Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Acceptable in the Eighties

In response to the overwhelming clamour from two gentle readers, herewith is my paper on art deco, my Napier papier. I presented it yesterday at the Department of Art History's inaugural Art History Postgraduate Conference and it was well-received. I shall probably never eat lunch in Napier again, at least not without food-taster, but that is the price of scholarship. Someone at the conference asked me what I was doing with my thesis, to which I replied: "making enemies."

At last happy, normal buildings:
the invention of Art Deco and
the reinvention of Napier

The title of this paper is in part a paraphrase of the title of Richard Killeen’s 1978 work At last a happy, normal painting. Killeen’s title appears to satirise the angst-ridden nature of New Zealand painting, while the painting appears to offer an alternative; I have borrowed it in order to suggest that the enthusiasm for Art Deco in Napier might be motivated by more than an interest in historic buildings, that what goes on in Napier might be a very peculiar yearning for normality.

Napier is the Art Deco city. We know this to be true because we are so told by the City Council, by tourism promoters and by the Napier Art Deco Trust. We are also so told by architectural historians, although they speak with less certainty than the others. However, the uncertainty of the architectural historians is more than compensated by the enthusiasm of overseas experts, such as Sir Neil Cossons, the former Chair of English Heritage, who has stated “Napier represents the most complete and significant group of Art Deco era buildings in the world and is comparable to Bath, England as an example of a planned townscape in a cohesive style.”

But what exactly is Art Deco? I only ask because the Napier Art Deco Trust asks the very same question, and helpfully provides an answer:
The style we now call Art Deco originated in Europe in the early years of the 20th Century, and its heyday was from 1920 to 1940. It became widely known following the great Exposition des Arts Modernes Decoratifs et Industriels, held in Paris in 1925 and from which its name was ultimately derived. By the late 1930s it was in its streamlined phase and after World War 2, the International Style, devoid of all decoration, held sway. Not until the late 1960s did people begin to rediscover it and take it seriously.

The Trust continues in its explanation with a list. Art Deco enthusiasts seem to like lists. They like to categorise, to identify characteristics. This list identifies the “decorative themes” which the Trust says can be found in Art Deco. These include:

* Sunbursts and fountains - representing the dawn of a new modern age.
* The Skyscraper shape - symbolic of the 20th century.
* Symbols of speed, power and flight - the exiting new developments in transport and communications.
* Geometric shapes - representing the machine and technology which it was thought would solve all our problems.
* The new woman - revelling in her recently won social freedoms.
* Breaking the rules - cacophonous jazz, short skirts and hair, shocking dances.
* Ancient cultures - for oddly enough, there was a fascination with the civilizations of Egypt and central America.
We are then told that all these themes are represented on the buildings of Napier. This last claim perhaps goes a little too far. The New Woman has yet to be found in Napier. Nor are cacophonous jazz and shocking dances represented on the walls of Napier’s buildings. There is a fountain but whether it represents the dawn of a new age is questionable. In the absence of the new woman and other themes, can we be sure that these buildings truly are Art Deco?

We might consult the Art Deco Design Guide, prepared in 1992 by Ann Galloway for the City Council, a book which
provides building owners and prospective developers with a ready reference to the key principles of Art Deco design in general and Napier's Art Deco in particular. It can be used as a source of ideas for redevelopment - so existing buildings can recapture their original style - and for new developments so that new buildings respect the scale and style of their 1930's neighbours.
This book we might regard as the authority on the subject, given that it was published by the city council and has a forward by His Worship the Mayor. However, its definition of Art Deco is not very helpful:
"Art Deco" is now used to describe a wide range of design, from the vivid "jazz" designs of the 1920s to the streamlined architecture of the late 1930s
The term "Art Deco" when applied to architecture refers particularly to the decorative elements of buildings, as well as to their age, shape etc.
It does not explain why the various buildings in Napier described as Art Deco are so unalike. and why they appear to have little in common with other buildings at home and overseas which also are described as Art Deco.

