New Zealand: Design, City, Architecture
Here are some things you may never have known about New Zealand: It is the second closest landmass to Antarctica. (The closest is Patagonia.) It was the last body of land to be inhabited by humans. (The native Maori people arrived by boat in or around the 12th century AD.) And it has fascinating designers. (Lots and lots of them.)
In fact it’s a kind of designer’s paradise, especially for graphic designers. With a low cost but high standard of living, you can afford to have a freelance career if you can afford to buy a computer–just look at self-made Kiwi internet and branding design gurus like Nick Fracture, Cleve Cameron and Jack Yan.
Cameron spoke at this years Semi-Permanent festival, New Zealand’s answer to New York’s ICFF. It’s hard to explain just what he does–except perhaps to call it avant advertising, a kind of public relations practice that combines a keen visual sense with conceptual flair with a little bit of Dada. The same could be said of Jack Yan: neither conventional advertising consultant nor graphic artist, Yan was described to me by the editor of one Auckland design magazine as “everywhere at once”, skipping from branding conferences to design fairs to product launches. And then there’s the protean Fracture, who won Best Interactive Design at last year’s SXSW festival, and richly deserved to: just look at the website linked to his name above.
These exotic, hybrid creatures thrive in the rarefied climate of New Zealand, along with designers of all kinds, especially young ones–it’s startling the number of people under the age of 35 who are engaged in the field. But why?
One design-savvy Aucklander who declined to be named told me, “There’s really not a whole lot else to do.” It’s true. With only 4m people, the country fits less than half the population of New York City in a landmass twice the size of New York State; Auckland, at 1m, isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis. And then some of the city’s best design stores don’t seem to be investing in the local scene: international designers are the stock and trade of most of the city’s furniture and interior design retailers, at the expense of homegrown talent.
Nevertheless, Auckland–and the country as a whole–has a number of urban charms that help to sustain an atmosphere of excitement and creativity, and those charms bear naming. The city’s built environment is truly uncanny: imagine Los Angeles, reconstructed on a 1:8 scale with fewer expressways and more oversize tropical flowers. The bulk of the city’s housing stock is little cottages in a kind of cutesy-fied carpenter’s Gothic, thrown together with California bungalows of sometimes doubtful verisimilitude. Kiwi architects, trained in the US in the early 20th century, brought back our West Coast vogue for Arts and Crafts-style ramblers, and proceeded to practice an improvised version well into the 1970s; the results are mixed, but always surprising.
This is even truer in the smaller southern city of Christchurch, which also harbors an intriguing creative scene. There the California-ness of the place is made even more dreamily unreal by the presence of a quaint late-19th century downtown (above) that looks something like Main Street, Disneyland. Christchurch has perhaps the oddest architectural back story of them all: founded by a bunch of Pre-Raphaelite religious zealots in the 1850s, the city was to be a re-establishment of the medieval English town order, lords, smithies, the whole bit, along with a bonafide Gothic revival architect to help set the right tone. (Did the Puritans bring an architect with them to Plymouth Rock? Very doubtful.) The city’s beautiful Neo-Gothic buildings are a testament to that heritage.
Contemporary buildings in New Zealand–notably the Christchurch Art Gallery by the Buchan Group, and the cluster of contemporary structures in Auckland’s new Viaduct District, which seems to be expanding daily–show how well the country has absorbed the glass-fronted iconic tendency that prevailed in international design over the last decade. Still, it would be refreshing to see a more regionalist bent, something better suited to the climate. On which point, a last word and a warning, lest this post be taken as an unconditional advertisement for the designer tourist: For some bizarre reason, homes in New Zealand are neither insulated nor well-heated, two things which are much missed in the chilly and damp winter and spring. If you’re an architect and you do go over there–and you should–see if you can do something about that.
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 2 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 3 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 4 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 5 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 6 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 7 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 8 Attorney Actually Starting to Believe Own Bullshit
- 9 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Strartup
- 10 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook