11 Arthur Street

A beautifully preserved 1972 home by Russell Withers seeks new owners in Tāmaki Makaurau.

11 Arthur Street

A beautifully preserved 1972 home by Russell Withers seeks new owners in Tāmaki Makaurau.

11 Arthur Street

A beautifully preserved 1972 home by Russell Withers seeks new owners in Tāmaki Makaurau.

In the early 1970s, architect Russell Withers won a design competition run by Auckland City Council to secure a site on Arthur Street in Freemans Bay on which to build a house. The exercise was part of the council’s rejuvenation of the area, and he beat a number of high-profile architects to be selected – rumour has it, Claude Megson (who had also applied) went on to build the Cocker Townhouses in front as part of the same scheme, attempting to block the view with a watch tower. His efforts were futile, though: the view is broad and sweeping.


The house Withers designed ended up a little different to his pitch, but the idea was still there: a building intended to look like a kind of adapted ruin; strong brick walls topped with a floating timber roof that seemed to drape over them. The plan felt somewhat like a tree structure, with rooms organised around a central brick core.


The brick was a deliberate counterpoint to the surrounding wooden villas and the dominance of lightweight timber buildings at the time – though its corrugated bullnose roof retained an echo of villa vernacular. The home also had a sense of formality at a time when other houses were becoming looser. Designed for his young family, the plan allowed different people to retreat to discrete places.


The house revolves around strong brick elements. At the front, two rounded brick structures rise up, one containing the stairs and the other a ground-floor bathroom with another bathroom above. The living spaces are intimate – what we’ve come to call broken plan –centred around a brick column, the fireplace and a further column outside. The roof blankets these elements, clad in kauri sarking, both dramatic and warm.


The front entrance is flanked by the two brick towers. To the left, there’s a separate living area; ahead, a tiled semi-circular set of steps leads to a sunken lounge and a dining area.Upstairs, there are three bedrooms – none of which share a wall – and then, on the third level, there’s a fourth bedroom or study with commanding views of the harbour.


Throughout the interior, the pale bricks are calming and gentle, their lightness offset by the warm glow of recycled timber. The brickwork is finely done, and the masons were apparently enormously proud of the result – it was unusual, at the time, to base a home around reinforced brick. Withers spent months finishing the place himself, with timber recycled from renovation projects and demolished commercial buildings in the city centre.


Withers sold the house not long after he finished it, when his marriage broke up. Its current owner, just the third including the architect, has spent the past 15 years lovingly restoring it – replacing the roof in keeping with its original look, repairing leaks and windows, without ever making it feel like it’s been touched at all. It’s one hell of a special house.


The Withers House

11 Arthur Street, Freemans Bay

Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland


For sale by auction on 9 March 2024

Lynn Lacy-Hauck, Ray White