Perhaps then we should seek an academic authority to clarify this matter. The catalogue of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s 2003 exhibition, Art Deco 1910-1939, would seem to be a good place to look. After all, it runs to forty chapters by numerous authors over four hundred and sixty-four pages. If anywhere could provide a definition, surely this must be the place.

However, the exhibition curators reveal in their introduction:
Given that contemporaries themselves associated 'the new spirit in design' with the fleeting, the frivolous and the nakedly commercial, it is perhaps not surprising that some later commentators have doubted whether Art Deco was a style at all.
They go on to quote Rosanna Bossaglia, whose book L’Art Deco was published in 1984:
The critical re-evaluation of which Art Deco today is the object, cannot deny that it consists more of a taste than a style, and this is also responsible for the slippery way it resists theoretical categorisation.
Dottoressa Bossaglia is also quoted in the chapter on Art Deco architecture:
The first question to ask about Art Deco architecture is whether it is legitimate to apply to buildings a definition and concept clearly born in a different context and with a different purpose... specifically that of the decorative arts
The question “what exactly is Art Deco” seems to be impossible to answer, since it does not appear to be exactly anything.

This is a very rum state of affairs. We have a city in New Zealand which declares itself to be an Art Deco City, perhaps the most Art Deco city of them all; and we have a large exhibition mounted by no less than the Victoria and Albert Museum called Art Deco. And yet doubt remains about whether Art Deco exists, one of the doubters being the author of a book called L’Art Deco.

Would that this were the only problem concerning Art Deco Napier. For it seems that Napier has not only this problem of aesthetics, but another of ontology. Although Napier’s questionably Art Deco buildings were built following the earthquake of 1931, it seems that Napier did not become an Art Deco city at that time. The questionably Art Deco buildings seem to have been ignored, possibly forgotten, until recently.

Whilst recent publications about Napier emphasise the Art Deco buildings above anything else the city has to offer, older books say nothing of them. Take, for example, Hawkes Bay in Colour, a picture book published in 1975. Most of the photographs are agricultural in subject matter and only a handful show Napier. None of these show the Art Deco buildings. In 1975, a performing dolphin and a painting contest were considered more worthy of mention.

Take, as another example, Impressions of Napier, a book of drawings by Patricia Dick, a local artist, a book which had the support of the city’s Mayor, Peter Tait, who wrote its forward. She depicts modern buildings, such as the Civic Centre and Victorian buildings, such as the church of St Andrews of the Spit, which recently had been demolished. But of those buildings that were constructed after the earthquake, she draws only one, the Rothmans building.

In case one might think that this forgetfulness is purely a local phenomenon, there is the example of James Siers’ New Zealand, published in 1980, which dispenses with Napier in one small photograph.

The Art Deco buildings fare scarcely better in the official history of history of Napier's first century as a municipality, published in 1975 - Story of Napier, 1874-1974 : footprints along the shore. Here, some buildings are mentioned but not illustrated. Significantly, they are not once called Art Deco. So far as I can tell, the name Art Deco is not used anywhere to describe Napier’s post-quake buildings for the first fifty years of their existence.

So, you might be wondering, when did Napier become an Art Deco city? 1982, that’s when. It was in that year that the Ministry of Works and Development published The Art Deco Architecture of Napier. Its principal author, Heather Ives, was an architecture student who had been commissioned to write the book by the District Architect, who had been impressed that a visiting group of officials from UNESCO had been themselves impressed by the local architecture. As always, it took the intervention of people from Overseas to change the way that New Zealanders see themselves.

The Art Deco Architecture of Napier itself depends heavily on an Overseas influence: Bevis Hillier’s 1968 book Art Deco of the 20s and 30s. Hillier was the Arts Sales correspondent of The Times, the man who covered the London auctions for his paper.

