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Creating a National Spirit: Celebrating New Zealand's Centennial

2: New Zealand Displayed: Anscombe's 1940 Exhibition Design

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2: New Zealand Displayed: Anscombe's 1940 Exhibition Design

The site chosen for the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition offered a near-flat barren wasteland of dunes in suburban Wellington, on the sandy Kilbirnie isthmus which had been raised above the waves by earthquakes in the preceding 500 years. It had about as much environmental quality as the adjoining airfield and dirt-track speedway, and was lapped by a sea of bungalows. However, the architect for the project, Edmund Anscombe with his associates, managed to achieve a precinct of buildings in which the outdoor spaces, in particular, created a special atmosphere whose qualities were recalled with pleasure long after the event.

Edmund Anscombe (1874-1948) had long been an ardent enthusiast for World's Fairs, having set out from his Dunedin home and made his passage to Melbourne at the age of fourteen to see the 1888 Exhibition there. He probably also visited the 1889 New Zealand & South Seas Exhibition in Dunedin after his return. English-born, he went from Dunedin to the United States in 1901 for architectural studies, where he gained experience by 'being actively engaged in the building' of the 1904 St Louis Exhibition buildings. He returned to Dunedin in 1907, and subsequently was both instigator and architect of the New Zealand & South Seas International Exhibition held there in 1925.1

The aim of the Centennial Exhibition in 1940, as of all the centennial events, was to display the nation's progress and achievements. This was very much in keeping with the themes of the major international exhibitions and fairs of the time. Despite the omens of war in Europe, and the recent bewildering economic depression, an unquestioning pride in the country's past and a limitless faith in progress seemed to prevail. An American designer involved in major exhibitions during the 1930s, noting the Utopian cast of their 'World of Tomorrow' theme, wrote in 1944: 'The New York World's Fair, 1939-40 and the Paris Exposition, 1937 were the last Roman holidays, aiming to overcome our fears of war, relieve unemployment, and divert the public's mind from chaotic economic disturbances . . . '2 Something of the same motivation coloured the absorbing displays in the 1940 Centennial Exhibition and, especially, its magnetic amusement park.

The exhibition site of 55 acres (22.5 hectares) was next to the city aerodrome at Rongotai. The buildings amounted to seventeen acres (seven hectares) in — which page 40
The axial plan of Edmund Anscombe's design stands out clearly in this aerial photograph. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, W.H. Raine Collection, F-19697-1/4.

The axial plan of Edmund Anscombe's design stands out clearly in this aerial photograph. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, W.H. Raine Collection, F-19697-1/4.

was around three-quarters of a million square feet of floor area (virtually the same area as the Crystal Palace at London's Great Exhibition of 1851). So some 70% of the site was devoted to open space (about the ratio at present promised by Wellington City Council for the Lambton Waterfront project). The large amusement park occupied five acres of this, offering the most elaborate thrills ever presented in the southern hemisphere with a roller coaster ride peaking at 70 mph (115 km/hr), a darkened 'crazy house' with tilting floors, a motorcyclist whirling around inside a cylindrical 'wall of death' and many enticing sideshows. The design life of the exhibition was six months; and the more than 2.6 million visitors amounted to about 40% of the 1851 Great Exhibition's whole attendance!3

The key to the exhibition's design lies in the form of the outdoor space layout. The main central avenue, a quarter-mile long (0.4 km) from the entrance, ended in a large open court below the principal tower and was flanked by two similar courts, all arranged on a simple axial cross plan.4 This 'Centennial Avenue' space reduced progressively in width from 350 feet to 250 feet (75 metres) at the tower court, enhancing the perspective depth. The transverse axis was some 800 feet across (0.25 km), and its pair of courts 200 feet (60 metres) wide. Each court was enclosed on three sides by display halls, thus gaining shelter from both the prevailing winds. The national exhibits page 41 occupied these display halls, confusingly also called 'Courts'. These consisted of the Government and Dominion Courts, electrical and engineering, manufacturing industries, transportation, Maori and women's courts, and general exhibits.

