The life of The late Ron Sang was celebrated at St Michael’s Church, Remuera, on Saturday June 19 by his family, friends and colleagues. The church was full, with standing only and the participants dressed in a band of bright colors as Sang had wished.
Sang was more than an award-winning architect; he was also an avid collector and patron of art, pottery and sculpture, a publisher, a photographer, a pillar of the Chinese community and, in particular, a great cook. In 2000, he received the prestigious recognition of being named an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his contributions to architecture and the arts.
I first met Sang on Brian Brake’s site when I was seven. My family lived next door in a modernist house from the late 1950s and my curiosity was welcome. I thought he was designing me and building me a fairy castle, which he happily confirmed. Finally, my parents told me the news that this special cedar clad home was in fact for Brian Brake and Raymond Lau, who have become dear friends of our family.
My personal memories of having met him on several occasions and of his largesse are indicative of the many stories that have been told. Her generous nature has been credited, as has her support for the arts and her ability to forge strong relationships. Clients and artists have become good friends. He wanted to understand their creative manufacturing processes.
Sang was born in Fiji to Chinese immigrant parents and traveled to China to learn Cantonese during his formative years. His interest in architecture started in the third form, when he was back in Fiji. In 1957, Sang began his architectural degree at the University of Auckland. His first commission dates back to 1965, Maison Schutz, and this is a testament to his ability to forge strong bonds that 90-year-old Hans was still a great friend of Sang until his last days.
In 1969, Sang worked with Mark Brown and Fairhead, which later evolved into Fairhead, Sang and Carnachan Architects; he created his own firm, Sang Architects, in 1998. During his 54 years as an architect, he designed more than 400 buildings. Sang was interested in international modernists and their use of glass and cantilever elements. Its defining feature with the design was the iconic oversized front door, which swiveled to give a sense of arrival. It aimed to create spaces that people loved to be in and enjoyed paying attention to the smallest details.
Sang was also a great collector; he began collecting in 1970 after being introduced to Brian Brake by painter and sculptor Guy Ngan. Many artists became good friends and participated in its annual art exhibitions, which showcased and helped support emerging artists. Sang has published 12 books, all celebrating New Zealand artists, with two awards: Len Castle Potter (winner of the Montana Book Awards 2003) and Pat hanly (winner of the New Zealand Post Book Awards 2013).
He wanted to showcase his passion for supporting the arts to his clients by suggesting that they buy New Zealand artwork for the walls they had asked him to design. Colorful ceramics were also promoted and customers were encouraged to have three to five decorative jars in their home. He took an interest in his clients’ landscaping plans and several of his favorite trees, maple and cherry blossom, were planted. Cherries were a favorite gift given to friends and acquaintances, as were the colorful little ceramic birds in his collection.
He is best known for the Brian Brake House, designed in 1976, which won numerous awards and is a Category 1 Historic Site. Sang designed, in his own words, “a treehouse suspended above the river. treetops ”, with a flat roof filled with water, which reflected the trees and the sky. The house sits in a lush native bush surrounded by camellias, rhododendrons and blood cherry blossoms. The impact of the view from inside is indescribable; no photo does it justice. When you arrive through the front door, the view simply confronts you and yet is constantly changing; from being veiled in the clouds to amazed by the twinkling lights at night, you are simply floating in your surroundings. Sang recognized that the Brake House was one of his best homes and this led to many other exciting opportunities.
He was an elegant and dignified man who, with a magnetic personality, had amassed a large collection of friends. At 82, Sang left a legacy that is the culmination of all of his interests and strong relationships; we will miss him.