He could not be accused of being a dry academic: he describes the Twenties as "a period of tubular steel, Eton crops, cacti and sexual frankness". And he can be credited effectively with inventing Art Deco. It was he who made the name popular and created the rather vague notion of an art style that is attached to it.

Hillier’s book draws together a diverse, some might say motley, range of objects and gives them a single history. He gives the impression that these objects were made with a single purpose, as if their makers were part of a movement, with a manifesto, as the Futurists had been, or of a school, like the Bauhaus. The truth is otherwise: these objects are the products of individual craftsmen and women. They have no theory. They have no common purpose.

For the future history of Napier, two aspects of Hillier’s work are important. First, he includes buildings among his melange of Art Deco things. Second, his definition of Art Deco is so indistinct that almost anything produced between the two World Wars can be included in this category. That the buildings he illustrates look scarcely like any in the streets of Napier mattered little to Heather Ives or the civic enthusiasts for Art Deco. They can be Art Deco, just as anything else of the period which is neither trenchantly conservative nor daringly futurist can be.

The Art Deco Architecture of Napier brought a new self-awareness to Napier, as well as a new forgetfulness. All of a sudden, the post-quake buildings became the centre of attention, while those that had been cherished were forgotten. The worthy municipal Modernism of the Civic Centre and the War Memorial Hall was abandoned and Art Deco, whatever it was, became the official style of Napier. In the following three years the Napier Art Deco Trust was formed, Peter Wells and Stewart Main made their documentary, The Newest City on the Globe and Art Deco tourism began.

The earliest instance of Art Deco tourism promotion seems to be an article published in the December 1983 edition of Skyway, the Air New Zealand domestic in-flight magazine. It’s author was Peter Shaw, an architectural historian who subsequently would write the official guide to Art Deco Napier. In-flight, Shaw writes of Napier:
Publicity usually concentrates on its maritime aspects: the Marine Parade with its Aquarium, its salt water swimming pool and, of course, the coyly smiling statue of "Pania of the Reef." Now the city is promoting a new attraction - its distinctive architecture.
Warming to his theme, Shaw continues:
Napier, in its appearance brings back memories of the inter-war years of the "bright young things" - those people who were dedicated to forgetting the horrors of World War I and enjoying what remained of their postponed youth.

The current fashion for revivalism, or "nostalgia" has brought the visual styles of the Thirties back with a vengeance. Napier allows the visitor to appreciate the Thirties in their most positive and enjoyable aspect and the city fathers could even contemplate a new promotional slogan - "Napier - Art Deco Capital of New Zealand."
The rest, as they say, is history. Shaw had a central part in that history. His guide - Art Deco Napier: Styles of the Thirties - was published in five editions between 1987 and 2002. His carefully worded subtitle - Styles of the Thirties - indicates what his book makes clear: that the post-quake architecture of Napier is in several styles and that to call it all Art Deco is an historical and architectural inaccuracy. In particular, he draws attention to the Spanish Mission buildings. Spanish Mission was a Californian offshoot of the American branch of the Arts and Crafts movement, a style associated more with sandal-wearing vegetarians than with bright young things. The Spanish Mission style dates from the early 1890s in America and made its first appearance in New Zealand in 1914 at Auckland Grammar School. By 1931 it was scarcely bright and young.

Shaw also observes that Louis Hay, the most original and influential of the Napier architects, was himself influenced by the turn of the century work of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. That observation has done little to alter the civic enthusiasts’ unshakeable faith in Art Deco, other than to persuade the Napier Art Deco Trust to categorise Hay’s Work as either Chicago School or Prairie Style.

Incidentally, the Napier Art Deco Trust is based in the old Fire Station, designed by Hay: so it inhabits a building which, on its own admission, is not Art Deco.

