Inside New Zealand's Modernist Masterpieces

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Mark Brown and Fairhead, Orr-Walker House, 1965
Mark Brown and Fairhead, Orr-Walker House, 1965Photography by Mary Gaudin

A vivid new photo book explores modernist, mid-century New Zealand homes

Unless you're particularly well versed in architectural history, it may come as a surprise to discover that between the late 1930s and the late 1970s New Zealand was a hotspot of modernist architecture. The vastly influential movement which emerged in Europe in the 1920s made its way to the island country via the influx of European immigrants around the time of the Second World War, but it quickly found support among New Zealand architects, designers and craftspeople too.

Rejecting decoration in favour of functionalism, modernism encouraged a more informal manner of living. Open-plan kitchens and living areas replaced segregated social spaces, while great pains were taken to ensure total harmony between interior and exterior, courtesy of floor-to-ceiling windows, terraces and patios. As with European modernism, furniture (particularly built-in units) was an important design facet, but by the 1950s Pan-Pacific design elements also infiltrated the movement and local crafts like pottery and weaving became increasingly popular, alongside lively patterns and colours and textural elements like woven mats, cane furniture and bamboo screens. 

Now, a wonderful new picture book by New Zealand-born, Montpellier-based photographer Mary Gaudin revisits some of the best of these buildings in their present state, exploring the way they "were and are lived in, as well as showing details of the designs and the materials used in their construction." 14 key houses were selected for the purpose, ranging from early 1950s structures like Ernst Plischke's Lang House to 1970s houses by John Scott and Ted Wood. 

The result is a vivid celebration of the modernist manifesto in all its bright, airy, streamlined glory – from the verdant surroundings, so perfectly suited to their assigned dwellings, to the slick yet pleasantly worn-in interiors. As Gaudin notes, "These houses aren't new, they’re old and lived in. They can be a little dusty, slightly worn around the edges and all have what antique dealers like to call 'patina'. But they’re perfect in the minds of the people who live in them because of what they represent, which when designed, was a better way of living."

Down the Long Driveway, You'll See It by Mary Gaudin and Matthew Arnold is available now.