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Design Review: Volume 5, Issue 5 (April 1954)



… One thing that emerged fairly clearly from the Royal Tour gatherings in Wellington was the notable lack of a place in which to gather. Most activity of a formal outdoor kind was centred about the entrance to Parliament Buildings and the Cenotaph. Plenty of space there? Yes, but its everyday population of power poles, flower beds, grass plots and iron railings prevented all but the early bystanders from getting a look in.

There is nothing wrong about having Cenotaph in the middle of a busy street—look at Whitehall—but it should be possible, when the occasion arises, for that important monument to become the centre of a large, clear space in which crowds can gather to take part in the ceremony.

We should like to see the railings and the greater part of the planting in front of the Government Buildings removed. With these hazards out of the way it is possible to visualize an area of pleasantly designed paving as a forecourt to the Buildings, as an extension to Lambton Quay for assembly and as a generous pavement for the more aimless pedestrians—an ill-served group in this City—to stroll or sit in. Plant trees, certainly, but tall-growing shade trees set in the paving and not, like the desultory kind already there, in the solitary confinement of an official flower bed.

page 102
page 103

To the Editor


The exhibition of the housing competition entries has reinforced an impression I have about New Zealand designers.

I feel that the minimum in design has unconsciously become an ultimate objective in itself. In pursuing the essential and apparently elusive immediate aim of an economic minimum, sight has been lost of this aim's relationship to an ultimate. In fact, sight of an ultimate objective has been lost altogether. Minimal proposals will never satisfy laymen or designers until they are clearly and honestly recognised for what they are, mere starting points towards the visually rich and sensuous experience which sensitive design, under more ideal circumstances, can be.

We tend to recognise our standards as the lowest common denominator. We do not admit their limitations nor have we the direction to aspire beyond them. We complacently accept them and even revere them.

It is significant that the young architect, regarded by his contemporaries as a good ‘minima’ designer, when granted more generous means is often at a loss for direction. In relating his approach to a minimum rather than aspiring to an ultimate, he fails to create what could possibly be a ‘work of art’.

I believe that it is timely and vital that the basic principles of contemporary architecture be recalled, integrated with recent knowledge and experience, and forcefully restated. From these a concept of an ideal, to which to aspire and relate our immediate objective in housing design, may be regained.

I am, etc.,

R. N. Uren.


At the Editor

Extracts from a review of our last number by W. D. Wilson (of Group Architects) in “Here and Now”, March 1954 (q.v.)

… “tatty ‘Your New House’ or ‘good clean fun’ type of pulp … whimsy and unsupported generalisation … weaker, less pointed, and less coherent than it could be … the easy assumption … the failure to thump … the failure to show … the failure to evaluate … the passing off … ugh! just how tattily suburban is it possible to become? … Congratulations on a first class cover.”

The Editor hastens to acknowledge that the cover of our last issue was designed by John Drawbridge.

• • • In this issue of Design Review we print a special plea for the preservation of old St. Paul's, Wellington's principal Anglican Church. The future of this charming building seems endangered by suggestions that part of its fabric be incorporated in the structure of the proposed new Cathedral. This article has been contributed by an architect who writes as a life-long parishioner of St. Paul's, predisposed, shall we say, by his training to appreciate its virtues. We think that he neither overstates its merits nor underestimates the measure of its loss.

In a country richly endowed with good buildings it would possibly be of less importance if one such as this were to be neglected and that neglect used as an excuse for demolition. Here, by circumstance of growth, we are architecturally poor and we simply cannot afford to lose what little we possess. If it is said that the Church is unable to maintain St. Paul's while building the new Cathedral, then it must be pointed out that in most parts of the world today if a structure of demonstrable quality becomes a burden to its owner it is appropriate for the community at large to take over the responsibility.

• • • Having acquired the occupancy of some down-town floor space in Wellington about a year ago, the Architectural Centre, somewhat to its surprise, now has a flourishing Gallery on its hands. The occasional exhibition was certainly intended from the outset, but it was realized only later that, once begun, the work of showing paintings or sculpture or buildings or pottery to the public can go on as long as there is work of sufficient merit to show. People will continue to come to see it and there is no indication that the source is drying up yet. On the contrary, the existence of a Gallery is its own best insurance—the opportunity to exhibit encourages the production of exhibits.

The Gallery has also shown that there are rich fields other than that of local current work to explore. Already two outstanding loan collections have been drawn from private and public sources and exhibited to gratifyingly large attendances. The first was a show covering a wide range of the works of Frances Hodgkins, an extremely rare survey in time and technique of this artist's paintings and lithographs. Dr. Beaglehole's opening address to this exhibition is reproduced in this issue. The second loan collection included works by several contemporary European and American artists who are perfectly well known and often abused in this country, but whose original works are rarely seen.

The Gallery has now begun its second season. Its value is unquestioned, the only needs are private effort and public support to sustain it. The latter is your concern, the former is the unbelievably demanding, voluntary task of a group of people within the Architectural Centre who have given and are giving their time to the continuance of the Gallery. With a broad hint that public support is the best encouragement, this editorial, representing the Centre, wishes to record the fine efforts of all those responsible for a successful first year of exhibitions.