Shaw’s caution and discernment have had little effect. His comment about Bright Young Things and his suggestion for a civic slogan have had far more influence. Napier is now officially an Art Deco City. Its civic life is dominated by the Art Deco Summer Festival, when middle-aged men and women dress up as Bright Young Things and when the Harsh Thirties Reality of unemployment is recalled by the Depression Dinner - a Saturday night soup kitchen.

It is pointless trying to argue that the Eton Crop and the flapper dress were out-of-date by 1931. It is hardly more productive arguing that there is no such thing as Art Deco architecture and that, even if there were, Napier does not have it. Napier is in the thrall of enthusiam and of tourism.

However, in the past twenty-five years, moments of disclosure have occurred, when the curtain is pulled back. These are some of them.

1) The 1992 Art Deco Napier Design Guide by Ann Galloway seems like a good idea. It begins with a introduction by His Worship the Mayor of Napier, who writes of “Protection of the Art Deco heritage by controls within the District Scheme” and of the forthcoming establishment of a “Heritage District” and within this a “Conservation Area, to be known as the Art Deco Quarter”. His Worship concludes:
The outcome of the various initiatives is a City unique in self-awareness and pride in its special heritage, where residents and visitors alike can experience not only a sense of the past by the excitement of the present and a vision of the future.
Ann Galloway’s guide appears at first to be written in this spirit of Protection. She writes, for example:
Depending on its age, your building may have Art Deco elements which could be restored or used as inspiration for remodelling. These could be easy to see but possibly will be hidden by later "modernisations.”
All well and good; but then Galloway goes on to say
Perhaps your building was built in the 1930s but has no distinguishing architectural features. In this case you may be able to give it some Art Deco character by borrowing a motif or group of motifs from a building which has since been demolished or using them as suggested by the following guidelines.
It dawns on the reader that Art Deco Napier is not a matter of preservation but of presentation. The owners of buildings are encouraged, by an official publication, to reveal every Art Deco feature in their possession; if they have none, they are advised to create some. In short, if you’ve got it, flaunt it; if you ain’t got it, fake it.

It gets worse. Discussing the original colours of the buildings in the Thirties, Galloway says
Paint colours were typically pale; buff,cream, white with accents of green, brown, maroon and even mauve. To liven up the downtown area, departures from this well-mannered but uninteresting palette are recommended.
So, it is revealed that the colours of Napier’s Art Deco Quarter buildings are false. Rather than being faithfully restored to their former status, the buildings of the Deco Ghetto have been painted in cheerful sherbet colours.

Even the green dome of the T&G building is not what it seems. Peter Shaw explains that the “copper dome was originally stained green and its present colour scheme attempts to reproduce that effect.” So the dome is not green because of verdigris - the copper chloride that results from exposing copper to air and seawater - but because of a coat of paint.

2) Typefaces:

The Signage section of the Design Guide includes a “selection of suggested lettering styles:”

A brief history of these typefaces is instructive. Avant Garde was designed as a logo for a new magazine of the same name in the mid-60s. Baby Teeth was created by Milton Glaser in 1968 and first used for a Bob Dylan poster. Broadway is authentic: Morris Fuller Benton designed it in the late 1920s; so is Koloss, designed by Jakob Erbar and released in 1930. Roco was designed by Collis Clements and released by Letraset in 1973. Sinaloa was created by the Swiss designer Rosemarie Tissi in 1974.. So, four of the six recommended typefaces were unknown in the 1930s.

3) If this is not enough, take a look at this building,

which Galloway tells us “has been given a deco-inspired facelift, using a combination of glass bricks, new windows and decorative plaster in ziggurat shapes, emphasised by two tones of one colour and a darker, contrasting colour.”

Since this building appears to be a nightclub, we might pause to reflect that Art Deco was the house style of Saturday Night Fever. We might also compare and contrast it with the historic buildings of Napier and conclude that it has almost nothing in common with them. We might then consider that it has a lot more in common with a work such as Michael Graves’s Plaza dressing table with stool, designed for the Italian design firm Memphis in 1981.

