Towards an Indigenous Architecture–“Space, Light, and Nature”
It was now possible for the younger architects to weld their new technical knowledge of space and planning concepts on to a deeper sympathy with nature and a truer understanding of the past. With renewed delight in special sensation, in form and proportion, and in alliance with nature, they have designed and built experimental houses in which planning and construction are inseparable and governed by an economy of means; they have also sought to achieve a genuine New Zealand habitat and in doing so have expressed the dominant characteristic of modern architecture–the new freedom of free-flowing space in buildings that are one with nature. Something close to the ideal home for the average New Zealand family is built empirically by unselfconscious builders; with some of the freedom won by the pioneer architects, some understanding of fashions, prejudices, and the urge to beautify, the tradition of homebuilding could evolve in response to new, less formal. living habits.
“New Pioneer” Homes–Indigenous Buildings
The sophisticated urban style of the “new puritans”, the “international stylists”, had a revivifying effect on modern architecture but few local followers. Ernest A. Plischke, a virtually unique New Zealand exponent of this style, has had a wide influence on local architects but few imitators (Sutch house, Wellington, 1960). This austere style presents the real and basic problem of modern architecture; laymen object to the formal a-human quality of perfectionist buildings which are remote from historic experience–planting, warm-coloured textures, and “exotic” furnishings relieve the effect but do not eliminate it. The philosophy of the machine for living was briefly accepted by “progressive people” of the thirties, but houses must take into account and grow out of specifically human values, spiritual, emotional, intellectual–they must express “tradition”. Every historical style that has been a valid cultural expression has had its roots in local tradition–“folk architecture” expressed the community life of its age. The local statement of this problem and the development of indigenous buildings can be traced in the following architect- and student- designed houses and seen in later builders'adaptions:
The houses of Paul Pascoe, Canterbury, and Cedric Firth, Wellington, of the early forties, translated the international style of the thirties into a timber vernacular. The detailing was simple but heavy, with large areas of glass; as there were no verandahs, or only slight links with their surroundings, the houses stood apart from nature.
The next step was taken in Robin Simpson's own house, Remuera, Auckland (1939). The traditional vertical boards and batten wall sheathing were continued in a parapet to enclose visually the terrace of the combined living/dining room, the “most uncompromisingly contemporary house of 1942” (Firth).
The continuity of old and new is obvious in Vernon A. Brown's Roper house, Mission Bay, Auckland (1938); c/f. Anderson homestead, Omatua, Hawke's Bay, c. 1862–Here there are similar rusticated weatherboards on light timber frame, with rooms at either end of the verandah with 12-pane windows, two intermediate posts, and French doors. In the Kidd House, St. Heliers; Lemon House, St. Stephens Avenue, Parnell, Auckland (1945), Hoffman house, Bell Road, Remuera, Auckland (1946)–the tradition which persisted for a hundred years is traced, and developed.
R. A. Toy's house in Epsom, Auckland (1948), marks the maturity of the local expression of the modern architectural idiom welded to early elegant “Regency” tradition. Subtle use is made of zoning for family activities. The living area upstairs is open, with extensive views, and imaginative use is made of light and space. The separate sleeping rooms set below have the warmth of the site and building shelter provide the privacy of cosy, individual cells. There is an organic relationship between the house and the section, and an expression of the twin principles of man's controlling Nature, by his architectural control over materials and techniques and of his being one with Nature.
In Wellington the “demonstration house” (1948) of the Architectural Centre group of enthusiasts, developed the enclosed patio on a difficult “ridge” section.
The decade after the Second World War saw the evolution of the “Ecole des Beaux-Arts”, the English “arts and crafts”, American “shingle style”, and international “functional” traditions of architectural design. The essential characteristics which emerged represent a change in emphasis from the substantial pre-war architect-designed houses. From the “early pioneering” lightness and simplicity developed the heavier post and beam “stick style”, and a later search for robust solidity and elegant decoration which reflect a Mediterranean or Japanese image of the house.
The pioneering work of V. A. Brown and R. H. Toy was followed by a students' group, later Group Architects. The trend can be traced in the work of these individuals (perhaps typical of many of the younger architects), particularly their two experimental speculative houses in Northboro' Road, Takapuna (1949); houses for Bruce Rotherham, Devonport (1950), Miss Maisie Smith (1951); Bruce Catley, Milford North (1952); W. C. Rotherham, Glendowie (1952); R. B. Thompson, Castor Bay (1953); Skelton “studio” house, Belmont (1953); J. F. Mallitte, Takapuna (1953); Miss Zena Abbot, Blockhouse Bay (1955); Dr Kemble-Welch, Whangarei (1955); and the prefabricated house, Western Springs Carnival (1953).
As the Auckland-qualified architects returned to their home towns to carry on their profession, small houses that showed a radical development of the traditional plans began to appear throughout the country, and by 1960 “modern” characteristics were appearing in builders' “parades of homes”. The architects' idiom was passing into the builders' vernacular.
Still one of the best contemporary expressions of this trend was the house designed by R. A. Toy for his family, in which the continuity of inherited tastes and attitudes can be seen without forcing the evidence (cf. the “Regency” St. Paul's Vicarage, Eden Crescent, Auckland, c. 1865). This is a traditional building in the true sense of the word, not in form but in spirit; no less modern, but more–a genuine New Zealand expression of homebuilding.
Today, therefore, the architectural, unobtrusive feeling for materials and unpretentious means, which marks the work of the “new pioneer” architects represents a hopeful step in the development of a truly New Zealand style of domestic architecture.
by James Garrett, A.N.Z.I.A., Architect, Auckland.
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