Napier Art Deco historic precinct
Napier Art Deco historic precinct is part of the Tentative list of New Zealand in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
Napier Art Deco historic precinct in the city of Napier on the North Island is one of the best preserved Art Deco districts in the world, and provides a unique Southern Hemisphere version of the style. Napier was devastated by an earthquake in 1931, and the central business district was rebuilt in the Art Deco style over the next decade. The one and two story buildings were decorated with ornamentation prevalent in Art Deco design, such as sunbursts and ziggurats, while also incorporating Maori designs.
Map of Napier Art Deco historic precinctLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
The government of New Zealand lifted the lockdown restrictions a month ago, thanks to the country's competent leadership and highly disciplined population. This gave me a chance to plan for excursions to visit some of the country's UNESCO WHS inscribed and tentative sites this winter break. My first thought was to visit the different components that make up the Auckland Volcanic Field, but Napier proved to be attractive enough to make it my first UNESCO tentative site to visit while living and studying here in Auckland.
Date of Visit: July 2020
Description: The UNESCO WHS page of this tentative site indicates that the cityscape is the local government's response to the catastrophic 1931 earthquake that levelled most of the city. Art deco was adopted as the city's architectural style (given the time period), but I would say it is toned-down, with most buildings constructed using reinforced concrete and possess only one or two storeys. This is not surprising however, as they want to prevent the same level of damages they experienced in the 1931 earthquake. The Napier City Council bills the city as the world's art deco capital.
In addition to the city's beautiful architectural ensemble, Napier holds the annual Art Deco festival every February to commemorate the historical and cultural significance of the city.
Experience: My friend and I drove down to Napier during a relatively busy Saturday afternoon, but it only took us 5 hours to get there from Auckland. Napier's art deco historic center is compact and could easily be visited in a day. Unfortunately, I wouldn't say that I got the most out of my visit since my friend had a different itinerary in mind. I was able, however, to visit the main buildings that arguably best represent the city's architecture, such as the Masonic Hotel, the Daily Telegraph Building, the Criterion Hotel, the Public Trust Office and the Central Hotel.
Strolling along Tennyson, Emerson and Dickens streets would give any fan of art deco a healthy dose of this beautiful architectural style. Shops, restaurants, banks and other establishments occupy many of the buildings.
Many of the city's art deco buildings also contain subtle Maori and even Egyptian art. Although individual buildings exhibit simplicity and less ornamentation, the total ensemble elicits aesthetic harmony and is indeed refreshing to the eyes.
The report written by Ian Lochhead in August 2011 of the city's OUV provides an easy to read but highly informative assessment of Napier's significance and value as an art deco city:
- The city possesses high level of authenticity - a significant majority of the buildings constructed after the 1931 earthquake still stand.
- The city however, has a compromised level of integrity - this is particularly true, especially that some reconstructions made to accommodate the infrastructure in the establishments occupying the buildings sort of lessen the character and identity of the buildings (the major issue I had with Macau). Also, there are some modern buildings and car parks that somehow "pierce" the harmony created by the adjacent art deco buildings.
- It will not be able to compete with the volume and size of the art deco structures of its main comparator--Miami Beach, Florida.
- The author thought that the site does not stand out enough to satisfy criteria 2, 4 and 6.
Given the above assessments, the city could not be endorsed for inscription in the UNESCO WHS list. Indeed, I thought that the city is too modest to be able to stand out and merit an inscription. But while Napier does not have the international significance based on its assessment against the aforementioned criteria, I still think that it still an important historical and architectural site in New Zealand. It's a popular tourist site in the country anyway.
All information about the site's attributes, history and other facts were retrieved from this site's UNESCO page, Napier City Council and the report of Ian Lochhead, downloadable from the NZ Department of Conservation website.
2007 Added to Tentative List
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