The sleek exterior walls of all the display halls were built to a uniform parapet line, with their flush top edges set at a 30-foot (9-m) height. These plain walls, unbroken by windows, were the important background to the fully contained external space. On their blank surfaces the hallmark of the 'streamline' art deco style—repeated horizontal bands—appears everywhere, either flowing continuously across the walls or as short staccato accents on particular features.

To place Anscombe's adoption of this decorative device in context, it is worth considering here the origins of this distinctive art deco 'streamline' emblem so widely used by 1930s designers in all fields. There is evidence that it stems from the famous prophetic building designs sketched in the Great War trenches about 1915 by the young German architect Erich Mendelsohn. His dynamically contoured building images dramatised the contemporary worship of speed by means of closely repeated horizontal lines as used by the Futurist group of artists. In his 1920s buildings he developed these sweeping and curving lines as an expression of the modern age— not without criticism from the hard-line functionalists who dismissed them as merely superficial ornament.5 The pioneer American industrial designer Bel Geddes, however, took up this idiom and applied it as 'speed lines' on his visionary early 30s designs for smoothed, all-enveloping 'teardrop' vehicles,.including aircraft and ocean liners. The aesthetic power of this 'streamlining' is epitomised by the boldly enwrapping grille of the US 1936 Cord 810 car designed by Gordon Beuhrig. The horizontal streamline itself developed into a decorative symbol representing modernity; and it became all pervasive, indiscriminately applied to any machine-age product—including stationary objects such as buildings.6

The Centennial Exhibition design stands as a prime application of this streamline insignia. Anscombe exploited it in bands of vibrant lines located along the base of the walls, along an upper frieze and sweeping around curved corners. What is more, this stylish device disguised the universal use of the cheapest available material— painted asbestos-cement in flat sheets and battens—successfully avoiding any impression of meagreness.

Within the open court spaces Anscombe introduced several rows of free-standing components, to be seen against the foil of the enclosing walls, whose repetition in lines and layers of differing density enlivened the artificial landscape. Square lighting pillars with lance-like ribs and repeated pagoda caps stood in two rows down each of the avenues. Other lighting standards along both sides of the reflecting pools were topped by triple fluted 'ice cream' cones—motifs popularised in the decorative sconces often seen lighting cinema walls in the 1930s.7 Such decorated items acted as all-important visual 'furniture', giving scale to the outdoor spaces in counterpoint with the windowless walls of the exhibition halls. Significantly, it was through these page 42 same means that Anscombe organised and made palpable the volume of the contained space itself, making it the central experience of his design.

Anscombe's masterly adaptations of art deco forms, in a wide range of conspicuous ornamentation on various scales, acted as a unifying keynote throughout the exhibition buildings. Two decorative pylons with curved fluted shafts, 75 feet (23m) high, faced each other across the central avenue. Strongly directional with their stepped planes, and with those persistent horizontal bands emphasising their rounded crests, they acted as stylish and effective markers. Elsewhere, touches of scarlet against the creamy buff colour of the buildings enlivened the pagoda caps of the lighting pillars, the free-standing letters on the entrances, and the short horizontal accent caps on the corners far up the main tower.

A fashionable multi-arched soundshell was inset at the end of each of the outdoor side courts, bordered by curved ranges of fins with koru-like tops. It was in the northern 'Court of Pioneers', sheltered from a brisk nor'wester, that the opening ceremony took place before 3000 invited guests (nearly all wearing hats) and a reported throng of 40,000 on November 8, 1939.

The focal point of the whole scheme was the powerful Centennial Tower standing at the head of the 1300-ft-long (400 m) central avenue. It was a distinctive and successful feature, its crest emblazoned simply '1940' in bold scarlet deco-style letters.

Masterly handling of art deco forms. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, Eileen Deste Collection, PAColl-0765-11-02.

Masterly handling of art deco forms. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, Eileen Deste Collection, PAColl-0765-11-02.

