Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is the Property editor of the NZ Herald

Clever Kiwi design on display in Europe

The transitional 'Cardboard' Cathedral on the corner of Madras and Hereford Streets in Christchurch.
The transitional 'Cardboard' Cathedral on the corner of Madras and Hereford Streets in Christchurch.

A history of New Zealand architecture over the last 100 years will go on display in Europe soon.

The display in Italy will include references to the cardboard cathedral in Christchurch, Auckland Art Gallery, Maori meeting houses and Pasifika buildings.

A group of leading New Zealand architects have been chosen to stage the exhibit at the Venice Architecture Biennale which starts in June.

But that group will showcase a wider body of work than just their own.

John Scott's Futuna Chapel in Wellington's Karori, Auckland's art gallery by FJMT and Archimedia and Shigeru Ban's cathedral will be displayed alongside Pacific and Maori designs.

David Mitchell of Auckland's Mitchell Stout has been appointed to lead the team of architects as creative director and the NZ Institute of Architects said it was the first time a national exhibition had be displayed by New Zealand architects in Venice.

Previously, some New Zealanders have exhibited their individually but no national entry has come from here, said communications manager John Walsh.

The team is Julie Stout, Mike Austin, Ginny Pedlow, Rick Pearson and Julian Mitchell, academic and practitioner Rau Hoskins, and architecture graduates Claire Natusch, Chia-Lin Sara Lee and Frances Cooper.

Together, they will build a light-weight structure inside the Venice venue and that will have drawings and displays of the work of our architecture traditions and heritage over the past century.

Walsh said the display was being supported by the institute, tertiary organisations and other sources. Government officials had indicated enthusiasm also, he said.

Mitchell, one of New Zealand's most experienced and respected architects, said the New Zealand exhibition would be called Last, Loneliest, Loveliest and would respond to the theme Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014 which had been set by the biennale's director, Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

"The biennale will examine the relationship between modernisation and national styles of architecture. In particular, it will consider whether national differences are still possible in an age when architecture is increasingly homogeneous. Have we reached the stage where everything looks the same, everywhere?" Mitchell asked.

The exhibition will propose that New Zealand architecture has developed a very distinctive point of difference.

"In particular, it's the Pacific-European crossover we are concerned with. In contrast to European architecture, which is an architecture of mass and solidity, Pacific architecture is a lightweight architecture of posts and beams and panels and big roofs," Mitchell said.

"This architecture has been persistently present in our history and is increasingly distinctive. You can see it expressed in the two recent New Zealand buildings to have attracted international attention," he said referring to the art gallery and Christchurch cathedral.

"The Venice Biennale provides us with an opportunity to put these buildings and achievements into context. As a country, we've never had such architectural attention, so we should make the most of it."

New Zealand's exhibition will be staged in the Palazzo Pisani Santa Marina, a historic Venetian building in the centre of the city, minutes from the Rialto Bridge.

Walsh said that in 2012, 55 countries took part in the biennale, 180,000 visitors attended it and more than 3000 media representatives were accredited to it.

- www.nzherald.co.nz

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