Reg Uren

Lost Property is currently researching Reg Uren  (b.1930 – d.1975)

Reg Uren is one of those names which can sometimes cause puzzled looks when discussing the architecture of New Zealand’s recent ‘modern’ era. Sadly, he left only a smattering of known domestic buildings through the country, due partly to his early death, and that Uren (pronounced Uren) was only ocassionaly written up in the architectural periodicals of the time. Perhaps predictably, as part of an architectural family, Reginald Norman Uren’s records at the Universty of Aucklands Architecture Archive are mixed up with those of his older and more famous uncle – Reginald Harold Uren (b.1906 –  ..) who qualified in 1928 and then continued his studies in London, gaining Gold Medals and sitting on the council at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

Reg (Norman) followed in the footsteps of his elder namesake and attended Hutt Valley High School prior to entering the University of Auckland’s School of Architecture in the late 1940’s. Here he went to classes with the likes of Gordon Smith, Geoff Newman, Tony Greenhough, Dick Dashper, Sandy Mill, Denys Oldham and Ian Reynolds – some of whom were to head practices of there own in the heady days of the expansionist 1960’s while others would be instrumental in architectural developments behind the scenes in the Auckland Council and Ministry of Works offices.

Uren spent some time in the latter years of the 1950’s after graduating from the Architecture School in the practice of Adams Jones Kingston & Reynolds, and is credited with designing the Matamata Racing Club’s cantilevered grandstand in 1957. The construction and engineering were an innovative  combination of  reinforced concrete frames and deck panels with laminated timber roof beams (Adams Jones Kingston & Reynolds would shortly evolve into Kingston Reynolds Thom & Allardice or KRTA – one of the leading architectural and engineering practices in the country). In 1959 Reg became a finalist in the Auckland Star’s House competition with an unusual semi ‘V’ shaped design (model in H&B Dec 1959) this was followed shortly (Feb 1960) by an article in Home & Building on a house built in Orakei; designed by Uren. Over the next few months he would also enter the competition to design houses for the Sunnyhill Estate Development, near St Kentigern College on land owned by L J Fisher on the main Highway to the ‘proposed Pakuranga town centre’. Reg’s entry was ‘Highly Commended’, the judges commenting that though some aspects of the layout are ‘unconventional,’ the design and interior spaces are of a ‘fine quality’.. Home & Building’s article and photographs show an open plan rectangular building with wide eaves and decks surrounding all four sides; a house that is open and light with interesting interior divisions, hinting at Japanese influence. At age 31 Uren followed this up by winning the first Sisalkraft Research Scholarship in 1961, then worth a thousand pounds. His application for the scholarship supported his long held interest in precast and prefabricated concrete, which had been a major part of the Matamata grandstand design – and had also featured during his university years in Irwin Crookes ‘Reinforced Concrete and Structures’ classes. The scholarship covered two years travel and study in Britain and France with a requirement of a report and series of talks upon return.

The research paper printed in the NZIA Journal (Aug 20th, 1966) with examples and projections, advocated ‘a government department be set up to study international  developments and investigate new products and materials, and act as a central source of building information; furthermore the department should encourage modular coordination and standard solutions to basic problems’. Reg by this time had taken a lecturing position at the Auckland School of Architecture after the OE – and also designed an elegant modern home for his brother Ron in Raumati, on the Kapiti Coast in 1965.

The secluded house (featured in the Woman’s Weekly of the time  as well as Home & Building Feb/Mar 2009) built by Ron is essentially two cedar boxes, one a rectangular garage  and the other a longer rectangle consisting of several different volumes joined by a glass and stone entranceway. Bedrooms and utilities are placed at the far end of the house, the kitchen and dining area flowing into the large glass and wood panelled lounge. Cedar beams delineate the spaces and large sliding glass doors open into the west facing garden area. The subtle use of glass and differing heights combined with the elegant finishes and detailing invest the house with a feeling of sophistication and ease, a building of intelligence and charm.

In late 1969 Reg resigned from his lectureship, returning to fulltime practice at Kingston Reynolds Thom & Allardice, which was at this time involved with a number of contracts including the University’s School of Engineering building in Symonds St, the BNZ computer centre in Taranaki St, Wellington to name but two. Sadly only a few years later, at age 45 Reg’s premature death would end a short but brilliant career.

to be continued…

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