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View along the central avenue toward the Centennial Tower with the Aotea sculpture commanding the reflecitng pool. Wellington City Archives, F.G. Barker Album, 00119:0:2.

View along the central avenue toward the Centennial Tower with the Aotea sculpture commanding the reflecitng pool. Wellington City Archives, F.G. Barker Album, 00119:0:2.

It became a memorable symbol of the exhibition, of good profile, subtly tapering from 36 feet square at the base to 27 feet just below the crest block.8 The tower's height of 152 feet (46 m) was limited by aircraft flight lines, descending towards Rongotai aerodrome. The main tower was therefore located at the opposite end of the grounds to the airfield, where it was able to rise as a majestic presence. There was a shallow lookout around the top for hardy climbers with sixpence: it had internal 'ladder' stairs, twinned for 'up' and 'down'.

The tower's main lines somewhat resemble those of the city's War Memorial Carillon of 165 feet height (50 metres), designed by Gummer and Ford in 1931; but at Rongotai soaring ribs elaborated only the front and back faces, whereas the Carillon has precast concrete pierced grilles between its ribs on all four faces. The Exhibition tower was timber-framed throughout, with heavy posts near its corners, and was sheathed with quarter-inch (6mm) asbestos-cement sheets, flush jointed, and without wall openings. Massive concrete foundations tied it down against the gales.9 At night its plain flanks were fully floodlit while its face was dramatically embellished by a novel glow from fluorescent tubes, shielded in fibrous plaster coves between the ribs. (Fluorescent lighting had been introduced commercially in the US only the previous year, stimulated by proposed uses in 1939 at the San Francisco Exhibition and the New York World's Fair.)

There was magic everywhere in the grounds at night, with the flame-red illumination of the tower, colourful floodlighting of all the building walls and glowing light from the rows of standards which colour-coded the main and lateral avenues— doubling their images in the reflecting pools down the central avenue. The effect page 44 was scintillating to approach, filling the deep vista with excitement and anticipation.10

Looked at broadly, it now emerges that the general concept adopted by Anscombe to organise his overall layout was the time-honoured system employing a long focal axis and a cross-axis—that of the cathedral church, no less. The system was cleverly adapted to suit the context here by inversion—that is, the normally interior spaces of the cathedral were opened to the sky, their enclosing walls being those of the exhibition buildings themselves. The metaphor continues, with the nave columns represented by the two rows of lighting pylons, chapels at the transept ends becoming soundshells, the vault or dome over the transept crossing inverted as a pool with a soaring fountain, and the climax of chancel and altar supplied by the dominant tower. (Evidence is lacking, however, that Edmund Anscombe had such intentions.)

Among the 'furnishings' which lent scale to these major elements of the design were the lesser towers, pylons and canopies which provided emphasis around the entrances to the major display courts, such as the Government Court and the General Exhibits Court. These clusters of vertical accents, on diminishing scales, were all part of the designed play of incident that kept up the festive interest around the outdoor spaces. Prominent at the central crossing of avenue and side courts was the Centennial Fountain, enlivening by day, and lighting the night sky with a spectrum of colours which played on varying patterns of powerful jets. (The mechanism still operates the fountain, now rehoused in a different basin, on Kelburn Park.)

Facing the main entrance from the far end of a reflecting pool stood the large-scaled Aotea sculpture group, a 'noble savage' image of explorer Kupe and his companions on their first sighting of Aotearoa. The three figures stood composed against a curved backdrop wall (with one outstretched arm steadfastly pointing in the direction of the amusement park). This was the largest of several major sculptures by William Trethewey set around the Exhibition grounds. It was commanding in scale and presence, and well-remembered in its later relocation in the railway station foyer. First modelled in clay by Trethewey it was then, like some of the other sculptures, hollow-cast in fibrous plaster of paris—an odd choice for out-of-doors but an inexpensive material deemed durable enough, given a coating of bronze-coloured paint, to last for the required time. (An assumption which, as it turned out, underestimated the public's capacity to embrace an evocative work of art—whence its recent reincarnation in 2000 on Wellington's harbour-front as a full-size replica cast in real bronze!)