Having listened so far, you may have satisfied yourself that Napier is not an Art Deco City after all. You would be wrong. For Art Deco is not a style of art from the Twenties or Thirties; Art Deco is a sensibility about those decades, one held by the generation that came after them. Bevis Hillier begins his book with the observation that “to us blitz-babies of 1940, the twenties and thirties were represented by our parents as a golden age... Giulia Veronesi, who published her book on the period in the same year as Hillier’s, makes a similar observation. Art Deco is a child of the Sixties. It is a retro sensibility.

Elizabeth Guffey, in her book Retro : The Culture of Revival, describes retro thus:
Representing neither a formal nor an academic attempt to preserve memory, retro embodies a communal memory of the recent past. To preserve it, a new kind of 'freelance' historian has developed outside the mainstream of artistic and historical thought.
Their memorialization of the recent past emerges not through traditional historical research but through the identification and acquisition of objects from the recent past, as well as the replication of its images and styles.

Guffey also quotes Jean Baudrillard, who termed Retro the "the death pangs of the real and of the rational"

Art Deco grew up in the Seventies and became a style in the Eighties. Art Deco was the style of expensive, exclusive and faintly absurd objects, such as Yves-Saint Laurent’s Kouros, "the fragrance of the living gods." It is the style of acquisition, and of a decade which made the acquisition of Style one of its core values.

It is quite fitting that Napier should have become an Art Deco city in the Eighties. This was the decade when New Zealanders rejected the social democracy of their parents and its Modernist architecture in favour of privatisation and Gloss. This was the decade when the real and the rational were replaced by the apparent and the subjective. That Napier is not really authentic is of no matter: fake is the new real.

What mattered is that architecture embodied Values. In Napier, Values were and remain those of an imagined past, stripped of its unpleasant realities and repainted in the colours of confectionery. These may serve the tourist industry well, but they also served the citizenry. At last, happiness and normality could be achieved, by pretending that today is the yesterday that should have been.

Video here


Stephen Stratford said...


I love the last sentence.

Dale Williams said...

I was the Reed editor who commissioned Hawkes Bay in Colour. Reed's art director specifically avoided urban shots because they dated a book so badly; in 1975 Reed's kept a book on its backlist for two years and sometimes even longer. For this reason you won't find many urban shots in New Zealand pictorial books of that period, or even many shots of people, for the same reason. Bad for business. Such images were the province of more ephemeral publications such as newspapers and magazines, and it would be more fruitful to look there, not in books, for your evidence.

As the Reed editor responsible for looking after Hawkes Bay writers, I regularly visited Napier. Having returned in 1973 from 5 years living in Europe, I was delighted to find Art Deco in a southern city. On several occasions from 1974-78 I tried unsuccessfully to find a local writer to produce a book on Hawkes Bay's Art Deco buildings. Local booksellers told us there would be no market for it - the earthquake was still a taboo subject and the idea was ahead of its time.

A response from a prominent local journalist, for example, was that Napier was not yet ready to deal with its earthquake trauma, and it was definitely a case of "don't mention the war", as reminders of the earthquake origins of the city's rebuilding were bad for business. This attitude was expressed to me more than once.

It was some years before photographic books about the Napier Earthquake appeared. Either these acted as some sort of emotional purgative, or it was simply a case of a rising generation not sharing their parents' sensitivities, as by 1982 it seemed permissible to draw more attention to the Art Deco buldings (or more accurately, those which had not been modernised in the interim).

Now the pendulum has swung in the other direction, and Napier buildings of other eras are being given Deco facelifts. Now they are considered good for business.

Fickle jade, business...

Robyn said...

I look at those acceptable fonts and they remind me of the '80s.

That's what it's come to - "art deco" is Baby Boomer nostalgia for the "art deco" revival of the '80s.

That's why it's seniors dressing up in flapper dresses. They're not paying tribute to the '30s; they're wallowing in their youth - the '80s.

