Story: Domestic architecture

Page 5. Postmodern and neo-modern architecture

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Postmodern decadence

The 1980s saw New Zealand architects embrace postmodern architecture, with its historical references, decoration, metaphors and overall glamour and glitz – which were intended to be sophisticated, but to modernist eyes appeared superficial. Auckland architects responded with enthusiasm. Mal Bartleet wrapped the Murphy House, Grey Lynn (1983), in trellis and fixed red-and-blue pediments above openings; David Mitchell used lavish white walls as the backdrop for bold splashes of colour, form and geometry at the first Gibbs House in Parnell (1984); and Pip Cheshire, in the tradition of the New York 5, manipulated and played with the modernist aesthetic in the Vernon Town House in Herne Bay (1985).

At a higher density, Cook Hitchcock & Sargisson’s Napier Street Townhouses in Freemans Bay, Auckland (1982), reintroduced terrace housing, but in alternating ‘gelato’ colours, complete with pergolas and shutters. Athfield Architects’ Oriental Bay Apartments, Wellington (1985–89), featured a medley of classical references manipulated for effect, such as oversized columns and capitals doubling as planter boxes.

Inner-city apartments

While New Zealand’s main cities all have apartment blocks dating back to at least the 1920s, the 1990s saw increased apartment building in central business districts. This started with the adaptive reuse of redundant old office and warehouse buildings. The success of the reuse projects then stimulated new, purpose-built apartment buildings in the city centres. This is apparent in Wellington projects by Athfield Architects, including the adaptive reuse of the Hannahs Factory (1995–98) and the Dominion Building (1993–96), and purpose-built apartment buildings such as the Umbrella Park Apartments (1995–98) and the residential component of the Chews Lane Precinct (2004–9).

Promoting good design

Recent and contemporary New Zealand houses have been the subject of a swathe of new books. They demonstrate an ongoing fascination with the house as a building type among both architects and the general public. The books are complemented by a range of magazines including Home New Zealand and Houses New Zealand, which profile architects and houses up and down the country.

Recent trends

In detached house building, the 1990s saw something of a return to the timber tradition, in David Mitchell and Julie Stout’s own house in Freemans Bay, Auckland (1990), Patrick Clifford’s family house in Meadowbank, Auckland (1995), and the Pete Bossley-designed Heatley House in the Bay of Islands (1999).

In the early 2000s there was a shift towards slicker houses with clean lines, large areas of glass and minimalist detailing, a kind of neo-modernism. This was epitomised by the work of Fearon Hay Architects, in the Rawhiti House in the Bay of Islands (2000) and the Parnell House, Auckland (2004), for example. A firm which manages to straddle both the slickness of internationalism and the woodiness of the New Zealand tradition is Stevens Lawson Architects, for example in the Westmere House, Auckland (2006), evocatively described by Bill McKay as a ‘big black skink’.1

While large houses for wealthy clients often generate the most public interest, many architects continue to admire small-scale houses that are well planned and efficient in their material usage. Houses by Melling:Morse Architects exemplify this approach. Examples include:

  • the Music Box in Northland, Wellington (1996)
  • the urbane Sky Box in Te Aro, Wellington (2001)
  • the concrete-block Signal Box in Masterton (2007).

Zero energy design

In 2011 a revolutionary solar home designed by students from Victoria University of Wellington won third prize in the American Solar Decathlon. The Kiwi-bach-inspired design measured 75 square metres and had cedar cladding with concrete and wooden flooring. It was a ‘net zero energy’ dwelling that was designed to produce as much energy as it used.2

Environmental sustainability

Environmental sustainability is an important issue in contemporary architectural design, including housing. Architects have long made good use of the sun’s energy for warmth, joined in the 1970s by the use of solar panels for hot water heating and the reuse of redundant old buildings and building materials. In the early 1990s the Wellington City Council commissioned Anna Kemble Welch and Martin Hanley to design an Eco House to demonstrate energy-efficient strategies such as thermal mass and high insulation. The house was built in Newtown and is still council-owned. Since that time, climate change has ensured greater awareness of, and commitment to, the practice of environmentally sustainable design.

  1. Bill McKay, ‘Driftwood.’ New Zealand Home and Entertaining, August–September 2007, p. 67. Back
  2. ‘Kiwi eco house wins US honours’, Dominion Post, 2 February 2011, (last accessed 4 June 2014). Back
How to cite this page:

Julia Gatley, 'Domestic architecture - Postmodern and neo-modern architecture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 April 2024)

Story by Julia Gatley, published 22 Oct 2014