Across the foot of the main tower ran a bas-relief frieze designed by Alison Duff and carved in set stucco, 8 feet high and 100 feet (30 m) broad, extending over the entranceway to the assembly hall which lay beyond. The subject, as of most of the art works around the site, was of course 'Progress'—rather predictably portrayed by two streams of familiar characters and pioneers from our past, converging on some aspiring demi-god. On the terrace below were raised two sculpture groups by William Trethewey depicting on the left 'Pioneer Men' and on the right 'Pioneer page 45 Women'. The assembly hall foyer under the tower housed several murals by Russell Clark, including a symbolic figure of 'Agriculture'. This foyer was one of the more highly finished spaces in the Exhibition, serving also to link the main exhibition areas laterally beneath the tower.

Some of the premier areas inside the main exhibition galleries, such as in the Government Court, rejoiced in fully panelled ceilings and linoleum flooring, as the background for highly finished artificially lit displays. Typical was the novel stand of the Government Printer, constructed with laboured visual puns and Tourist and Publicity Department thoroughness. In most other parts, however, an intricately strutted and braced wooden structure was fully exposed to view overhead. Each exhibit hall was divided by rows of heavy posts into five broad aisles, set out with a nominal bay span of 30 feet (9 m) square and a wider central aisle of 42 feet (12.8 m). Flat roofs stepped down from the central aisle, forming tiers of clearstory windows to distribute daylight throughout. The atmosphere in this forest of raw wooden posts and trusses lay somewhere between that of a factory and a vast woolshed—an impression intensified by the footfalls resounding on bare unvarnished boards. The contrast between sophisticated stands and their utilitarian surroundings could be extreme, as seen in a stylised version by architect Bernard Johns of a standard form of General Motors display.

Celebrating progress. Part of Alison Duff's bas-relief frieze. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, Eileen Deste Collection, PAColl-0765-11-03.

Celebrating progress. Part of Alison Duff's bas-relief frieze. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, Eileen Deste Collection, PAColl-0765-11-03.

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At least the precedent for exposing the structure internally was set by London's 1851 Crystal Palace—though the local timberwork lacked the delicacy of Paxton's glass-clad iron framework. Likewise, standardised columns and roof trusses were also prefabricated here—they were made off-site during the period of preparatory groundworks and foundations. This enabled the economical assembly and rapid erection of the framework of the main exhibit buildings by the joint contractors, Fletcher & Love, in just under three months.11

Some exhibitors localised their own ambience and scale, as in the Ford stand, designed by architects Walker & Muston, with draped muslin ceilings. Ronald Muston was also responsible for the ingenious model dioramas which made an unforgettable impact in the Dominion Court. Remarkably convincing representations of landscape, countryside and the major cities were modelled in plaster of paris and paint, while teams of technical college students helped to make 10,000 separate scale-model buildings of phenomenal accuracy. Ships glided miraculously across their glassy harbours, farms and factories were in operation, and virtually every house and building was there—truly a tour deforce of magical effect. (The Dominion Court also had ceilings, but without clearstory lighting, to suit its dramatically lit displays and the replica Waitomo Caves, lit by 'artificial glow-worms.')

In other displays an emphasis on higher-speed transportation underlined the spirit of progress and echoed the sharpened excitement at the time about rapid advances in communications and mobility, especially for a solitary island nation. The exhibition period coincided with the first services across the Tasman by TEAL Empire flying-boat and the Pacific by Pan American Boeing Clipper, the inauguration of airmail to the UK, and the introduction of long-distance streamlined railcars—the last word in modernity. In the Government Court, New Zealand Railways showed magnificent large-scale models of their trains, as well as engineering achievements in bridges, viaducts and the like. The British Pavilion was almost totally devoted to transport by land, sea and air, by means of vehicles and models displayed in its two-level main hall as well as by low-relief plaster murals at the top of its plain exterior walls.

