Designs for living

The showroom of designer David Trubridge (click for image credit)

The showroom of designer David Trubridge (click for image credit)

For those of us who cannot draw more than the odd doodle, the release of our eight new stories on architecture and design is cause for jealousy and wonderment. The inventiveness of people who can imagine a new building, or a new typeface or a new object – such as a revolutionary pair of scissors – is almost magical. The whole group of entries is a testament to the major theme of Te Ara’s last section: creativity.

There are four stories which focus on architecture. To be honest, colonial New Zealand was not especially noted for its creativity or originality in this field. The one exception was in Māori architecture, where, as Deidre Brown shows, Māori developed the idea of large carved wharenui (meeting houses) a style previously unknown in Aotearoa.

Meanwhile, European architects, whether designing domestic buildings, public, commercial and religious buildings, or theatres and halls, stuck to their European background. Architecture was heavily imitative, copying historic styles. Early buildings were a restrained Georgian; but then the battle of the styles developed between classical revival style and Gothic. Gothic, used commonly in churches, was also found in some homes such as Auckland’s Highwic and some public buildings, for example Canterbury’s provincial council chambers. There were some marvels even within these traditions, and I urge you in particular to look at the interactive of Francis Petre’s Catholic basilicas in classical revival style.

Ōamaru courthouse, one of New Zealand's many classical-style public buildings (click for image credit)

Ōamaru courthouse, one of New Zealand's many classical-style public buildings (click for image credit)

The 20th century saw international influences remain strong, but there were striking local variations – James Chapman-Taylor’s homes, which developed out of the arts and crafts movement, the modernist-influenced buildings of Ernst Plischke, the Group Architects‘ attempt to adapt the modernist style to a New Zealand way of life, and John Scott’s magnificent Futuna Chapel, which blended Māori and Gothic church elements with modernism. It is also worth looking at the images and films of theatres and cinemas, some of which were enchanted spaces where ‘everything ordinary was left behind’, as the narrator says in Peter Well’s film about Auckland’s iconic Civic Theatre.

The story of landscape architecture shares with the stories of design – fashion, graphic and industrial – a period of striking growth and creativity in the last part of the 20th century. Although there were garden designers before then, the profession did not really get established until the early 1970s. Since then, landscape architects have helped transform the character of our cities.

Fashion design got its kick-start in the 1940s, when the disruption of imports and a ready market, with American troops here, led to the first local fashion houses. The last 30 years of the century saw an outburst of creative designers and fashion houses such as Zambesi, Trelise Cooper, WORLD, Karen Walker and Kate Sylvester. Exposure at the London Fashion Week in 1999 was international recognition that there was something happening down under – something ‘edgy, dark and intellectual’.

Speedee electric jugs (click for image credit)

Speedee electric jugs (click for image credit)

Industrial design took off in 1962, when both Elam and the Wellington School of Design began professional training. Forty years later industrial designers had helped change the way we experience our every day lives, with such creations as:

  • the electric ‘jug’ (as distinct from the British ‘kettle’)
  • Fisher & Paykel‘s DishDrawer
  • Methven’s SatinJet shower
  • Bendon’s seamless bra
  • Phil & Ted’s baby buggy.

As for the third type of design, graphic design, there was some fine work in the 1930s and 1940s, especially some great railway posters. But, again, it was 1962 when the first fully professional training began. The fruits of this were seen in some stunning logos for New Zealand Post, New Zealand Railways and the 1974 Commonwealth Games. In the digital age, New Zealand’s internationally recognised typographic designers included Catherine Griffiths, Sarah Maxey and Kris Sowersby.

Fittingly, these stories are to be enjoyed as much for the visuals as for the words. As you pass from image to image you cannot but be grateful for how much the talented people who can draw have enriched our world – in the buildings we inhabit, the objects we use, and the clothes we wear.

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