After a brief tour from Wellington up to Tongariro crossing I had the eventual intention of finding work in Hastings and Napier. These two places are joined together on the East Coast of North Island. Although Napier is a bit smaller it gets much more attention because of its fully intact Art Deco centre. I had read about this place when I studied History of Art, I never really dreamed of making it there.

Napier had the extreme misfortune of being wiped out by an earthquake in 1931. It also had the extreme fortune of being rebuilt in an interesting period, architecturally speaking. The whole centre was built (or rebuilt) in the Art Deco style which was peaking in the 30’s. This style of architecture, although not my favourite, is interesting as being truly international. There are examples of Art Deco worldwide. What makes Napier so special is the fact that as the buildings were built simultaneously we have been given a unique snapshot of Art Deco. Outside of theme parks or Movie Sets it’s hard to find examples of towns which are so uniformly built. I believe Napier was lucky to have been constructed at a time when there was such attention to aesthetics. This was urban planning before the Liberal Utopians of the 50’s and 60’s tried to force us all to live in concrete tower blocks and multi story car parks. To look at places rebuilt after the bombings of World War II is a great compare and contrast exercise for anyone interested in architecture or urban design. You only have to look at Coventry or Warsaw to know that Napier was saved.

As I mentioned, Art Deco is by no means my favourite type of architecture. It makes for interesting underground transport murals and theatre posters. However, when it comes to buildings I often find it borrows from so many things that it seems a bit pastiche. I can often see Pseudo Egyptian elements in the motifs and decorations. Unlike the blatant stealing of Classical designs for some of the larger Victorian buildings, Art Deco seems to just fold elements into the design so they are lost. My only exception would be the Chrysler building which stands out as a silver cathedral in New York’s skyline. The main problem, at least for some parts of the world, is light. The pastel shades of Art Deco look best in the warm light of Mediterranean and Caribbean locations, especially those by the seaside. This is why Miami always looks so glamorous and glitzy. Some of the buildings in Northern Europe just look dated and naff.

With all these thoughts in mind I headed out on an extremely sunny day to photograph all the best examples of Napier’s Art Deco structures. The ones I have captured are by no means the only ones there. It was a period just before I started working at an orchard to make money for a trip to Chile. I see this period as a calm before the storm, a last chance to relax before working crappy jobs. Unlike many tourist resorts in New Zealand you are left to wander round freely with no real goal or destination. The only disappointment I met was beneath the canopies of the buildings. This is provincial New Zealand so there were not quite the street cafes and breezy bars of Miami or St. Tropez. Beneath the facades were many junk shops and cheap clothing stores, they were kept safe from sunlight by ugly plastic verandas. I tried not to photograph these which meant I got serious neck ache by the time I was finished. I enjoyed Napier as an unexpected and unhyped pleasure. I recommend that if anyone is in New Zealand they should take a little detour from Auckland or Wellington to visit.

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