It is interesting at this point to compare Anscombe's highly controlled scheme for housing the Centennial Exhibition with that of his earlier New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition in Dunedin's Logan Park.'2 Closely comparable in their total floor areas, Rongotai emerges as a more coherent, spacious and strongly organised version of his 1925 scheme. Both plans depended upon a long and relatively broad central open space, acting as the main avenue and terminated by a focal architectural element—at Wellington, the impressive rectilinear tower fronting an assembly hall; at Dunedin, a full-blown dome over a rounded Festival Hall. There was only the hint of a cross-axial system at Dunedin, in the form of two lanes leading out on each side, opposite a central bandstand; but they had little of the spatial power and authority of Wellington's open transept courts, similarly located at a pivotal fountain. The outdoor space forms at Dunedin fall short, in general, of the variety page 47
Inside the exhibtion galleries: somewhere between a forest and a vast woolshed. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, Eileen Deste Collection, PAColl-3036, F-36223-1/2.

Inside the exhibtion galleries: somewhere between a forest and a vast woolshed. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, Eileen Deste Collection, PAColl-3036, F-36223-1/2.

and sense of place achieved by Anscombe at Wellington. On the other hand, the factory-like exposed structures of the exhibit halls were virtually identical in form and dimensions to Wellington's timbered structures: five aisles with stepped and strutted flat roofs and similar tiers of clearstory window bands. A festive touch was given at Dunedin by about 250 national flags flying on top of the buildings; and, of course, there was also an extensive amusement park with its 'scenic railway' alongside the building complex.

However, the genealogical path lying behind and informing the Centennial Exhibition design does not end there. In the background to Anscombe's exhibition layouts was the plethora of world fairs and major expositions held about the turn of the previous century and up to the Great War, numbering at least fifteen of which ten were in the United States. Anscombe was very familiar—indeed enthusiastically engrossed—with these, as is well documented.13 His direct involvement at the age of about thirty with the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St Louis clearly had a deep influence on his later work. One of the most ambitious and lavish expositions ever erected, its buildings extended in an arc more than one-and-one-third miles (2 km) across, on an overpowering Midwestern scale. At the end of its central landscaped court was the stunningly exuberant Beaux Arts climax of the circular Festival Hall, page 48 designed by Cass Gilbert, with a dome rivalling that of St Peter's in Rome. Water cascades, reflecting lakes, bandstands and sculptured groups festooned the grounds. It becomes plain that the general style, elements and profile of this Festival Hall must have inspired Anscombe and were echoed in miniature in his 1925 Dunedin exhibition's central feature—even to its naming.

Further, many of the components of the St Louis central court design had already been brought together at Chicago's momentous and influential Columbian Exposition of 1893, under Daniel Burnham's general planning guidance. Here the concept of a vast central axial court became established, with a broad lagoon flanked by promenades and terminating in a monumentally scaled domical building. Interestingly, there were cross-axial transept courts part-way down the main court, similar in spatial intent to Anscombe's side courts at the Centennial Exhibition. Burnham's axial Court of Honour plan at Chicago, which had facilitated a homogeneous relationship among the buildings around it, was for years thereafter the favoured form in a series of exhibitions in the USA (Omaha 1898, Buffalo 1901, Charleston 1902, St Louis 1904, Portland 1905, Seattle 1909) and worldwide.14 It could still be seen as the generator at Dunedin in 1925, and was carried on into the 1940 Centennial Exhibition at Wellington.

Arthur Stephenson's Australian Pavilion standing tall and white, and severly elegant. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, Eileen Deste Collection, PAColl-3036, F-36213-1/2.

Arthur Stephenson's Australian Pavilion standing tall and white, and severly elegant. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, Eileen Deste Collection, PAColl-3036, F-36213-1/2.

