Hooper House by Peter Mark Brown

A Film Pays Tribute to New Zealand Modern Architecture

Director Simon Mark Brown’s documentary shares his father’s legacy and sheds light on his country’s brand of modernism.

Amber Juarez Modernism

Hooper House by Peter Mark Brown

Hooper House by Peter Mark Brown.

The New Zealand modernist architect Peter Mark Brown died 24 years ago, leaving his son, Simon Mark Brown, curious about his father’s work and life. The younger Brown began investigating and filming his late father’s work for a documentary, Brown vs. Brown, which will screen Feb. 16 at Hyatt Palm Springs during Modernism Week.

The making of the film was no easy feat. A few months into the project, Brown realized no photos or videos existed of his father at the building, and he set the project aside. “They just didn’t take photos or film,” he says. “There were very few articles. I couldn’t get an angle on how to make a film, so I shelved it.”

A decade later, he enlisted help and began interviewing sources before putting the film on hold again — until last year. Brown was visiting a regionalist home for sale when the idea struck to focus his film on New Zealand architecture, particularly the tension between “regionalist” and “internationalist” (like his father) architects.

Armando’s Bar

Internationalist architect Peter Mark Brown.

“The internationalists have been largely forgotten,” he says, noting that internationalists look at architecture from a global perspective while regionalists focus on architecture in New Zealand. “The regional stuff is a bit more woke and a bit New Zealand, and they thought it was more modest.”

Brown was motivated to share his father’s story by his love for architecture and the lack of films about the modern architecture of New Zealand, especially when many buildings were being demolished in favor of contemporary structures. “The story had to be told about my father,” he says. “Modernism was sort of the same all around the world. Japan, Scandinavia, England, Australia, and New Zealand, especially California and Palm Springs was all totally inspired by that.”

“Suddenly, we had to finish it in about three months,” Brown says. “That was quite exciting, putting some pressure on.”

One thing that stood out to Brown while filming was the people who lived in his father’s homes — some for up to 60 years. Brown attributes the owners’ longevity to his father’s good design.

The film features 12 tracks by Dave Brubeck — one of Brown’s greatest joys working on the documentary; he grew up listening to the iconic jazz pianist and composer.

Brown, making his third visit to the desert, will attend the Feb. 16 screening and indulge the audience in a Q&A moderated by architectural historian Alan Hess, the prolific architecture critic and author of Palm Springs Weekend.