The Venice Biennale of Architecture takes place in that historic city every second year. All nations are invited to contribute an exhibition stemming from some part of their national identity. For the 2014 Biennale, New Zealand architects took the words of Rudyard Kipling as a source of inspiration.
When Kipling visited New Zealand in 1891 he offered a poetic description of the new country – "Last, loneliest, loveliest". "Last" to be settled by mankind; "loneliest" since so far from the ancient centres of civilization; "loveliest" referring to landscape no doubt.
It must therefore be surprising to visitors from Europe to find New Zealand architecture redolent with the shapes and symbols of their homelands. One could start a veritable a,b,c of these elements for train spotters walking through the Timaru CBD.
A for acroterion, those abstract shapes crowning the pediments of the Customs House; B for bucranium the stylised ox head motifs on the CML building opposite the Old Bank hotel; C for capital the shaped head to any column harking back to ancient Greece or Rome; D for dentils those little blocks – like teeth – running along the cornice of the Tekapo Building. And so on.
Inevitably however an architect will be influenced by local culture. Designed by the eminent Christchurch architect Cecil Wood the former State Insurance building located on the corner opposite the Public Library shows such influence from 1928. The ground floor entry carries surface decoration clearly relating to the South Pacific but with Art Deco styling. Similar decorations with Maori and Pasifika flavour are seen on several of the highly protected Art Deco buildings at Napier, from the same period.
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