Building industry Peter's canvas

SONIA O'REGAN AND FAIRFAX
Last updated 07:32 06/06/2012

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Renowned architect Peter Beaven has died in Blenheim.

Mr Beaven, 86, died peacefully on Monday night at Blenheim hospital after being diagnosed in September last year with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos.

In 2003, Mr Beaven was awarded the New Zealand Institute of Architecdhture's Gold Medal, its highest honour, for work spanning nearly half a century.

Mr Beaven and his wife, Lesley Beaven, moved to Blenheim from Christchurch after the February 22 earthquake destroyed much of the heart of the city they both loved.

Mr Beaven had narrowly escaped injury in the 6.3 magnitude quake. His offices were on the top floor of the Provincial Council buildings, which were built between 1858 and 1865. The buildings' stone towers and chamber were destroyed.

''He and two clients waited for the shaking to stop, then groped out through 140 years of dust and [architect Benjamin] Mountdhfort's mortar and walked down the stairs and out into the street,'' Mrs Beaven told a reporter at the time.

The Beavens found out about Mr Beaven's illness just a few days before moving to Blenheim in October last year. Mr Beaven spoke of enjoying the community spirit of the town and its strong sense of community values. He also remarked on the excellence and convenience of the medical care he received.

In February, Mr Beaven queried the Marlborough District Council's plans for the town centre, changes being considered as part of the CBD Streetscape Design.

He warned that Blenheim risked losing its charms by changing the town centre.

''In a small town like Blenheim, it is always possible to feel you're behind. But I think you've got the best town plan in New Zealand. You've got the state highway passing just alongside the town centre. You've got the perfect balance between cars and shops. Around the town, you've got all these huge vineyards  the contrast is just wonderful. There is no way for people in Blenheim to feel behind  you're ahead really.''

The Express received many letters and emails supporting his comments.

This year, Mr Beaven spoke out against architect Don Donnithorne's design for a new cathedral in Christchurch. He wanted to see a rebuild of Christ Church Cathedral, which he said could be achieved for $20 million.

Mr Beaven and Sir Miles Warren, were renowned for developing a distinctive form of modernist architecture in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Mr Beaven and Sir Miles were leading exponents of what became known as the Christchurch School, designing many groundbreaking buildings that have now been lost.

In 2005, Mr Beaven was the appellant in a case opposing a proposed alteration to the Canterbury Museum. Blenheim lawyer Quentin Davies, who represented Peter Beaven and the Christchurch Civic Trust in the case, said Mr Beaven's work successfully preserved the museum as a piece of architectural history in its own right.

His evidence meant that the museum, which was part of an internationally significant Gothic revival precinct, was able to be preserved, he said.

''Peter recognised that the museum itself was a valuable building to the people of Christchurch and New Zealand.

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''It was a privilege to have a client with such expertise and an ability to sum up complex issues beautifully,'' Mr Davies said.

Blenheim building company owners Jon and Gerardine Haack worked with Mr Beaven when their company built a house designed by him in Blenheim last year.

 Mr Haack said he was a pleasure to work with. He had a charisma and mana that struck you on meeting him, but with it a great way of being able to talk with people as equals. He also had great sense of humour. ''He could tease and joke with you.''

''You couldn't help but like him.''

Mrs Haack said Mr Beaven was an artist. ''The building industry was his canvas.''

Mr Beaven, who had his architectural desk set up in the living room of his Blenheim house, was working until his last weeks. He was designing a house for the Haacks, and had recently completed the first draft.

Mr Beaven is survived by wife Lesley Beaven, and his three children from a previous marriage to Mary Beaven: Sabrina Sullivan, Sophie Jolliffe and Tom Beaven, and eight grandchildren.

- The Marlborough Express

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