Skip to main content
Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Related Images

The Pioneering Era – Simplicity 1820–60

“Makeshift” Adaptation to the New Environment

The primitive shelters of the first European immigrants to New Zealand express the embryonic growth of all living things and the root of all architecture—the separation of “human” from “natural” environment. Architecture involves the idea of man moulding Nature to suit his own needs. The early settlers met Nature on different terms from the Maoris, for they had the power to conquer and control and thereby to shape their traditional Western culture to the new environment. At the beginning, with limited time, tools, and makeshift materials, occasionally with help of friendly natives, the pioneers built “temporary” basic shelters; a universal stage of architectural development. They improvised “primeval” shelters of raupo, toitoi, flax, fern, and totara bark; tents from poles, saplings, canvas, and planks or split slabs; tree-fern huts or more permanent dwellings from clay, sods, “wattle and daub”, or stone. Isolated from the outside world by the vast ocean and from each other by virgin bush, mountains, and rivers, they had to adapt themselves to conditions of great hardship in lonely settlements.

A Characteristic “Makeshift” House

A typical pioneer home of this period was the tworoom, “but and ben” cottage (“but”–kitchen, “ben”–parlour) with low walls, possibly with ladder access to the attic roof space, with roof thatched or of wood shingles; a solid cube with minimum openings, two small oiled-canvas or calico-covered windows and a door between; a massive chimney in the centre of the house or on the gable end wall. It was essentially a “crofter's cabin”, that universal primitive house type from which all domestic architecture is descended–a plan and shape that has tenaciously persisted for a thousand years or more in the British Isles.

Folk Architecture–the Functional Tradition

The second architectural phase of the pioneering era was expressed in the development of the weatherboard on light-frame cottages, built with timber bearing the marks of Iron Age tools. They expressed the vernacular of the people–a “popular” taste that was common throughout the country and, indeed, throughout the British colonies. These pioneer tradesmen used simple forms appropriate to the function, and often the fine proportions reflect the principle that beauty lies in fixed proportions, not in fixed forms. Uncomplicated artisans adapted the splendid functional tradition of the British Isles to available materials and evolved methods of construction and usage to suit local climate. As they adjusted to the warmer climate and stronger light, the verandah was used as a simple, low-pitch, leanto structure at the front, where one could wash and change boots and clothes or leave supplies under cover; later the wider verandah on two or three sides was widely used, not as an addition, but conceived as a transition space, an integral part of the house. As the family grew, portions of the verandah were enclosed as extra rooms. This flexible, timber vernacular, modest and restrained, bearing the marks of anonymous craftsmen and with a strong emphasis on simple living, was widely used until the late sixties and runs as a thin thread in isolated buildings until the present day. The functional tradition can be seen in remote farmhouses and outbuildings and in those few buildings that have survived from this early period, such as the first and second timber buildings, the Butler/Kemp house, Kerikeri (1822); George Clarke's Mission House, Waimate North (1832); Lavaud's house, Akaroa (c. 1840); John Logan Campbell's “Acacia” Cottage, Cornwall Park, Auckland (1841); F. E. Maning's house, Onoke, Hokianga (1840s); Ford cottage (stone) Panmure, Auckland (1848); Bedggood and Pugh's Watermill, Waimate North (1850); old cob house, Molesworth Station, Marlborough (c. 1850); Wm. Bray's cottage (cob), Avonhead, Canterbury (early 1850s); Rangikura farmhouse, Otaki (1859); military blockhouses around Auckland, Onehunga (c. 1856); Blockhouse Bay and Otahuhu (1867); or Wallaceville, Wellington (1861); “Allendale”, Mount Albert, Auckland (1860); miners' cottages, Arrowtown, and other homesteads in Central Otago (1860s); and the Morven Hills woolshed (stone) Lindis, Otago (early 1880s).

Heart kauri, matai, and totara were used for framing and weatherboards, and kauri and rimu for joinery and furniture. The nails were hand forged. In Nelson, Canterbury, and Otago, where timber was scarce, boxed cob, slab, cob and ricker, and rammed earth or stone were commonly used. The chimneys were built of hand-made sun-dried bricks or slabs covered with clay and galvanised iron. Glass was in small panes, and oiled canvas or calico often served instead.

