Art Deco Buildings

One of the great joys of Wellington and of New Zealand in general is that a lot of buildings survive from the 1920s and 1930s in an Art Deco style. This specialises in bright cheerful imagery, often looking like a flat, snazzy, addition to a building’s exterior walls or the walls of a room. If it looks a bit showy, well it’s meant to; if it looks a bit tacked on, that’s also intended. After all, the name is derived from the French ‘Art Decoratif’.

There’s usually a noticable interplay between the solidity of the building itself and the playfulness of the decoration, though it’s the same concrete that makes up both the background and the decoration. And there’s a strong focus on geometry, sunbursts, transport, electricity, streamlined looks and ‘progress’ generally.

Concrete, of course, is what mades it all possible, particularly since it’s relatively cheap to build with and it stands up well in earthquake-prone New Zealand. It was a huge improvement on buildings of brick or stone which were expensive to construct and decorate, and which aren’t good in earthquakes; and on wooden buildings, which tended to catch fire; in due course it gave way to the ghastly ‘honesty’ of raw concrete and pure ‘form’. But that’s for another page… (Brutalist Buildings)