Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New book aims to help identify, preserve NZ's modernist heritage

Think of New Zealand's historic buildings and you probably conjure up images of crumbling structures from our colonial past not buildings reflecting 20th century architecture.

But aren't buildings in this modernist tradition also worthy of preservation and regard?

That's the view of Dr Julia Gatley of The University of Auckland's School of Architecture and Planning, at the National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries (NICAI). As editor of the forthcoming book, Long Live the Modern: New Zealand's New Architecture, 1904-1984 (Auckland University Press, 2008, $64.99), Dr Gatley has used photographs and text to survey 180 modernist sites and buildings in New Zealand.

Dr Gatley notes the term "modern" is not explicitly related to the modernist movement of architecture; rather, it is associated with "the new" including changes in technology, materials, engineering capabilities, modes of transport and ways of living in the 20th century.

"It may take an adjustment of mindset to think of our architectural heritage as a continuous development over time heritage does not stop at any one given date; it includes buildings of the quite recent past," says Dr Gatley. "Many of the architects who designed the modern buildings disliked Edwardian and Victorian ornamentation they thought it fussy and were often divided on whether or not old buildings should be retained. I think they would like the fact that their buildings are now getting heritage recognition though; it demonstrates that they designed things that subsequent generations consider worth keeping," she says.

Long Live the Modern features contributions from 46 experts in the field who examine private homes as well as public buildings. Examples range from Auckland's West Plaza Building to Wanganui's War Memorial Hall, the Roxburgh Power Station and Tamaki state housing; and houses designed by Ernst Plischke, Group Architects and many others.

Dr Gatley notes that currently, the Historic Places Trust is registering a small number of modern buildings per year and the Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch City Councils are also active in identifying their modern heritage, but many other local authorities are not. As a result, listings are neither comprehensive nor consistent nationwide at the present time. She hopes Long Live the Modern, by giving a national survey of architectural modernism, will encourage the listing of more modernist buildings for preservation.

Long Live the Modern: New Zealand's New Architecture, 1904-1984 (Auckland University Press, 2008; RRP $64.99) will be launched at the Gus Fisher Gallery on 17 October. The gallery will mount an architectural exhibition of the same title that runs from 18 October to 22 November.

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