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The pavilions of foreign governments in international exhibitions overseas were normally located separately from the main or local theme buildings, as their purposes generally differed. Anscombe proposed that this practice be followed at Rongotai and provided two suitable sites opposite each other, flanking the visitors' approach on the main entry axis and ceremonially marked by echelons of inclined lance-like flagpoles. The United Kingdom and Australian governments were approached during 1938 seeking their participation; and their pavilions were designed—very late in the project—by separate overseas architects, Anscombe playing no part in their design, detail or character.15

The British government's pavilion, its white walls conservatively topped by flat-relief friezes and gilded flutings, and dignified by groups of pilasters backlit in green at its angles, was designed by George Pratt of the Exhibitions and Fairs Division, UK Department of Overseas Trade. The remarkable Australian pavilion, standing tall and white and severely elegant, was the work of Arthur Stephenson, who had designed Australia's display for the New York World's Fair which opened in May 1939.16 This was to be the first New Zealand foothold for his firm of Stephenson & Turner from Sydney. (Stephenson had earlier visited Finland to see the architect Alvar Aalto's famed work—with evident effect on his own.)17 It was a handsome building, designed with clarity and elan. Stephenson demonstrated here with persuasive force the dramatic simplicity of functionalism in the modern movement's terms, glassy and articulate—and with only a trace of residual classicism in its monumentally proportioned portico, 60 feet high (18.3m). A 'palace of light' at night, it was widely admired by commentators, one of whom said: 'Grace and simplicity are its arresting features.'18

It needs to be recalled that, at this time, two opposing standpoints had acutely divided the world of architectural ideas during the 1930s: those of art deco and of the modern movement. The first, largely Vienna-seeded and Paris-promulgated, was an imaginative style continuing from crafts of the past, fired afresh by dynamic machine-age glamour and exoticism, and was primarily decorative and populist in its sources and broad appeal. The second, more an international doctrine than a style, broke away from historical continuities and adopted abstract geometrical forms, functionally pure and freed to meet the needs of its occupants, and was primarily rational as well as symbolic of machine-age efficiency. By 1939 the battle between these two attitudes was raging worldwide. Over the following dozen years the art deco idiom would gradually fade under the disciplined creativity of the dominant modern movement. But remarkably, and visibly in Wellington in 1939-40, a direct confrontation of the factions was played out in the Centennial Exhibition grounds between Anscombe's smoothly decorative main buildings and Stephenson's Australian Pavilion, the boldly radical interloper.

To some observers, conscious of the rapid advance of functionalism in European architecture, Stephenson's crisp design in the strictly modern manner made the nearby page 50 art deco exhibition buildings look rather dated. Nevertheless Anscombe's style did represent New Zealand of the late 1930s fairly enough: looking just a little provincial in character, some five to ten years behind those powerful ideas from Europe. After all, at a popular level this was still our post-Napier modern style, simplified by the later influence of American non-functional 'streamline deco'. Its use in this Exhibition conveyed a promise of an exciting future, expressed in suitably 'local' terms.

In America, in the aftermath of the depression, surprisingly few buildings other than shopfronts and interiors had been erected in this late streamlined form of the art deco style.19 Indeed, apart from some of the sweepingly futuristic pavilions at New York's 1939 World's Fair, it is likely that the 1940 Centennial Exhibition at Wellington was the most extensive manifestation of 'streamline deco' buildings in the world. More's the pity that they were only temporary!

Recently I unearthed an exercise book of mine from about 1940 in which I had commented on works by local architects, with supreme confidence in my judgement as a 14-year-old enthusiast of design. For whatever value it may have, I quote verbatim my brief appraisal of Anscombe's architectural works at the time:

One of the successful exponents of the contemporary 'streamline' style, Edmund Anscombe maintains a high standard of design in this rather hackneyed field. His works are characterised by rounded corners, curved glass and a considerable amount of rich surface ornament, often Maori. This ornamentation, however, is usually restrained and not superfluous or jazz-modern. Besides his greatest work—the Centennial Exhibition—he has designed several high-class flat-buildings and houses, as well as several other buildings, large and small.

About his Centennial Exhibition buildings, I went on to proffer observations from my youthful visits.

