Text and picture is from an article on an exhibition of models of NZ architecture, modelled with neither context nor landscape, which unfortunately is the way many see their architecture.
The picture selected to highlight the exhibition (above) shows Megson's own house, which was sited above Dingle Dell in St Heliers.
The article comes from University News, May 2005:
If you take away the conventionally defining characteristics of New Zealand residential architecture – site, response to surrounding landscape, orientation to views and sun, materials like weatherboards, corrugated iron, concrete blocks – what are you left with?
An architectural style that “is and isn’t” typically New Zealand, says
Architecture senior lecturer, Charles Walker (pictured above) who with
help from two recent University Architecture graduates, Minka Johnson
Ip and Elizabeth Seu Seu, has curated models for living 1905-2005,
currently on at the Auckland Museum.
Surveying 100 years of New Zealand residential architecture and
timed to mark the centenary of the New Zealand Institute of Architects,
models for living features 50 exquisite scale-models (1:50), built
from original plans by students and recent graduates of the School
Hand-crafted out of white paper and white painted cardboard, the
models show iconic houses – the Group Construction Company’s First
House, for example, and former University lecturer Claude Megson’s
1983 Auckland home – stripped back to their elemental bones and
artfully displayed in solid glass cases.
“If they refer to the particularity of detail, these white fabrications
also strive for universality and anonymity,” writes Charles in the
exhibition catalogue. “Unlike the architects of the real projects, who
have generally sought to imbue each project with an individual identity
that only rarely refl ects that of the occupant of the house, the models
display the authorial reticence of Islamic miniatures – an art form in
which to reveal one’s stylistic idiosyncrasies is to court dishonour.”
Beginning with workers’ dwellings designed in 1905 by the Public
Works Department and fi nishing on a futuristic home designed by
Auckland graduates Dominic Glamuzina and Ernie Lau, the models
offer a compelling timeline of New Zealand architectural style.
Tauroa, a country mansion designed by colonial architect William
Gummer for a site on the rolling hills of Havelock North, is re-fi gured
back to its 1916 skeletal beginnings here, as are houses by architects
like Rotherham and Hackshaw (members of the renowned Group
architects who after World War Two began to merge modernists’
principles of simplicity, clarity and structure with a New Zealand
history of working in wood).
Viewers can peer through the glass at a model of the monumental
1957 Blumenthal home – the fi rst New Zealand house to be widely written about overseas – or they can ponder the three-dimensional rendering of Ken Crosson’s award-winning 2003 Coromandel Beach House. “When people talk about New Zealand architecture, they always
talk about the site, the landscape and the materials as if those were
the things that defi ne it,” says Charles.
“What’s interesting here is that in all these models you can see
international infl uences. Even though they’re typically New Zealand
houses in response to site and landscape, they’re part of a much
“The architects of these houses have all been overseas or have
studied overseas architectural trends. They are quite urbane,
sophisticated people – even though in the case of the Group they
presented their work within the rhetoric of a Kiwi vernacular.”
Historically, New Zealand architects haven’t used models very much
so this exhibition offers a chance to see three-dimensional volumes and
proportions of houses that most won’t have seen. “Even architects know
most of these houses only through photographs,” says Charles.
More than 50 architectural students have spent hundreds of
hours making the models and Charles says it has been a very good
pedagogical exercise. “The students have had to study the buildings,
plans and drawings very, very carefully; because they knew the end
result was going to be seen by the public, it’s kept the standard very
high – they’ve really sweated blood for these.”
And there are more to come. This year students will be constructing
another 40-odd models that will be photographed and feature alongside
plans and drawings in a book, working title 100 New Zealand houses,
which Charles is currently writing for publication later this year.
Once all the models have been exhibited and photographed, some
will be distributed to architects, but many will be retained in the
Architecture School’s archive. Future students will be able to access
them as Charles concludes in his catalogue essay, examples of “intimate
investigations and engaged understandings of scale, proportion,
generative ideas and in most cases, good old-fashioned room planning”.