studio catherine griffiths


A meditation

Sir Ian Athfield (1940 — 2015)


For me, architecture and typography share and explore similar concerns and territories. Each contributes to the complexity of the human condition. Both investigate principles of space, volume, shape, composition, light, dark, positive, negative, tone and pitch, context, meaning, materiality and, atmosphere. Both are constructed as a response to something, and both prompt a response: an opinion, emotion, a feeling, sense of place and being, metaphysical, physical.

Looking back over the years of encounters with Ath — and Clare, and the practice, and the extended family — I see a serendipitous sequence of projects, realised and unrealised, as is the nature of our worlds, a zigzag exchange of architecture and typography, where the two disciplines have come to know each other.

At an early stage, Ath encouraged me during a council meeting for the Wellington Writers Walk project to “go bigger” with works I thought already were large-scale. That day I felt the the door open wide.

One of fifteen concrete text sculptures (Denis Glover, an excerpt from Wellington Harbour is a Laundry), Wellington Writers Walk, 2002 / photograph: Bruce Connew


Years later, during a brief sojourn lodging on the hill, and in another exchange, this time about way-finding signage, I invited Athfield Architects to imagine their logo, a field of letters that I had designed in response to Ath wanting the focus to shift from him, exploding high in the air, falling about the steep hillside, then rearranged to give some sense of direction up the 300+ step climb to the practice. These ‘letter-crumbs’ are my response — and in a sense, a thank you, a small gesture — to a visionary idea of community, channeled through a cascade of buildings high above the city and harbour, aimed directly at the Antarctic.

The letter ‘a’ from A Hillside Intervention, Athfield Architects, 2011 / photograph: Catherine Griffiths


A post and floating sphere staked into the hillside mimics the letter ‘i’ in Verlag Extra Light; a brass ‘c’ is strung on a chain about the bough of a Ngaio tree; in torchlight a fallen ‘a’ projects itself as ‘g’; a light weight ‘h’ leans against the inside of a dusty glass window to the archives; a bold weight ‘l’ is a hole in the architecture mirroring the sky, until a figure approaches and fills the space.


Catherine Griffiths / April 2015



04 writing & critique


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A meditation
Sir Ian Athfield, 1940 — 2015
by Catherine Griffiths
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April 2015

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Eye Blog, UK, Jan 2011

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ProDesign 110, NZ, Jan 2011

Quite a Blast
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ProDesign, NZ, Jan 2011

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ProDesign, NZ, Aug 2010

Beautiful World of Typography
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Introduction to TypeSHED11, NZ, Feb 2009

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Threaded, NZ, Oct 2008

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ProDesign, NZ, Apr 2007

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Print, New York, Sep-Oct 2006

Writing by Types
by Justine Clark
Artichoke, Australia, Apr 2003

A meditation

by Catherine Griffiths

published in the Architectural Centre newsletter, an issue dedicated in honour of Sir Ian Athfield

In 2015 I was invited by the Architectural Centre to contribute a piece on the late Sir Ian Athfield (1940 – 2015). I chose to write on the encounters between architecture and typography, our two respective practices, in the context of getting to know Ath over the years.

related links

Athfield Architects
Athfield Architects Identity
Wellington Writers Walk
A Hillside Intervention
Fifth Movement
Fran Wilde Walk


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