14 acres of very modern buildings. Construction temporary—timber frame covered with asbestos sheathing. Main feature massive Centennial Tower. Several subsidiary towers of excellent design. Main building in plan of three Us enclosing three courts. Most of the smaller buildings were dismantled after the Exhibition closed; but the main buildings are now used as quarters for Air Force trainees. (Brilliant Australian Pavilion was the most outstanding building, with glass used very extensively. British Pavilion was very dignified and impressive.) These last two were finished white, remainder dark cream. Colourful lighting effects at night.20

Mention of Maori ornament above is a reminder that, in the 1930s, a number of architects adopted motifs based on koru spirals, tukutuku stepped repeats, chevron notching and looped rafter patterns. On art deco buildings overseas, rectangular page 51 panels of dense low-relief patterns, often cast in plaster, had been characteristically set in plain wall surfaces. From the mid-1920s on, French-style decorative designs rich with petalled rosettes, chevrons and curling fronds had become very popular in the US for such panels. Evidently our local architects were prompted to seek local equivalents, and found in Maori designs unexpectedly similar forms within the universal family of geometric and plant figures—spirals, diagonals, unfurling fronds, notchings, zigzags and the like.

Devices of this nature were widely applied by Anscombe, often in full relief, as light-catching rhythmical ornament throughout the Centennial Exhibition. On the base of the Kupe sculpture group, for instance, Maori motifs were blended with art deco devices in an effortless eclectic mix. Both soundshells were bordered by spiral-topped deep fins; and one of them had moulded frieze bands of interlaced rafter pattern. Areas are noted on the working drawings as 'carved Maori motif' below the ribs on the tower face as well as on two unusual upright features, vaguely resembling carved meeting house poutahu centre poles, which were attached above the 'Pioneer' sculptures on the terrace below.

Anscombe's Wellington flats at 212 Oriental Parade (built in 1938) have discreet panels of low-relief ornament in the US manner, based on motifs very close to Maori forms. The Wellington architects Crichton, McKay & Haughton designed numerous Bank of New Zealand branches throughout the 1930s featuring direct Maori motifs, extensively and respectfully, on both internal and external surfaces. An outstanding 'Maori deco' example is their BNZ branch in Napier (now the ASB Bank), dating from the reconstructions of 1932. Painted Maori rafter patterns adorned the banking hall and were also skilfully converted into bas-relief panels outside, where the essence of poupou wood carving as well was translated to moulded plaster motifs.21 Such applications were seen at the time, unselfconsciously, as a distinctive localisation of New Zealand buildings. (It happens that my architectural teeth were cut in V. P. Haughton's office some eleven years later, where my fledgling work included drawing up bank fittings, screens and vent grilles still based on Maori designs—perhaps the BNZ 'house style' by then. Moreover, the chief draftsman by 1943 was Frank Whitwell—who had previously been senior draftsman for Edmund Anscombe on the Centennial Exhibition project.)

In the Centennial Exhibition design Edmund Anscombe showed his ability to handle large-scale projects with confidence and skill, evident in his conceptual clarity as well as in his controlled elaboration to meet particular purposes. This was allied with the administrative strength to organise and command all aspects of the project, if at times with a certain testiness on procedural matters. Structural engineering and the design of electrical and mechanical services were handled within his own firm. Perusal of the Centennial Exhibition Company's voluminous files22 reveals that this project was no different from any other major constructional undertaking in its minutiae of demands, tiresome steps toward decision making, drawn-out dealings page 52 to obtain approvals from authorities and to reduce high tenders, and constant firm control despite delays and distractions. A battler by nature, Anscombe gave full attention to such matters while keeping his creative eye alert. His success was borne out by the freshness, coherence and light touch of the buildings, designed for the public's enjoyment.