Sanctuary said...

Probably the worst aspect of the whole Art Deco gimmick is the way that any building that ISN'T "Art Deco" in Napier is vulnerable to an absolute open season of cultural vandalism. In my youth, Westshore was a truly beautiful, summer suburb - Charles Street, Ferguson Ave and the Esplanade were a separate, beach place full of chronologically coherent weatherboard houses that breathed seaside suburb and conjured in their aspect another age and where one could imagine you were in place that might have been one hundred miles from any town.

Any visit there now simply makes me, a fifth generation Napier boy, want to weep at the exquisitely provincial philistinism of the cultural vandalism the locals have wrought on my beautiful town. Those beautiful houses in that beautiful suburb have been swept away forever, replaced by the familiar "Mediterranean" style popularised in that neck of the woods by architect vandal-in-chief Paris Magdalinos and built by greedy little town developers seeking little town fortunes. But you see THOSE houses weren't Art Deco. THOSE houses were just old and in the way.

It all goes to show that for the average Hawkes Bay snob (produced in prodigious numbers in that province - there is a reason both Paul Holmes and Paul Henry have made homes there) taste is entirely a matter of being told what it should be by your betters in the local pecking order.

Guy Marriage said...

You said the paper would be 'rad' - you were not wrong. Quite droll, very amusing, but ultimately wrong in many places.

Your inaccuracies - I'll take just one point at this stage:
"The New Woman has yet to be found in Napier." - not so - you have not looked very far. She is, in fact, naked, or at least pert and bare breasted, dancing in swirling diaphanous skirts, about 3 metres high in 2 places inside of the Municipal Theatre. Naked dancing may thought to be just a little shocking to some, even today it is still not that usual... therefore, to paraphrase yourself, "In the presence of the new woman and other themes, we can be sure that these buildings truly are Art Deco."

I completely agree that there are many other building styles present in old Napier town, including those in the Spanish Mission revival style, and those of Louis Hay, which are very Wrightian and even a bit Sullivanesque. However, as a catchcry to draw tourists, I still think it is better to draw people to the city by describing it as an "Art Deco city", than by describing it as a "city with funny old buildings in a mix of Art Deco, Spanish Mission, and local variations on Frank Lloyd Wright".

regarding your comment:
"Although Napier’s questionably Art Deco buildings were built following the earthquake of 1931, it seems that Napier did not become an Art Deco city at that time. The questionably Art Deco buildings seem to have been ignored, possibly forgotten, until recently."

That is indeed true, but does not make the Art Deco tag wrong. It may be that in future years someone will categorise the buildings of 2010 as a 'style'. In retrospect they may analyse and categorise our buildings of today as a backlash against the leaky building mediterranean style box of the 80s and 90s. They may give our current era buildings a tag of "New Functionalism" or some such tag, identified by their focus on (say) timber slats and external louvres. Of course none of us now know the age we are living in as New Functionalism - it hasn't been named yet - but there are obvious stylistic moves happening that in years to come, will become more retrospectively obvious. So, to argue that Art Deco isn't a style because people didn't know it as a style is, well, being just a bit too clever for your own good.

Guy Marriage said...

I confess to being involved. I grew up in Napier as a teenager in the 1970s, and at that stage most people knew the buildings only as funny old buildings that were outdated, and surely due for demolition.

After Ives' book on Art Deco, under the tutelage of Barry Marshall (a modernist, and I think one of the Group's Hawkes Bay members), Napier really did start to wake up to the very different buildings they had, and gradually started to like them. The few new buildings in the heritage area were of such low quality that - luckily - demolitions have been stopped.

Having been a member of the Art Deco Trust since, I think, the day of its incorporation, I'm very glad of that. Napier was on the brink of demolishing its old buildings in an orgy of Chase Corp uglification in the 1980s - it took a long while for the City Council to be persuaded to preserve their existing heritage, and in so doing, unleash the greatest boom in tourists of probably any city in the country.