Characteristic House in Functional Tradition

The main elements of the house of this period are the rectangular or “L”-shaped plan, two, three, or four rooms off a central corridor on the ground floor; a medium or steeply pitched roof (covered with thatch, shingles, galvanised iron, or, later, slates) changing to a lower pitched verandah roof at the eave line, simply supported by light timber posts. The centrally placed front door was balanced by symmetrically placed small-paned, casement or double-hung windows. When extra accommodation was needed, a leanto kitchen addition was made at the back, or else the front and rear walls were carried up to attic window sills. The higher springing of the roof allowed greater headroom in the attic bedrooms, which were entered by “companionway” stairs from passage, but the small dormers over the verandah or gable-end windows barely lit this attic sleeping space. The New England colonial “salt box” shape was common in larger houses which required more than roof or attic space. Here a medium double-pitched roof was carried over the additional rooms at the back and the front verandah. Often the original “makeshift” cottage was economically adapted as a wing of a new building, intersecting it at right angles. Timber buildings offered the “flexibility” required by the family–an organic unit, growing, not standing still. The early buildings governed by such functional considerations and obeying empirical laws, had an “organic” quality quite devoid of “featurism”. They were simple in shape and detail–the simplicity of “commonsense” building; they obeyed the timeless rule of craftsmanship–honesty of intent and abhorrence of misrepresentation, and materials and structure were logically and directly expressed in unpretentious dwellings that realistically reflected the way of life of unselfconscious builders.

Pioneering–Elegance 1820–60

The cultural tradition inherited by the empire builders was founded on a belief in the inherent orderliness of Nature, confidence in reason, faith in the ancients of Greece and Rome, and, deriving from these, an acceptance of rulers of taste. Man in complete control of his environment was the essence of this tradition. This control over nature, materials, and surroundings is architecturally expressed in the English houses of the Georgian/Regency period (1714–1830) where each individual has his privacy but shares in the calm dignity of the whole community life. The cultivated upper class set a high standard of living and design, which is reflected in the architecture of the period throughout the Commonwealth and North America; but the tyranny of their classical taste and set rules was not so binding on the rising middle class who pursued commerce and comfort and expressed their own way of life in the succeeding Victorian Age.

Social Background in New Zealand

Many settlements throughout New Zealand were based on the ideas of one of the most remarkable of Britain's colonial reformers, E. G. Wakefield and his New Zealand Company. Their aim was to replace haphazard separate settlements with an organised group scheme. Wakefield considered that such colonisation would “help remove the fear of political disturbance” and induce the common people to “bear their lot with patience”. Profitable employment would thus be found. They would reproduce the civilisation of England, and to a point they succeeded, especially in the Canterbury settlement where the Wakefield theories made perhaps the strongest impact.

“Georgian and Regency Style” Expressed in Houses

The immigrants brought with them an English taste for privacy based on the Elizabethan principle that each family should have its own home with a separate room for each person. New Zealand houses of this period reflect the interaction of two conflicting traditions–the new superimposed on the old. The clients, landowners and the “official” class, showed their admiration of the Classical inheritance and the ideal of “squire and country-house”; the builders, conservative artisan and craftsmen, and the servant class, had their roots in the functional tradition and simple living. This conflict was expressed not so much in the evolution of new forms as in the particular way that characteristic features from both traditions were combined–ranging in expression from simple crudity to an elegant “preciousness”. When, however, the Classical forms and details expressed an intuitive understanding of the spirit of the tradition in which they were working, Georgian architecture became the vernacular of the people. It was a universal language and the forms expressed ideas that were widely understood. Even as late as 1878, when Greenway added the verandahs and leanto addition to Pompallier House at Russell, there were isolated examples of this tradition, but they were no longer fashionable, for “Gothic Revival” and the “Battle of the Styles” were well under way. The best remaining examples of this elegant period are the Stone Store, Kerikeri (1833); Treaty House, Waitangi, designed by one of the most polished Australian architects, John Verge (1833); Bishop Pompallier's house, Russell (1843); the singleroom library (1841) and Mission House, Tauranga, built by the Rev. A. N. Brown (1847); and the Langlais Eteveneaux House, Akaroa (c. 1840).

From the English Regency period (1800–30) emerged a style based on the “back to nature” movement of painters, poets, and writers. This “picturesque romanticism” was a revolt against the set rules of Georgian architecture, which was expressed architecturally in a new relationship between house and garden. To get as close as possible to Nature was the consistent aim of Regency architecture, and this integration of house and garden, of design and living produced some of the most elegant houses in our short history. Vestiges of this tradition are seen in such Auckland houses as the old Nathan house, St. Kevens, Karangahape Road; the former Crippled Children's House, Mount Street; old St. Paul's Vicarage, Eden Crescent; Hulme Court, Parnell (c. 1843); Glenmore Lodge, Mount Albert (1844); Motions Mill House, Western Springs (c. 1865); and Sir George Grey's Mansion House, Kawau Island (1871). Also in this category are the Gould's house, Russell (1850); Lord Rutherford's home, Foxhill, Nelson, and the Greer homestead, Patearoa, and Mount Smart farmhouse of Central Otago.