Tuesday Chew: Ron Seeto on stimulating the five senses through architecture and travel

Tuesday Chew: Ron Seeto on stimulating the five senses through architecture and travel

Architect Ron Seeto (Murray Cockburn Partnership) ruminates on his experiences, the sights, the sounds, the tastes and smells that left him reinvigorated after a brief sojourn with wife Sharon at Valbonne in the south of France recently. 

First of all, who the heck are you?


You’re inspired by?

Human and geographical diversity.

Your guiding philosophy?

My take on the Art of Living ...from one architect’s perspective (apologies to Epictetus) - the state of living well and as best we can with grace, style, happiness, gratitude, appreciation of people and places.

Hopefully our designs facilitate this state by stimulating all the five senses: sight-visual, hearing-sound, touch-texture, smell-fragrance and...even taste-food/drink. It’s easiest when clients are also in this space.

Favourite New Zealand buildings?

There are several but will nominate Murray Cockburn’s Koraha Lodge,  dug into the Queenstown hillside with a turf roof. And then there’s my big, bold, beautiful Fairhall - perched on the ridge overlooking the Pink Beach in Omaha, north of Auckland.

Any building you’d like to tear down?

None if I can help make them better....

Highlights of your recent trip…your absolute favourite building?

From recent travels La Fondation Maeght, which is just outside St Paul de Vence, 30 minutes north east of Cannes. A unique site dedicated to art, it was designed by Catalan architect Luis Sert to present modern and contemporary art in all its forms. Painters and sculptors collaborated closely to create many monumental works integrated into the building and gardens, like the Giacometti courtyard, the Miro labyrinth and the pool and stained glass window by Braque. I love the textural and cool galleries.... packed with works by Miro, Braque, Chagall, Leger, Giacometti and many more.

St Paul de Vence

Favourite café/restaurant?

La Colombe d’Or in St Paul de Vence. It’s a historic haunt for great artists and writers as well as for original Picassos, Legers and Chagalls etc on walls with a cave-like earthy bar. We enjoyed lunch on the terrace in the gated courtyard and the best, simplest poached sea bass I have ever tasted.

Favourite hotel?

Love the glamorous old seafront Hotel Negresco in Nice and the breathtaking Burg AL Arab (sail hotel) in Dubai. Both are appropriate responses to time and place. 

Burg AL Arab

What other places and experiences left a lasting impression?

The villa where we stayed near Valbonne village, north of Cannes. In the 40 degree heat, it was a reminder that thick walls and timber shutters really work. 

I love the narrow lanes full of visual incident and the luxuriant planting (why do we cut our hedges in New Zealand?); the perched village of St Paul de Vence; La Fondation Maeght; the medieval warren of Vieux Nice; sailing our new Hansa 400 from Golfe Juan out to the Le Rens islands and ogling the sleek super yachts there; buying icecream from the  well-endowed and entrepreneurial coconut ice cream girl who plied her trade among the moored boats.


Then in Dubai, we enjoyed taking high tea at the opulent Burg Al Arab in Dubai. We were staggered by the vastness of the Dubai Mall where there were 1000 shops and the fountain display played to Lionel Ritchie’s All Night Long. The five minute display danced to a different piece of music every half hour. I loved the gold souk – the largest in the world and felt the adrenalin rush of the gold dealer.   Also, the spice souk where there are so many teas and spices they would take a lifetime to savour. There was even natural powered Viagra in jar. I was impressed by the utterly appropriate courtyard building archetype with their tall wind towers.

Great shops that caught your eye?

The lovely hole in the wall shops in Vieux Nice and St Paul de Vence.

Favourite goodies purchased?

A Christian Lacroix linen shirt and Missoni tie...and a book on La Fondation Maeght.

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