Friday, June 5, 2009
An Art Deco Triumph
Some months back, in a blog about Maori design in Art Deco architecture, I wrote about the extraordinary Maori design embellishments inside Napier’s ASB building. When I visited Napier a few weeks ago, I went in to see for myself and it’s true, they are extraordinary. Even more extraordinary is the fact that a bank allows people to take photographs inside. They didn’t even mind me lying down on their floor so I could get some detailed shots of the beautiful ceiling. (I had secretly thought that might be pushing the boundaries of their understanding, but no, no one even seemed to notice).
The ASB was built in the aftermath of the 1931 Napier earthquake in 1933-34. Designed by architect Vivien Haughton from the Wellington firm of Crichton McKay & Haughton, it caused quite a stir when it first opened because it was painted apple green. No less striking – then or today – is its lofty six metre high banking chamber and the elaborate plaster kowhaiwhai patterns that decorate both the ceiling and interior friezes. Painted in traditional colours of red, black and white, they are inspired by the traditional rafter patterns found inside the decorative whare whakairo (carved meeting house).
The building was completely restored in 1992 in a successful partnership between the building owner’s architects, The Natusch Partnership of Napier, the ASB architects, CPRW Fisher, interior designers, Martin Hughes Associates and Skews Hey Ussher with consultation with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the Art Deco Trust.
The exterior of the building is also lovely in an understated kind of way. At first glance it seems stern – all that concrete and stone – but when you get closer to it, the Maori design influences become much clearer. Carving patterns on the outside symbolise waves in the form of zig-zags and represent Raumano (the whale); and bronze grilles over the entrance windows also incorporate the whale motif. To see other buildings that incorporate Maori designs click on Art Deco, architecture and/or Traditional Designs in the label line below this post.