Herriot Melhuish O’Neill Architects - Wellington, Christchurch, Auckland, Tauranga

Q&A with Duval O’Neill, Christchurch Architect


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Duval is HMOA’s Christchurch-based director and the ‘O’ in HMOA. He’s been with the practice since 2001 and a director since 2007.

I hear you're a Southlander! Do you still roll your 'r's? Got a good recipe for cheese rolls?

I’m a proud Southlander, born and bred. I grew up in Invercargill and moved north to Dunedin for uni. I was an ‘r’ roller until my first year at Otago where the Aucklanders mocked me mercilessly for it, so the rolled ‘r’s were dropped by the time I got to Architecture School. I don’t have a recipe for cheese rolls, but my mum makes a pretty mean one though.

When did you decide you wanted to be an architect?

My dad was a builder and I often frequented building sites as a child. I’ve always had an interest in art and I was always sketching when I was young. I guess becoming an architect was the natural outcome from these two early interests.

Do you still draw?

I do; the other weekend when I was out fly fishing I took along my notebook and made a few sketches. When I travel overseas I always take my notebook with me and try to get down a few sketches too.

You and your partner Bridget recently undertook a complete rebuild of your home after it was damaged in the Christchurch earthquakes. Did you retain the original architect's design intent?

The original house was designed by Don Cowey, a respected Christchurch architect who sadly died in the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake. The focus of the rebuild was certainly about respecting Don’s original design while intervening and extending the design to make the house more meaningful for us. Don’s design was definitely a product of the 1950s We’ve based the house on its original 50s aesthetic together with the expression of natural materials. Don had originally made use of clear finished Oregon weatherboards and dark stain cedar cladding over a natural concrete base. We have continued this theme.

Don would hopefully approve of what we’ve done. He was all for moving forward – he was a modernist at heart.

What do you bring to HMOA (apart from the obvious 'O' for O'Neill!)

That’s hard to answer!

Okay, let's flip that around. What binds together Herriot, Melhuish and O'Neill?

We all believe in the craft of architecture. We have a similar approach – it’s not a style, it’s an approach. There is a simplicity of form across our designs which isn’t stuck on fashion but rather an honesty of materials and a commitment to finding solutions appropriate to each site and surroundings.

What do Christchurch architects like you do on a Sunday afternoon?

The Port Hills on my mountain bike with my mates. Well, we say it’s about mountain biking, but it’s a bit of uphill, a bit of downhill and a beer afterwards. I’m a bit of a craft beer fan and we often finish our ride at Cassels and Sons for a pint of 1PA or another good local brew.

Seeing as Duval wouldn’t share his mum’s cheese roll recipe, here’s a good one:

Southland Cheese Rolls

Recipe by Helen Jackson, from foodlovers.co.nz

250g tasty cheddar cheese, grated
1 large onion, finely chopped
200ml evaporated milk
1/2 packet onion soup powder
1/2 loaf sandwich bread

Mix the cheese, onion, soup powder and evaporated milk together in a small saucepan. Melt over a gentle heat, stirring until you have a thick smooth mixture. Allow the cheese mixture to cool a little before spreading generously over the bread slices. Roll the bread slices up into logs and then place on a baking tray. Grill, turning as needed until golden brown.