I could go on - and comment on Sanctuary's comment that Hawkes Bay has snobs in prodigious amounts. Seeing as most of Hawkes Bay is a unemployment blackspot, and it is hard to be a snob when you're unemployed and living in low quality housing, I find that rather hard to swallow, as the actress said to the bishop...

Or I could comment on Robyn's comment that the seniors are dressing up in flapper dresses as nostalgia for the 1980s - seeing as my parents are regular Art Deco weekenders, I can assure you that they are not in any way being nostalgic for the 1980s. For most of the Napier Art Deco Weekend's attendees, their youth was in the 50s. The 80s were shit. Bad hairdos, bad grey shoes, bad synth-pop music (in Napier's nightclubs at least!). And: really bad 80s architecture, of which I am eternally glad that Napier has so very little of...

Grace Dalley said...

Interesting link between Memphis and 80s Art Deco nostalgia -- they're both postmodern bastardisations, but also sometimes quite lovely. But then I grew up in the 80s, so I would think that. I have 80s nostalgia. ;-)

And Robyn, I am by no means a senior, thanks very much! :-)

Guy Marriage said...

I'm still intrigued by Sanctuary's comments about Westshore - yes, I agree that there is some monumentally bad architecture there from recent years, but it is no worse than anywhere else in New Zealand, and so therefore makes a nonsense of his/her claim that "Probably the worst aspect of the whole Art Deco gimmick is the way that any building that ISN'T "Art Deco" in Napier is vulnerable to an absolute open season of cultural vandalism."

Let's face it, that is just a load of old tosh. Napier has a very tight core of old buildings, some / many of which are in many recognisable and well maintained deco styles, and then there are vast suburban tracts, most of which are in standard developer suburban pitched roof hell. There is absolutely nothing deco about nearly all of them - never has been, never will, except in the suburb of Marewa. Westshore was, and still is, a sleepy beachfront town, permanently stuck in a 70s timewarp like Sanctuary, except that the beach is now crap / gone, and the architecture is more expensive - I lived there myself for a year or two.

The (to me) really crass thing about recent Napier architecture is not in Westshore, but in places like Kennedy Road, where ugly, recent, modern motel units have been designed as a standard ugly motel unit, and then painted peach, with large stucco "Art Deco-style feature panels" plonked badly onto some prominent corners. That crass commercialism of the city makes me shudder - but the careful, and far more sensitive incorporation of "Deco" elements into the recognised old quarter of the city - not so.

Evan said...

Points well made in this paper.

However, if Loch Ness can be such an important tourist destination for Scotland based on the myth of the Loch Ness Monster - why can't Napier make a feature of the smattering of Art Deco architecture that they have?

Tourism is like that - exploitation of myths.

Lucid Glow said...

What an amazingly detailed article. You've given me knowledge of art deco I never even imagined existed...

Craig said...

I love this article, it just adds to the mystique of the uniqueness of Napier. Irregardless of art deco substance over "style", Napier is a time capsule snapshot of how a new city - completely rebuilt - looked in the '30s, protected in time from the international style which took over and developed in the 1940s and which can again be categorised as substance over "style".

Just as many towns and cities in New Zealand have had to adopt themes to ensure their survival and growth (Wellington - "arts capital", Tirau - "corrugated iron", Palmerston North - "student city") Napier has VERY successfully adopted "art deco".

As one of those who take advantage of our "theme", I can only say that the tourists love it. They don't apply academia badges to their photographs, nor do they question the fact that more modern buildings have adopted the style.

They want to see things and places they can't see elsewhere, and we provide it.

Academic papers produce comment, Art Deco Napier produces memories and images that will outlast reams and reams of discussion papers.
The most prolific comment from people who take an art deco tour is "I just love this city".

Bet they don't say that about Palmerston North!