Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Kiwi’s Big Holiday

Auckland Art Gallery, photo by John Gollings.

The pleasure of travel is often estrangement. Out there, with your wheelie suitcase and sunglasses, you can unmoor from everyday life, imagining yourself as another kind of person in another city. For an American, a trip to ogle New Zealand architecture offers a different kind of pleasure. It’s not a strange land but a version of our own, refracted through a Southern Hemisphere lens.

A long-lost cousin who’s more sun-kissed (thanks to a damaged ozone layer) and a little younger (the Maori settled New Zealand in the thirteenth century, the British in 1840), New Zealand is still happy to discuss dumpling pop-ups and flat whites and how to get the right amount of char on the outside of your blackened cabin. (I’d advise architects to consider olive, as in the metallic siding of Bull O’Sullivan’s Lyttleton crib, which also features interior upholstery in maize-colored wool plaid.)

In New Zealand the taste level is high and the landscape reliably stunning. The hills are jam-packed with houses that rival the indoor-outdoor appeal of California midcentury modern, and new urban office and residential development is clean and contemporary, apparently well-made and without labored contextual reference. The style question felt settled, in a way it never is at home.