The Rise of Vernacular Architecture in Wellington

The 1960s and 1970s saw the rise of a unique style of New Zealand architecture. Two of the best known exponents of this new form were the Wellington based architects, Roger Walker and Ian Athfield.

The Wellington Club, 88 The Terrace. Designed by Roger Walker c. 1971, demolished 1986.

The ‘Enfants Terribles’ of Wellington architecture, Roger Walker and Ian Athfield shook up the scene like few had done before them and  in the 1970s were among the first New Zealand architects to become household names. Though they each had their individual distinctive style, they both created work that reacted against then-dominant modernist architecture in the 1960s and 1970s and created a new form that was unique to this country. By the time they began their professional careers in Wellington, there were few flat sections left within the urban boundary so housing developments increasingly began to spread up steeply sloping hill suburbs around the city’s perimeter. Each architect produced bold designs that integrated with the natural form of the land rather than trying to fight against it. Rooms were often positioned for maximum light and views and experimented with bold colours, unusual shapes and both new & recycled materials. In many respects their designs were forerunners to the rise of postmodernism which was embraced in New Zealand in the second half of the 1980s (exemplified in Ian Athfield’s design of the Wellington Central Public Library, Te Matapihi)

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Making Space: Interview with Wellingtonian historian Elizabeth Cox

The hidden history of women and architecture in New Zealand is one that, until very recently, has been a story full of prejudice and bias. Pioneering women architects and women working in architecture in NZ were often undermined, overlooked and almost certainly underpaid.

However, the story of that history has now been brought vividly to life by Elizabeth Cox, senior historian at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, who specialises in both women’s history and architectural matters.

The heavily illustrated and ground breaking Making Space: A history of women and architecture in New Zealand redresses that bias and covers these struggles of pioneering women architects of the past.

Elizabeth herself works as a senior historian at Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and also runs a consultancy business exploring the history of New Zealand’s heritage buildings. She has worked at both Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga and the National Trust (UK), as well as being a trustee of the Futuna Chapel in Wellington.

So, when the opportunity to talk to Elizabeth about Making Space: A history of women and architecture in New Zealand arose we took it. We wish to extend our heartfelt thanks to Elizabeth for taking time out of her busy schedule and for such an insightful and informative interview.

This interview was done in conjunction with Caffeine and Aspirin, the arts and entertainment review show on Radioactive FM and was conducted by Tanya Ashcroft. You can hear the full interview, as well as find Elizabeth’s books available to borrow, below.


A friend indeed : the saving of Old St Paul’s / Cox, Elizabeth
“Built in the 1860s, a century later the much loved Old St Paul’s Church in Mulgrave Street, Wellington, was in grave peril, at risk from possible demolition, dismemberment or removal from its site. A friend indeed : the saving of Old St Paul’s provides an account of the many Wellingtonians who raised their voices to save the church, including architects, historians, parishioners, and the Friends of Old St Paul’s.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Making space : a history of new zealand women in architecture
“Brilliant, hardworking and creative, women architects have made many significant contributions to the built environment, creativity and community of Aotearoa New Zealand. This groundbreaking book spans over a century, telling the story of women making space for themselves in a male-dominated profession while designing architectural, landscape and urban spaces.” (Adapted from Catalogue)