Story: Creative life

Page 4. Architecture

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Much of New Zealand architecture has been strongly influenced by overseas trends. In the mid-19th century British immigrants favoured the building types they had left behind. Later European and American styles became fashionable. Some notable examples of imported architectural ideas include the Gothic revival style of the 1840s–1860s, as interpreted by English architects Benjamin Mountfort and Frederick Thatcher, and the modernist aesthetic introduced in the 1930s by European architects such as Ernst Plischke.

But from the start these architectural influences were gradually adapted to the local environment. For instance, wood construction became popular because of the ready supply of timber. Architects became more aware of the country’s climate, light and informal lifestyle. And unique New Zealand structures – such as the Māori whare (house) and the shed – influenced architectural practice.

The whare

As protection against the cool climate, the first Māori constructed rectangular buildings (known as whare) with a very small door, an extension of the roof and walls to form a porch, and an interior with hearths along the centre and sleeping places along the walls. This plan is still followed in modern Māori meeting houses, and has inspired the design of other types of buildings.

The shed

European settlers needed simple, functional buildings such as wool and milking sheds that could be made from local materials. This approach influenced the style of the typical New Zealand holiday home – the bach, or crib – which was often made of cheap materials such as fibrolite (asbestos sheeting), corrugated iron or recycled timber.

Built heritage

Despite the efforts of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, set up in 1954 to protect heritage places and buildings (and renamed Heritage New Zealand in 2014), the diversity of New Zealand’s architectural heritage was not fully appreciated until the late 20th century. The commercial property boom of the 1980s saw many notable old buildings demolished to make way for bland tower blocks. Although the Resource Management Act 1991 is supposed to regulate such development, there is still little real protection for historic buildings. However, a change of attitude can be detected: the successful promotion of Napier’s art deco city centre as a tourist attraction is one example.

Architectural training

Architectural practice flourishes in New Zealand. Notable recent public buildings include the Academy of Performing Arts at the University of Waikato (Warren & Mahoney), the Wellington airport terminal (Craig Craig Moller), Victoria University of Wellington’s Adam Art Gallery (Ian Athfield) and the Maths, Statistics and Computer Science Building at Canterbury University (Architectus). Training is offered at Victoria University of Wellington, Auckland University and Unitec in Auckland. The New Zealand Institute of Architects is the main professional body, and supports high standards through annual awards. Magazines such as Architecture New Zealand act as a forum for ideas.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Creative life - Architecture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 April 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 8 Feb 2005