Urbis: What do you do?

Tom Rowe and Saskia Baetens: We set up Rowe Baetens Architecture in 2010 after I had been a contractor to Noel Lane Architects for 9 years and Saskia had worked with some well-established practices in New Zealand and in Belgium. We continue to work closely with Noel Lane on a range of architectural projects.

U: Why is architecture important to you?

TR & SB: It’s the fish bowl theory- that the occupant will grow in proportion to the environment they occupy. I like the possibility that architecture can change people in positive and uplifting ways. It might sound strange but I like the certain excitement that I get when I visit a good building, when I feel an emotional response. Maybe one day we will make someone else feel that?

U: What are you working on at the moment?

TR & SB: We are working on new houses north of Auckland, beach houses in the Bay of Islands, baches on Kawau island, as well as residential and commercial refurbishment work in and around Auckland. Other ongoing commercial projects continue to nudge through the phases of resource consent and struggle through archaic planning controls. A pet hobby is designing architectural hardware that might one day be broadcast on a commercial scale through Halliday and Baillie.

U: In taking over work from another well-respected architect, has it been a struggle to define or carve out your own unique architectural identity?

TR & SB: We continue to work closely with Noel Lane and he is inspirational as a mentor and role model. I think identity comes with time and Noel has an inherent ability to not be stylistic and rather respond in an individual way to any given project. In the zen philosophy pertaining to Japanese martial arts the term “Mu Shin” loosely translates as “empty mind”. The theory is that without preconception in battle the mind is able to respond to circumstance- I think the same is true for making good architecture.

U: As partners what are the advantages or disadvantages of working together in a creative practice?

TR & SB: The advantages are that the late nights, weekends and long days are understood-making architecture takes more time than can be accommodated in a 9-5 day. When we holiday an agenda is often sought around similar types of objectives. The disadvantage or challenge is to leave the day-to-day business in the office but that’s the same as any couple in business together. We are frank with one another when something needs more resolution and that pushes the product toward a better result.

U: Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

TR & SB: We don’t see ourselves as becoming big and would rather aspire to be a small specialist team of enthusiasts that also seems to be relevant to the New Zealand market and scale. We aspire to cultivate a practice that focuses on specialised, innovative and unique projects and often with a cultural and artistic dimension. 

U: What are the challenges young architects face at the moment?

TR & SB: I think no one is immune to world economic factors, the nature of our work is volatile and we strive to provide real commercial value to clients in everything we do. In some ways young architects are well positioned in these times as we can often undertake work in a more competitive manner than well-established practices might entertain.