The New Zealand Home: New series on our architectural history is right on track

Architect Ken Crosson (left) and Goran Paladin hit the road in a classic Jag in the new TVNZ series The New Zealand Home.
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Architect Ken Crosson (left) and Goran Paladin hit the road in a classic Jag in the new TVNZ series The New Zealand Home.

How do you know where you're going if you don't know where you've come from?

That's essentially what architect Ken Crosson asks sidekick Goran Paladin (Our First Home) in the first episode of TVNZ's The New Zealand Home, but he gives it an architectural spin.

Paladin wants to renovate his Birkdale "do-up"; more importantly his dream is to live in a truly great New Zealand home. But first he needs to know what that is, which is where Crosson can help – with a boys' own road trip in a classic 1960s Mark II Jaguar.

Crosson and Paladin hit the road in a 1960s Mark II Jaguar.
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Crosson and Paladin hit the road in a 1960s Mark II Jaguar.

"Ken's going to take me on a journey of discovery," Paladin says. "He's going to show me his world – a world where I know nothing, and where he knows, well everything."

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The Martin house in Hawke's Bay, designed by the late architect John Scott, features in the first episode of The New ...
CRAIG MARTIN

The Martin house in Hawke's Bay, designed by the late architect John Scott, features in the first episode of The New Zealand Home.

The pair start on the top of Mt Eden, which seems appropriate as they scan the largest metropolis in the country. Standing on top of the mountain, it's easy to overlook the bubbling angst of the housing crisis going on below.

But that's not what this is about. This series is a step back into the past; it's a look at all the factors that have influenced the way our houses are designed and the way we live in them, and what that says about us.

It's a serious subject, but the professional and the sidekick make it fun. Paladin is open and honest, albeit a bit silly: "I hate history," he says before they turn up to speak with Maori architect Rau Hoskins. He then seems to rather enjoy it.

The graphics help. The Jag appears to drive right back in time through several centuries as early Maori architecture is discussed.

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And, perhaps more disconcertingly, it also traverses the country with unnatural haste. That's because it appears this story will be told chronologically – with references to the present – rather than geographically. One minute the car is rolling along in Auckland, and the next it's pulling up in Hawke's Bay to look at the Martin house designed by the late architect John Scott and built in 1969.

Scott, says Crosson, was one of the great visionaries of his time and is widely credited as being the first Maori architect. "In an era ('50s) obsessed with the divisions between Maori and Pakeha, his designs were about inclusion rather than separation."

Bruce, the original owner of the Martin house, still lives there, and he's a real talent. Because let's face it, great architects need great clients, and John Scott had one here.

"John educated us on the way through, so we understood the idea of the open plan (layout)," Martin says. "To us it wasn't a surprise; to nearly everybody else it was. We didn't want carpet on the floor so he suggested using these tiles. We didn't want wallpaper, so we were left with the raw concrete block."

The Martin house comprises a series of small linked volumes, not unlike the collection of buildings in a traditional Maori community. A clever graphic overlay shows how the roof gable of another John Scott house mimics a Maori whare. 

If this first episode is indicative of the whole series, then it's a must-watch. It's clearly aimed at a general audience. We can all learn something, and maybe those critics of contemporary architecture will pause to understand how and why it works, and how great architecture endures. 

And there's an added bonus. Crosson is clearly a man of many talents – his voice is music to the ears.

The New Zealand Home, TV1, Friday 7.30pm.

 - Stuff

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