Perry Martin Hill (1926–2005) F.N.Z.I.A., A.R.I.B.A.: a short biography

This biography of Perry Martin Hill was written by Adam Alexander and Christine McCarthy.

P. Martin Hill was one of Wellington's quiet achievers in the field of architecture; to this day much of his work remains largely unknown even to those in the architecture community. Hill's work was primarily in the residential domain but as his career progressed he became something of an architectural archaeologist devoting a great deal of time to heritage and historic buildings as well as writing several books on topics in this area. Hill was one of the leaders in conservation architecture in New Zealand.

Born in July 1926, Hill grew up in Ditchling, a small village with an active Arts and Crafts community near Brighton, England. His father Perry worked as a stone, wood and metal sculptor, and lectured at the Brighton School of Art.

The family home was a relatively simple dwelling designed by local architect George Chettle. During WWII (c1944), Hill was declined entry to the RAF due to a minor vision impairment. He was however called up in 1944 for service with an Engineering Corp but was balloted into the underground service working in the Yorkshire coal mines. This group of young miners were known as "Bevin Boys" famous for their contribution to the war effort.

Working in the mines was, at the very least, a culture shock for Hill, and he bemused the miners by spending every spare moment he could drawing these idiosyncratic underground architectural interiors. During this time Martin also attended night school in Sheffield having previously begun his studies in architecture in Brighton.

Later, in 1948, he attended London's prestigious Architectural Association School of Architecture where he was taught by the likes of Alvar Alto and Ove Arup as well as receiving lectures by architectural legends: Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier.

Hill's holiday work while a student in 1950 was as an architect-surveyor on an archaeological expedition to Pig Hades (or Pigadhes) in Myrtou, Cyprus; an Iron age village site. This trip resulted in his completing a thesis on Byzantine Architecture in Greece and Cyprus and was a seed from which his interest in architectural history eventually grew.

In 1951, along with his widowed mother Mary,(1) Hill was granted assisted passage to New Zealand, and bonded to the Ministry of Works. On arrival he was assigned work on hydro-dam design in Wellington.

Hill quickly took his place within the New Zealand architecture community not only through practice but also through his writing and involvement with the Architectural Centre, which he was Honorary Secretary in 1952.

He was involved in several practices throughout his architectural career following his time at the Ministry of Works. These included: Gray Young Morton & Calder, Porter and Hill, Hill and Stapleton (c1964-1972), Hill Stapleton & Edridge (1972-1973), and Synaxon Hill Group Architects (1973-2006). Hill was also actively in professional activities beyond practice.

He chaired the Wellington Branch NZIA awards jury for several years in the 1970s, and he was also a member of the Industrial Design Council, and one of the first group of judges for the NZ Tourism Design Awards.

Hill also lectured at the Wellington Technical College in the 1950s in architectural history (teaching budding architects Gordon Moller and Jon Craig), and became a familiar face to the public through the pages of The Dominion where, for more than a decade, his column "Wellington Townscape: as seen through architects eyes" became a weekly feature between 1964 and 1975. This writing provides an important insight into his thinking about the built environment, his subjects ranging from discussing a small residential dwelling in Upper Hutt, and analysing the view back towards the city from Roseneath, to describing the ruins of the old Karitane hospital in Melrose.

Each article included a small sketch to provide the reader with some visual reference. This series was later compiled by the Wellington City Library as the "Martin Hill Scrapbook" in 1983.

Following his articles for the Dominion, Hill contributed articles to the Schools Publication Education, which culminated in his 1976 book New Zealand Architecture. His work on restoration produced another book in the following decade, Restoring with style, which it appears that he was somewhat disgruntled with, refering to it in a later CV as follows:

"Restoring with style" published 1980 began as a definitive history of NZ house but ended as a style history in a time restraint, sprung out of people so called "restoring" in their own distorted interpretation of history."

Hill, along with Raymond Boyce, also designed the interiors for the main New Zealand pavilion for Expo70 in Osaka, Japan. His other designs include Post Offices in Newtown and Karori, the Pets Corner at Wellington Zoo, the Engineering workshops at Wellington Polytech, Wallace St, and a Sunday School and Pensioner Housing for the Presbyterian Church in Khandallah.

He was involved in building archaeology projects at the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace, the Rita Angus Cottage, and the Nairn St Colonial Cottage. In early 1973 Hill was employed his future wife, Sallie Cooper, who worked at the Synaxon offices as an architectural draughtswoman. The two were married in 1979 and shared a life together from then on. Martin continued to research his passions in architecture and the built environment well into the final years of his life leaving behind a wealth of resources and knowledge that would otherwise not exist without this man's immense input of time and energy.

1) Perry Hill, Martin Hill's father died in c1945.

(n.b. Much of the initial draft of this biography was based on a series of interviews with Sallie Hill, conducted by Adam Alexander)