Jon McAlpine: creating with a conscience

Spring 2019 Uno Magazine


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Award-winning designer

Designing with a conscience

Jon McAlpine creates what can be called ‘conscious architecture’ – bespoke designs which have life beyond a material manifestation. And these designs have won him awards every year he’s been in business.


As the driving force behind Thorne Group Architecture, his impressive portfolio of striking new builds and transformational renovations have been recognised both regionally and nationally. Always committed to catering to the needs of his clients, Jon brings a humble, approachable nature to architectural design, one that now sees him also play a significant role in minimising environmental impact.


With an eye for simplicity, three of his recent designs were celebrated at the 2019 Waikato and Bay of Plenty Architectural Design Awards held in Hamilton in July

Taking out the title in the ‘New home between 150m2 and 300m2’ category was Jon’s design of a a functional family bach on a tricky corner site in the Mount. Jon’s bold design, which used a combination of stained cedar plywood and glass, came together with enough room for both a pool and a boat park, while also meeting budgetary constraints. The judges commented that it was ‘a combination of calm, dramatic, expansive and intimate, all as a backdrop for family life.’


Jon also took out the coveted ‘Architectural Interiors Award’, for the second consecutive year, alongside interior designer Annique Heensen, for his Thorne Group showhome.

And another of Jon’s designs, featuring exposed trusses and an emphasis on the all-important indoor-outdoor connection, was recognised with a commended award. In October, he will head to Queenstown to compete in the national architectural design awards for both new home and interiors titles. 


*Update two of Jon’s entries were awarded National Finalists.

A highlight for Jon and his team this year was the build of a new villa in Bethlehem. It was the perfect platform for Jon to exhibit his honest, sensitive craftsmanship. The opportunity to incorporate bricks from the Christchurch earthquake into the villa’s design elements provided a special contrast to the modern façade work Jon is so highly regarded for.


Though new builds have been his primary focus, Jon says renovation ventures are a growing space for his business, with land shortages in the Tauranga area contributing to this shift in demand. “I love the challenge of a renovation project,” says Jon. “I find it super rewarding, as it plays into the environmental side of things.”


Honoring their environmental conscience is a major priority for the Thorne Group, as demonstrated by their work in helping establish native bush on Papamoa’s treasured Summerhill Farm [read ‘Head for the hills’, UNO Issue 45, Winter 2019].

And, as a qualified Homestar accredited practitioner and assessor, Jon adheres to an independent national rating system that measures and encourages residential sustainability. Construction elements such as better insulation, environmentally preferable materials, lowering the overall carbon footprint of the build and sortingwaste on-site all contribute to a higher Homestar score. The higher the score, the less impact on the environment and the more affordable a home is to run.


Before joining Thorne Group to lead the architectural team five years ago, Jon had worked on the Devonport Towers in downtown Tauranga, as well as many other large apartment and high density buildings, high-end residential properties, products and detailing. Working alongside Thorne Group’s design-and-build team provides a valuable insight into creating affordable designs that work. “A designer needs to completely be in touch with practical construction methodology and also construction costs. You can have a great looking design, but it needs to be buildable to a budget,” explains Jon.

One of Thorne Group Architecture’s key attributes is its commitment to the client, a relationship Jon believes is essential to a successful project. And, being a boutique architectural practice, Jon and his team work with many clients and builders all over New Zealand.


Jon’s design journey always begins with an initial drawing, preferring the freehand approach to generate his most creative work. Each design is then transformed using the latest technology to ensure pinpoint accuracy.

How does Jon find inspiration when he’s already one of the leading figures in his field? “I believe New Zealand architecture is in a formidable space,” says Jon. Deeply passionate about the industry and his craft, Jon says he’s constantly learning and is motivated every day by his peers.


Reflecting on a thriving 18 years in the industry, Jon is chuffed with the way things have turned out and the success he’s achieved, but the highlight is the impact his work has on others.


“The buzz I get from building a rapport with my clients and seeing them light up when I’m able to deliver an architectural response perfect for the location and their brief.”​

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