Napier, NZ is a remarkable cityscape of Art Deco architecture. As beautiful as it is, its very existence is the result of a great destructive tragedy. In 1931, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake lasting 1:31 minutes demolished the city, rearranged the sea coast and forever changed the topography of the area. During our seven week visit to New Zealand, we experienced a brief 10-second rock and roll aftershock of the devastating Akaroa earthquake in 2016. I found it a sobering glimpse of what an earthquake means to a community. For Napier in 1931, the added economic weight of the Great Depression would seem to dash any hope the town could rebuild itself. Commercial buildings and homes all needed to be rebuilt. But within two years Napier did rise from its destruction and as a result built a modern, artful city.
Art Deco was the last of the “total style” movements and from 1920-1940 its influence was seen around the world (think Chrysler building in NYC.) “Total style” influenced paintings, sculpture, clothing, furniture, buildings, jewelry, ocean liners, and even vacuum cleaners. The architecture of Art Deco was seen as a modernistic break from timber and plaster or classic design. Napier turned to Art Deco as it was the current style and for practical reasons, of reduced cost and increased safety. Rebuilding from the earthquake was done using reinforced concrete. The design rounded corners and used limited facade decoration reducing the building costs.
The Art Deco movement extended into the landscape and garden style. The influence of machines was changing everything; work, leisure time, opportunities for women, and the landscape changed as well. The simplicity of lines for the homes is repeated in the simplicity of line in the landscape. Driveways were softened with lawn strips, reducing glare, and reducing the need for additional paving material. The use of geometrically shaped and placed evergreens reinforced the architecture lines. Limited plantings kept gardening maintenance to a minimum and the landscape looking good all year round. It is important the landscaping not hide the decorative elements of the home. A row of white rose trees was then and is now still popular adding a flush of blooms for a portion of the year and added softness.
The use of geometrically shaped and placed evergreens reinforced the architecture lines. Limited plantings kept gardening maintenance to a minimum and the landscape looking good all year round. It is important the landscaping not hide the decorative elements of the home. A row of white rose trees was then and is now still popular adding a flush of blooms for a portion of the year and added softness.
Visiting Napier at any time is a fascinating experience but since 1980 Napier has been celebrating its unique art deco cityscape. The Marewa suburb of Napier is dominated by art deco homes accentuated with gardens that echo the modernistic style. Wide streets and broad sidewalks make for a lovely garden stroll. An annual five-day festival in mid-February brings visitors from all over the world. Visitors and local residents wearing the styles of the 1920’s, tour about in vintage cars, enjoy period entertainment and tours of the area.
Modernist garden design continues to evolve though in my garden travels it is still the exception rather than the norm. I find modernistic gardens distinctive and intriguing. I’m always struck by the impact of a limited plant palette and the statement geometric shaped plants make in a landscape. I’m not sure I would be content with that in my own garden but wandering through Napier’s Marewa suburb surely tempt me to reconsider the style.