No other city has such a great variety and concentration of buildings in the styles of the 1930s, including Spanish Mission, Stripped Classical, and especially Art Deco. Napier is known as the Art Deco Capital of the world.
The Art Deco Capital is situated on one of the world’s most active tectonic fault lines.
New Zealand’s deadliest earthquake took place on February 3rd 1931, killing 258 people and leveling many of Napier’s buildings. The 7.9 magnitude quake broke the water mains, and hours later fires destroyed most of the remaining buildings.
The HMS Veronica, an Acacia-class sloop of the Royal Navy, was in port at Napier on the day of the quake. She radioed Auckland for help, and her sailors helped with rescue and salvage. The sea bed rose up beneath her, so she was docked for inspection. She and her crew are commemorated by the Veronica Sunbay, above. This is actually a replica of the one built in the 1930s.
Napier began to rebuild as soon as possible, in part to inspire optimize in her citizens after the disaster.
Three characteristics were important in the new buildings – they needed to be safe, modern and inexpensive. Art Deco was perfect for this.
Art Deco eschewed the kind of ornamental details that were first things to fall into the streets during the 1931 earthquake. The Masonic Hotel, above, is one of two buildings in Napier with parapet ornaments, and they were built to be earthquake-proof – at least by the standards of the time.
Art Deco architecture was the successor to and reaction against Art Nouveau, a style which flourished in Europe between 1895 and 1900.
It’s real different from buildings in the Art Deco style.
“In 1905 Eugène Grasset wrote and published Méthode de Composition Ornementale, Éléments Rectilignes, in which he systematically explored the decorative (ornamental) aspects of geometric elements, forms, motifs and their variations, in contrast with (and as a departure from) the undulating Art Nouveau style of Hector Guimard, so popular in Paris a few years earlier.” – Wikipedia
“Grasset stressed the principle that various simple geometric shapes like triangles and squares are the basis of all compositional arrangements. The reinforced concrete buildings of Auguste Perret and Henri Sauvage, and particularly the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, offered a new form of construction and decoration which was copied worldwide. ” – Wikipedia
Hawkes Bay Chambers is an excellent example of the Art Deco style.
“Art Deco was associated with both luxury and modernity; it combined very expensive materials and exquisite craftsmanship put into modernistic forms. Nothing was cheap about Art Deco: pieces of furniture included ivory and silver inlays, and pieces of Art Deco jewelry combined diamonds with platinum, jade, and other precious materials.” – Wikipedia
The style became more simplified by the 1930s. And Napier didn’t really need luxury , she needed inexpensive buildings fast, and buildings that she could be proud of.
I need to make a point of going back to see as many building interiors as I can. I suspect that I’ll find some touches of luxury.
A boy from the 1930s waves to his mother across Emerson Street.
In 1922 Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s nearly intact tomb. This sparked a renewed public interest in ancient Egypt, and Egyptian motifs showed up in the decorative elements of Art Deco architecture. Hotel Central Provincial Hotel, below, is a great example.
Zoom in for a close look at the ziggurats, the lotus and falcons on the capitals, and the sunbursts and the zigzag patterns.
Colenso Chambers, below, has a nice Spanish Missions style.
The Provincial Hotel, below, is another example of the Spanish Missions style.
Trinity Methodist Church was built in 1876. It’s a great example of colonial wooden church architecture. It’s now the only church in Napier’s city center built before the 1931 earthquake.
The Public Trust Office, below, is a Classical Revival design, not really in favor by the 1930s. It’s solid mass allowed it to survive the quake.
The term Art Deco was coined for that style only in the 1960s. During rebuilding the people of Napier only knew that they were building one of the most modern cities architecturally in the world.
Much of Napier, today’s Art Deco Capital of the world, was rebuilt in just two years.
Of 164 buildings built between 1920 and 1940, 140 stand today.
The Art Deco Capital is a well preserved relic of that time period.
County Hotel was the second reinforced concrete building in Napier, which probably helped it survive the quake.
The earliest sections of the Hawkes Bay Museum & Art Gallery were completed between 1936 and 1937.
Pania was a beautiful sea maiden who fell in love with a Maori Chief. Their love couldn’t last, and Pania was drawn back to the sea to become the Pania Reef. Her statue in the Art Deco Capital is one of the most photographed sights in New Zealand.
This is one of my longer posts, but there are a lot of great buildings in the Art Deco Capital that I haven’t shown you. Many more are included in the full gallery of 80 pictures below.