Last, Loneliest, Loveliest..

“Last, loneliest, loveliest…” is the title of  New Zealand’s first national exhibition at la Biennale di Venezia, taking place from 7 June – 23 November, 2014. The Creative Director is David Mitchell, a director of Mitchell & Stout Architects in Auckland, and New Zealand’s participation has been instigated by the New Zealand Institute of Architects. Tony van Raat, who is the Commissioner and head of the Department of Architecture Unitec, Auckland,  presented to us yesterday their very first entry at the biennale!

He started his speech in Maori language as a sign of respect to the Maori tribe..

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early exchange in the pacific: a maori bartering a crayfish with an english naval officer [ascribed to tupaia], 1769, from drawings illustrative of captain cook’s first voyage, 1768–1771. © the british library board

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Last, Loneliest, Loveliest proposes – via a century-long architectural journey that begins with the Auckland War Memorial Museum, a 1920s neo-Classical monument to New Zealand’s fallen soldiers, and ends with the pavilion-like extension to the Auckland Art Gallery (2011) and Shigeru Ban’s ‘Cardboard’ Cathedral (2013) in post-earthquake Christchurch – the survival and evolution of a Pacific architectural tradition within New Zealand.

“Anyone who travels notices that, more and more, things seem to be the same, and our country’s architecture shares in this general uniformity” says David Mitchell. However, Mitchell believes the story of modernity in New Zealand is more complicated than it appears. Despite the effects of globalisation, New Zealand’s architecture is more singular now than it was a century ago, and what sets it apart is its connection to the Pacific way of building.

“The Pacific has a great architectural tradition, although it is rarely honoured,” he says.

“That might be because it is not like European architecture, which is solid and massive and looks permanent. Pacific buildings are timber structures of posts and beams and infill panels and big roofs. It’s a lightweight architecture that’s comparatively transient.” (source)

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wharenui tāne whirinaki at opeke marae, 1920. photo: charles troughton clark. alexander turnbull library, wellington

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He showed us several images from this beautiful country and the islands that form their context, explaining that their neighbors are these places, with NO PEOPLE!  And then he showed us a whole series of houses that New Zealand architects built in the 1950s and 60s, all built with a light structure of big roofs and almost no walls. Of course there are glass walls, you can see how the landscape is present to the building all the time!

In New Zealand we don’t really think about making New Zealand architecture, we just want to make good architecture. Of course if you’re italian you’ll make italian architecture because that’s the new blood, you don’t have to try to be italian to make italian architecture, that’s what you are! It emerges naturaly!

We work in China a lot and what we keep saying to the chinese students is “Look at your own history, there are models for you that might help you to build a new chinese architecture in the 21st century, you don’t just have to copy from international magazines. Your own history is rich and ancient!”

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heke street house, auckland. 1990, designed by david mitchell and julie stout. photo: lucas k. doolan

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clifford-forsyth house, auckland, 1995, designed by patrick clifford of architectus. photo: patrick reynoldsg2

intérieur de la maison publique d’apia, ile opoulou. drawing by e. goupil; lithograph by p. blanchard. first published by gide, 1846.national library of australia

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tristan marler carving the whata-a-rangi for the new zealand pavilion. photo: arch macdonnell

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Any of us can do a drawing of anything. But then you have to turn it into a physical object that people are going to live in, makes you feel different about your drawings, you realise they have a real social purpose. And the whole purpose of architecture i think is to have a positive impact on society, we build for social reasons and architects work for social reasons. You really realise that when you get engaged with the people who are going to live in the building you’re making. When you’re talking to the client who will sleep in the bedromm that you’re drawing, that will bathe their children in the bathroom that you’re designing, that will entertain their friends in the dining room that you’re sketching up for them… And then you build it up for them! It’s a real sense of connection with ordinary people and it’s an incredible connection!

Here you can see a video from the making-of of the pavilion.

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