Life story

Life story: the passion of the father of the family Charles Thomas for art and architecture

OBITUARY: Christchurch architect Charles Ramon Thomas, who died in April at the age of 93, shared his enduring passion for art and architecture with his large family and left a lasting legacy in the form of churches, houses and buildings of all kinds.

Charles Thomas was born in Christchurch in 1928 and grew up in Sydenham as one of nine children. He attended Christchurch Boys’ High School, where his creative talent was recognized and one of the teachers encouraged him to study architecture.

He studied at the University of Auckland in the years immediately following World War II and was influenced by the work of contemporary modern architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier.

It was while living in Auckland that he met Anne, who would become his wife and with whom they had nine children.

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After graduating, Charles returned to Christchurch where he worked for Griffiths Architects and then Hall & Mackenzie Architects. He soon opened his own practice, Charles Thomas & Associates, in 1962.

“It was not easy juggling a growing family of nine children and an architectural firm. Charles and Anne made many sacrifices along the way,” recalls his son Simon, also an architect, who now runs the practice with his brother Nicholas.

“The work started coming in and the practice got really busy.”

Over the next six decades, the practice has been successfully involved in a broad portfolio encompassing architecture, interior design and landscaping. The projects included churches, university buildings, community buildings, houses, apartment buildings, hotels, office buildings, schools and industrial complexes.

Our Lady of Victories, in Sockburn, Christchurch, designed by Charles Thomas, has won a series of architectural awards.  The church suffered very little damage from the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

Provided

Our Lady of Victories, in Sockburn, Christchurch, designed by Charles Thomas, has won a series of architectural awards. The church suffered very little damage from the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

“Charles believed that buildings should respect the environment in which they were built and that the form of the building should follow its function,” said Simon.

There were many high points in Charles’ architectural career, he said. Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church, Sockburn, and the apartment block at 9 Cranmer Square, known as CharAnn (an amalgamation of Charles and Anne), which was his residence until the earthquakes of Canterbury, are important.

The building was badly damaged and had to be demolished. Christchurch journalist David Killick visited the apartment in 1999 and it was featured on the cover of At Home in The press newspaper.

Charles talked about how much he loved living downtown and how he designed the building to enhance the cityscape. He made some of his own furniture and also painted an impressive mural.

Property, architect Charles Thomas in front of his newly completed housing complex.  cnr Clyde rd and Kirkwood Ave, Ilam.  story David Killick photo Jane Sanders

Jane Sanders / Stuff

Property, architect Charles Thomas in front of his newly completed housing complex. cnr Clyde rd and Kirkwood Ave, Ilam. story David Killick photo Jane Sanders

“The gallery murals, in acrylics, convey the scene he first painted when he got married, an interpretation of the Garden of Eden day and night. The abundant greenery conveys a tropical feel, enhanced by the songbirds in the main room.

The Church of Our Lady of Victories was built in 1968 and has received four awards from the New Zealand Institute of Architects, the last award being a New Zealand Sustainable Award in 2005. The church suffered very little damage following the earthquakes and still stands today as a testament. to Charles’ skill as an architect.

“It is a masterpiece of architecture in terms of form, structure and the resulting power of spiritual connection,” Simon said.

“I remember the original crucifix mounted on the Holy Trinity panel directly above the altar built by Charles on the veranda of our family home. The church appeared in the publication, Worship: A History of New Zealand Church Design, by Bill McKay.

Architect Charles Thomas, with the Church of Our Lady of Victories, on the main southern road, which he designed.  The church has won a sustainable architecture award from the NZ Institute of Architects.

John Kirk-Anderson / Stuff

Architect Charles Thomas, with the Church of Our Lady of Victories, on the main southern road, which he designed. The church has won a sustainable architecture award from the NZ Institute of Architects.

“We recently received a note from Merv Higgs, who was the construction foreman for the church. He expressed how proud he is to date to have participated in the construction.

Charles was also a talented entertainer and speaker and a member of Canterbury’s debating team.

“It would be fair to say that Charles’ family life took precedence over his life as an architect,” Simon said.

He was a loving and proud husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather of nine children, 27 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

“Charles followed his dreams and took on life’s challenges without ever giving up. He will be greatly missed,” Simon said.


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