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date: 15 October 2019


  • Robert McGregor


New Zealand city on the east coast of North Island, famous for its Art Deco architecture. Napier was established in the 1840s with the arrival of missionary and trading settlers, and by the 1920s, with a population of 16,000, it was the main administrative centre and port of Hawke’s Bay province, with a reputation as a resort due to its attractive seaside location, spectacular hilltop residential areas and Mediterranean climate. On 3 February 1931 a violent earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale convulsed the region, destroying all but recently built reinforced concrete buildings in the city centre. Fires broke out and completed the devastation.

The city was rebuilt in 1932–3, following a building moratorium while plans for the new Napier were considered. All services were placed underground, street corners splayed and standard verandah heights set for commercial buildings. The restriction on building heights to two storeys and the use of reinforced concrete for safety reasons resulted in a townscape remarkably cohesive in scale and materials. Because the collapse of ornate embellishments on Victorian and Edwardian buildings had caused many of the 162 deaths and countless injuries in the city, the new buildings were designed in simple but, for a small isolated city, radically modern styles. The four local architectural practices formed a loose association to share resources and bring a unity of purpose to the task of rebuilding, although each firm tended to prefer a particular style. ...

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