Art Deco Highlights of Wellington, New Zealand

by Lachlan Finlayson

New Zealand’s premier destination for Art Deco lovers is surely Napier, a city on the east coast of the North Island. It suffered a severe earthquake in 1931, destroying much of the town centre. The subsequent rebuild was executed mainly in the Art Deco Streamline style, and today is a popular tourist destination. Napier now provides a coherent view of what a whole ‘Art Deco town’ looks like, given its excellent state of preservation. 

However, Napier isn’t the only location to spot fine Art Deco-era architecture in New Zealand. I visited Wellington in April this year (2022) and found it has many striking examples from the period that are less well-known than those in Napier, but well worthy of visitors’ attention

Wellington is one of the larger cities in New Zealand and has been the capital since 1865. It is situated on the lowermost coast of the North Island, surrounded by a fine natural harbour. Following the Napier earthquake, and in response to overseas trends in the 1930s, Wellington followed suit with it’s new structures, and many buildings of the era evoked Art Deco themes. Today, these buildings, once home to various business and government bodies, have been lovingly restored and are in use today for various commercial, cultural and social purposes.

Here are some photographic highlights from my visit.

Wellington Fire Station. Photo: Lachlan Finlayson

The Central Fire Station, officially opened in 1937, has a symmetrical façade, a central clock tower and exhibits some typical examples of Art Deco design, decoration and colouration.

Cambridge Pharmacy. Photo: Lachlan Finlayson

The Cambridge Pharmacy, constructed in 1932, is another example of New Zealand Art Deco style, incorporating native Maori designs. It has been carefully restored, at least above street level, where shops now have modern frontages.

The Wellington Free Ambulance Building was built in 1932. Although lacking in finer Art Deco decorative details, it is still clearly of the era. It is interesting that the Art Deco architectural features are prominent not only at the front of the building but also to the sides and rear.

Wellington Railway Station. Photo: Lachlan Finlayson

Though from the same period, the Wellington Railway Station, built between 1934 and 1937, looks more to the past for inspiration rather than the future, as reflected in the design of many other buildings of this era. More conservative clients still preferred a classical look. The crisply geometrical, stepped cornices above the classical portico nod to Art Deco, and without the columns, its outline echoes an Odeon. It is a grand building, still in use today, and one of the busiest railway stations in the country.

I am grateful to the Wellington City Council for their ‘Art Deco Heritage Trail’ brochure, which provided some of the information used in my descriptions above, and has further information on a total of 30 Art Deco buildings and constructions in the central Wellington area. This excellent source of information may be found on the Wellington City Council website.

I encourage members to seek out Art Deco architecture elsewhere in New Zealand and to share them in a brief article. There is also a coffee table book on NZ Art Deco architecture to help you plan your visit.  

Further reading:

Art Deco Trust, Napier

Club Moderne

Art Deco New Zealand, An illustrated Guide, Terry Moyle (2016) – Copies are available on eBay. The society has approached the publisher to establish whether this book is still in print as it is unavailable on Amazon UK.


1 thought on “Art Deco Highlights of Wellington, New Zealand

  1. Lovely to see your photos! A number of posts at my blog include photos of Art Deco in Southland and Otago, in New Zealand. Here’s a link (saves you having to search at my site): https://exploringcolour.wordpress.com/?s=%22art+deco%22

    Like

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