The show was over by May 1940. The central buildings remained—more or less— for the next decade, being taken over immediately for wartime uses. The Air Force utilised many of the facilities to house barracks and an initial training school for aircrews from mid-1940 onward. Other areas were used by the de Havilland aircraft factory, set up in 1939 across the aerodrome (and still there until 1999 as Wellington's airport terminal). At least one of the stripped main exhibition halls23 was used for the assembly of Tiger Moth trainers for delivery to the Air Force. A major fire destroyed one of the remaining courts in 1946. Some areas were used for bulk storage, and other parts were dismantled for airport expansion. By 1950 a rickety one-third of the main complex still stood; but its days were soon ended by inevitable demolition. Today, nothing remains to be seen of New Zealand's fine Centennial Exhibition on its Rongotai site

1 Records of New Zealand Centennial Exhibition Company Ltd (NZCECL), at Wellington City Archives (WCA): series 1995/4, files 646-47.

2 P. L. Wiener, 'World's Fairs', in Paul Zucker ed, New Architecture and City Planning (New York: Ayer Co Publishers, 1944), p.108.

3 See table in Wiener,c World's Fairs', p. 109.

4 'Records' op. cit., at WCA, 1939 Block Plan in file 160. Kingsford Smith St. was later relocated to the west, where the open Courts of 'Progress' and 'Pioneers' lay. The main entrance was at the present-day airfield tarmac in front of Westside Hangars. Tirangi Rd. was later extended to the south where the reflecting pools are shown between the main complex and the two overseas pavilions. The central avenue may be imagined crossing just north of George Bolt St.

5 F. Kieslcr, Contemporary Art Applied to the Store and its Display (London: 1930), p.43.

6 R. G. Wilson, The Machine Age in America, 1918-1941 (New York: Harry Abrams, 1986), p.57.

7 The flaring cone idea of indirect lighting was originated by Hans Poelzig, the German Expressionist architect, in his 1919 Grosses Schauspielhaus, Berlin: see illust. in C. Robinson and R. H. Bletter, Skyscraper Style: Art Deco New York (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), p.58.

8 Contract working drawings, WCA.

9 Ibid.

10 The exterior illuminations were planned and carried through by the city's Electricity Department with spectacular success. See 'Records' op. cit., at WCA, file 486. See also F. G. Barker's Photographic Album for M.E.D, [1940], at WCA.

11 Fletcher Construction Co Ltd and Love Construction Co Ltd combined forces as contractor for the two stages of the main Exhibition building contracts under the name of 'Fletcher and Love'.

2 P. L. Wiener, 'World's Fairs', in Paul Zucker ed, New Architecture and City Planning (New York: Ayer Co Publishers, 1944), p.108.

13 E. Anscombe, The Inside History of the New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition (London: 1928); (in 'Records' op. cit., at WCA, file 647).

14 G. H. Edgell, The American Architecture of Today (New York: Scribner, 1928), pp.42-56, esp. fig. 42 plans.

15 'Records' op. cit., at WCA: see file 50 for UK Pavilion; file 32 for Australian Pavilion.

16 Ibid., statement in correspondence, file 32; and see P. Goad below.

17 P. Goad, 'Pavilions and National Identity: Australia and Finland at the 1939 New York World's Fair' in Loyalty and Disloyalty in the Architecture of the British Empire and Commonwealth: Paper from 13th Annual Conference (Auckland) of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand (University of Melbourne, 1996).

18 Evening Post, 3 November 1939.

19 D. P. Handlin, American Architecture (London: Thames and Hudson, 1985), p.211.

20 W. Toomath, personal papers; unpubl. [1940].

21 Both patterns are closely similar to painted rafter patterns in the Maori carving school at Rotorua in the 1930s, clearly shown in W. J. Phillipps Maori Carving Illustrated (Wellington: Reed, 1955), p.5. Significantly, the fine photograph was taken by J. Chapman-Taylor, indicating the well-known architect's interest.

22 'Records' op. cit., at WCA.

23 Illust. in The Weekly News, 1 November 1944 (unidentified in illustration title). See also reproduction in Those Were The Days: The 1940s (Auckland: Hodder Moa Beckett, 1988),p.l04.