

Joan McKenzie and Jane Matthews

Information Sources

Sharp, 2000

Dennis Sharp and Catherine Cooke, The Modern Movement in Architecture: Selections from the DOCOMOMO Registers, Rotterdam, 2000, p.188

Gatley, 2008

Julia Gatley (ed.), Long Live the Modern: New Zealand's New Architecture 1904-1984, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2008

Bonny, 2011

Bonny, Marc, Titirangi: Fringe of Heaven, (eds Harvey, Bruce and Trixie Harvey), Auckland, 2011

Hansen, 2013

Hansen, Jeremy (ed.), Modern: New Zealand Homes from 1938-1977, Auckland, 2013

McCredie, 2010

McCredie, Athol (ed.) Brian Brake: Lens on the World, Wellington, 2010

Other Information

A fully referenced report is available from the Mid-Northern Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

This place has been identified in other heritage listings. The references are:

DOCOMOMO: Sharp, Dennis and Cooke, Catherine (eds), The Modern Movement in Architecture: Selections from the DOCOMOMO Registers, Rotterdam, 2000, p.92 (Item 18, Brake House).

Auckland Council, Cultural Heritage Inventory, computer no. 19284 Building –Dwelling, former Brake House.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.