Napier – Art Deco New Zealand
In this case, Napier’s Art Deco history started on the night of 3 February 1931 when an earthquake struck. Measuring a huge 7.8 magnitude, it lasted two and a half minutes and levelled most of Napier and nearby Hastings. Furthermore, it lifted around 40 km² of the seabed as much as 2.7 metres to become dry land.
In fact, with the earthquake and subsequent fires destroying the centre of town, it was like a blank canvas to work on. The construction of over 100 new buildings was mainly in the Art Deco style. This specifically, was the architectural style of the time. And luckily, it was fairly inexpensive due to its box-like designs. This was helpful due to so many buildings needing construction and due to the global recession at the time.
Most new buildings were constructed to be a maximum of two storeys high, due to concerns about future earthquakes. One of the main architects and advisors in the rebuilding process was J. A. Louis Hay. A local himself, with an interest in Frank Lloyd Wright. Hay had his own architectural practice, building houses for affluent Hawkes Bay residents before the earthquake.
Consequently, Napier has the highest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the world. Indeed, I would thoroughly recommend a walk around the town to view the pastel-hued buildings. Whatever the weather, Napier, its architecture, tea shops and people are a joy. (We visited the day after cyclone Debbie had roared through town!)
Napier is rightly proud of its buildings and to emphasise this rich architectural heritage the Art Deco Trust was set up in 1985. Its aims are protecting and promoting Napier’s Art Deco buildings. Holding an Art Deco festival in February each year, Napier revels in its Phoenix-like history. See The Art Deco Trust website for more details.
Guidebooks and walking tours are available. With this in mind, a number of information boards to point out the buildings are scattered about the streets. Below is a selection of pictures from my visit, click on any to make them bigger.
Napier – Art Deco New Zealand Gallery
For more information about the earthquake, see here