Looking at NZ's architectural heritage

JILLIAN ALLISON-AITKEN
Last updated 16:04 21/03/2014

A trio of New Zealand books celebrate our unique architecture, and looks at the buildings we have lost.

BOOK REVIEWS: New Zealand's Lost Heritage
By Richard Wolfe (New Holland Publishers, RRP $50)

The preservation of our historic buildings is often a topic of debate in this country, with passionate arguments for (it is our history) and against (usually the cost).

We have not always had a great record when it comes to keeping our bricks and mortar - or indeed weatherboard - history in tact, and in this book historian Richard Wolfe features 20 of the country's more notable structures that no longer exist.

Some have been lost to earthquakes, some to fires, and others to what is often the hardest to deal with: progress.

The author has an obvious passion for our heritage buildings which is hard not to be carried along with.

Southern gems featured include the Invercargill Post Office and the Dee St Maternity Hospital, where all of us Invercargill natives of a certain age made our debut.

Wolfe takes a look at what we have lost, and why.

With a potted history of all the featured buildings, the book gives an insight into our past, charting the country's social history through architectural heritage.

Modern: NZ Homes from 1938 to 1977
Edited by Jeremy Hansen (Random House, RRP $75)

Modern architecture is one of those topics that can be incredibly polarising. However, the range of what falls into the "modern" category is infinite because nearly every home design is modern in its own time.

New Zealand is home to some absolute little (and not so little) gems when it comes to modern houses and interiors built between the late 1930s and mid-1970s.

This book takes a look at a couple of dozen projects by various New Zealand architects, many of them well known, showcasing houses that are increasingly sought after and admired. Houses from across the country are featured, with the southern offerings including a couple from Dunedin and one in Alexandra.

The result is a fascinating look at New Zealand's history, with houses that are every bit as liveable and exciting now as they were when first built.

Alongside stunning photographs of the homes is text written by architecture writers.

However, while their words are interesting, it really is the photographs that tell the story.

I had always thought I was not a fan of modern home design until I bought my last house: I walked in the door and within minutes knew I would be buying the house.

And, much like the houses featured in this book, it has stood the test of time.

At first glance the book might appear to be a little too specialised for the general market but the beauty of the design featured is surprisingly captivating.

R A Lawson: Victorian Architect of Dunedin
By Norman Ledgerwood, photography by Graham Warman (Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust of NZ, RRP $75)

Victorian architect R A Lawson played a big part in shaping the way Dunedin looks to this day and this book pays tribute to the work of the man.

Dunedin prospered following the discovery of gold in Otago in the early 1860s, becoming the largest and richest city in the country.

That growth extended to the buildings in the city and Scottish- born architect Robert Arthur Lawson won a competition for the design of the First Presbyterian Church of Otago.

In a touch under three decades, Lawson made his mark on not just Dunedin, but other parts of Otago and indeed Southland.

First Presbyterian Church of Otago is considered to be his most significant work but Knox Presbyterian Church, Larnach Castle, Otago Boys' High School, East Gore Presbyterian Church and the Dunedin Municipal Building are every bit as impressive.

This book is packed with photographs of the buildings he created, which is an amazing body of work.

It is probably likely to appeal to a niche market but that niche market will be impressed.

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