The Quest for a New Zealand Architectural Identity: Bi-Culturalism

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The double identity of Maori and Pakeha has always been ignored by the modern movement because it deals in abstraction and not with people. Bi-culturalism, the relationship between Maori and Pakeha, is a unique issue to New Zealand and there are some cont

Bi-culturalism, the relationship between Maori and Pakeha, is a unique issue to New Zealand and there are some contemporary architects who are concerned to give this concept architectural expression. Rewi Thompson, a Maori architect, believes that as a result of being “brought up in the more physical world of the Pakeha, I learnt to deal with physical things, as opposed to the Maori world which is a very metaphysical one, and I think a lot of my work reflects the balance between things Maori and Pakeha”.

Image credit:

Russell Walden suggests that New Zealand architects did not produce an indigenous architecture which embodies “the consensus or the creative embrace of Maori and European values… which can be truthfully recognised as New Zealand architecture”. He argued that the double identity of Maori and Pakeha has always been ignored by the modern movement because “it deals in abstraction and not with people. Is it any wonder that this position produces lifeless buildings and deserted environments? This is the bane of the modern movement all around the world”.

Image credit: Art Historic House

Walden believes that Futuna Chapel, Wellington (1958-1961), designed by John Scott, is “the Maori / Pakeha synthesis put together for the first time in New Zealand architecture”. Again Cattell opposed Walden’s belief and declared that “Rangiatea Church at Otaki, built 110 years earlier than Futuna, is a brilliant result of the blending of these two cultures”.

Image credit: Futuna Chapel, by John Scott.

Image credit: Rangiatea Church, Otaki, New Zealand

However, in spite of this disagreement both Walden and Cattell agreed that Walker’s Wellington Club (now demolished) represented a true example of New Zealand architecture. Walden stated that the Wellington Club is a “coherent sequel to Futuna. It speaks with the same authentic spirit for New Zealand and New Zealanders, both in its scale and in terms of its human identity perceived through spatial organization”.

Cattell pointed out that buildings like Walker’s Wellington Club stand out amidst the tower blocks of the Terrace not because “they offer anything radically different in stylistic terms, but because they respect their environment and possess a human elements that is lacking from much modern architecture in New Zealand. It is precisely these qualities that make our early architecture so valuable”. The Wellington Club was a provocative example of Walker’s return to English traditions.

Image credit: Wellington Club, by Roger Walker (now demolished)

Walden argues that the Futuna Chapel has derived its qualities from the early New Zealand wool-shed which developed from the relationship of people and the landscape. He stated that perhaps “the only thing missing in Walker’s work is the accommodation of the Maori message”. In this respect, Walker thinks that Maori have an unmistakable understanding of the nature of their land. He believes that, as a Pakeha, he “would not presume to convey ‘the Maori message’. I have learnt a lot about Maori architecture having worked with… Rewi Thompson. I think the Maori feel for structure and colour is there.

In a wider perspective Walker thinks that New Zealanders have to develop their own political and emotional identity. He believes that the individuality of New Zealand tradition, lateral thinking ability, and the expression of a person’s identity and place is “forming into the emergence of a new multi-racial culture and a Pacific power. We are now standing on our own feet upside down, maybe down under on the Rim of the Pacific”.  

 References:  (See Part 1, Part 2)

  1. Credit of the main article image: http://maorilifestyles.blogspot.com/2009_07_01_archive.html
  2. Russell Walden, Towards a Bicultural Identity. ANZ, November / December 1988, pp. 92, 95.
  3. NZ architect, No. 1, 1987, pp. 19, 37.
  4. NZ Architect, No. 5, 1985, pp. 24-25.
  5. NZ Architect, No. 1, 1985, p. 17.
  6. NZ Architect, No. 3, 1985, p. 7.

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