Bruce Henderson and John A Wheeler.

The practice of Bruce Henderson and John A Wheeler existed in this Pacific Idle during the years of Modernism’s late flowering. It is only recently partner Bruce Henderson has finally been acknowledged in a book about the history of one of the cities more interesting suburbs, although it would resist that kind of identification.

In ‘Titirangi’ (the book) Megan Edward’s and Jackie Bell’s wonderfully informative chapter on the local architecture covers a number of iconic houses and architects including Bruce and good friend Bill Haresnape. These ‘mavericks of the West’ were men of character and determination, and wrote their dreams large, building bold and adventuress houses for themselves and those that had the guts to commission them. Almost inevitably they were pigeonholed by some as ‘too American, too Australian’ or ‘Wrightian’.!..and as such, marginalized for many years within the historiography of New Zealand Architecture – not even appearing in most studies like ‘Looking at the Local’ or ‘A history of New Zealand Architecture’ by Peter Shaw..!

Unsurprisingly, Bruce Henderson’s partner in the practice has even less visibility in the local narrative. John Anthony Wheeler appears as a man of somewhat quieter aspirations, although his few published architectural works are finely wrought, and reveal their making as honestly as any Group house of the era.

Born in 1924 near Winchester England, John was the son of a professional soldier who had attended Sandhurst Military Academy with ‘Monty’ and then gone on to spend much of his life in the Empires outposts until retirement after World War 2.
John thus spent much of his time at home in the small village of Headbourne Worthy thinking of distant lands, and about the age of 10 came across what would appear to be a postcard of a ‘Maori village’ scene (possibly Rotorua) with a carved Pataka (food store) high above the ground.

The image and the desire to leave a cold, grey England were partially responsible in his decision to join the 12th Parachute Battalion when he became of age in the latter stages of World War 2. He had also met and married Sally, a Canadian who worked at the Bank of England, her department having been moved to Winchester from London, to avoid the worst of the bombing.
As the war ended in Europe, John wrote to the Auckland University College, inquiring about the availability of architecture courses, and received a reply which, in short said “if he could get there by the beginning of the next course he would be enrolled”..!
With their small amount of savings John and Sally managed to get a military flight out of England to the USA and island hopped across the Pacific arriving in New Zealand at the beginning of 1947, in time to attend 1st year studio with likes of Ivan Mercep, Dick Hobin and Peter Bartlett.

… to be continued

Henderson and Wheeler are currently being researched, and any information about the practice would be welcomed.

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