Heritage architect Jeremy Salmond: 'Old buildings are documents, full of information'
19 May 2021
Heritage architect Jeremy Salmond’s life has revolved around history and conservation. In May 2021 he is being recognised as a distinguished alumnus.
Despite a distinguished career as a heritage architect, Jeremy Salmond is unassuming.
“In 2018, I was awarded the New Zealand Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal. I was gobsmacked. Then I started to irritate people by being unduly modest about it, but I was just so surprised, that’s all.
“Still, you can’t ignore your peers’ appreciation, so I accepted it and it’s lovely.”
Jeremy is the founding director of Salmond Reed Architects, the largest specialist heritage design office in New Zealand. In 2007, he was awarded the Queen’s Service Order for his contribution to the preservation of New Zealand’s heritage of significant buildings.
Jeremy says he’s “not displeased” with his career. That includes being the driving force behind the full restoration and strengthening of the Auckland Jewish Synagogue on Princes Street, now home to Alumni Relations and Development. It was a huge job.
“I get very engaged with the details on jobs like that. I see all the possibilities of what has to be done. I often describe myself as a professional busybody ... I go into people’s houses or buildings thinking, ‘There must be a better way.’
“People think with restoration of old buildings that architects don’t have to design anything, but it’s very much about design. Any change you make has to be sympathetic to the building to fit.”
Anne has been a wonderful asset to me. When I wrote my thesis, she read every page and did the corrections. She transformed my ability to write.
Jeremy starts the restoration of an old building with a conservation plan, researching the building’s history, who designed it, where the ideas came from and how it was made.
“We refer to buildings as documents; they’re just full of information. They tell you stuff.”
The concept of conservation spills into all areas of his life. He is married to renowned anthropologist Dame Anne Salmond and for more than 20 years the couple have been working on an ecological restoration project on their property near Gisborne.
“It’s been life-changing for Anne and me to be able to do that. We go down there every month. We can’t stop or the weeds will grow back!”
He attributes much of his career success to Anne, whom he met while they were students at the University. He was drawn to her guitar playing at a party. The Salmonds celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in February.
“Anne has been a wonderful asset to me. When I wrote my thesis, she read every page and did the corrections. She actually transformed my ability to write.”
His thesis was later published as Old New Zealand Houses: 1800-1940, a landmark publication now in its eighth edition. “Anne and I both deal a lot with ideas, and we talk these through, but she’s hard to keep up with!”
Jeremy has been involved in the rehabilitation of many significant heritage buildings, including Auckland’s Civic Theatre, the Pompallier Printing House in Russell, St Matthew-in-the-City Church in Auckland, Sacred Heart Cathedral in Wellington, the former Auckland Chief Post Office, Auckland Art Gallery and the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
“The funny thing is, sometimes you get very old buildings, many of which are pretty grungy, but they’ve still got something in them. And you might say, ‘Well, it’s not great architecture’, but it’s still worth doing because these buildings embody history and the lives of people who inhabited them. All our histories are layered.”
You might say, ‘Well, it’s not great architecture’, but it’s still worth doing because these buildings embody history and the lives of people who inhabited them. All our histories are layered.
He says not all architecture needs to be reinvented. “We didn’t have to reinvent the Civic Theatre but it had been disregarded and changes had been made, such as flooring over some of the steps. It was also filthy. The roof space was half-full of pigeon crap, which is highly toxic and dangerous to human health.
“I worked with a large team of architects, engineers, contractors and the pigeon-poo removers, of course. They’re all very skilful people. I’m not a one-man band.”
A year on from when his award was announced, just before lockdown, Jeremy is looking forward to receiving the DAA in person at a ceremony.
“It’s wonderful to be recognised by your university in this way. I’m a design professional with a reputation for working with heritage buildings, not an academic. So it’s a lovely endorsement.”
– Denise Montgomery
Make a nomination for the 2022 Distinguished Alumni Awards from this page.