type='image/x-icon'/> Ernst Plischke Buildings in New Zealand: July 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dixon Street Flats

The Dixon Street Flats, at one time the largest such building in New Zealand, has been part of the Wellington skyline for nearly 70 years. The building has been modified only slightly since its original construction and retains its original purpose.

Designed: 1940-42 Opened 1943

Location: Dixon Street, Wellington

Commission: Designed for Department of Housing Construction, where Plischke was employed. The DHC was formed in 1937 to manage a state housing programme and to provide work for unemployed building workers. It was merged into the Ministry of Works in 1943.

Plischke’s role in this project remains unclear. Gordon Wilson, the Government architect of the day, is officially the “architect of record”. However, Plischke is widely thought to have played a significant part in the design. His initials appear only on a perspective drawing of the building in 1942, but the lack of documentary evidence has not prevented a lively debate in the years since Plischke quit the Department of Housing Construction after a somewhat strained relationship with Gordon Wilson, who subsequently received an NZIA Award for the project.

Design Features:
First European-style large scale housing in Wellington. 10-storey, 116-unit block of flats. Central entrance with stairs and lifts, emergency stairways at each end.

The small, single-bedroom units were designed to be suitable only for couples without children at home.

The flats were officially opened on 4 Sept 1943, but not officially completed until 1 March 1944 (not entirely unrelated to the General Election held in late 1943). Thus they have become part of the political history of the country, as well as part of its architectural heritage.

August Sarnitz and Eva B. Ottillinger. Ernst Plischke: Modern Architecture for the New World; the Complete Works. Prestel, 2004., pp.143-149
David Kernohan, “Modern Moves” in Architecture NZ, Nov/Dec 1995, pp.83-91
Julia Gatley, “For Modern Living: Government Blocks of Flats” in Wilson, John (ed.). Zeal and Crusade: The Modern Movement in Wellington. Te Waihora Press, 1996,, pp.53-60.
Julia Gatley, "Privacy and Propaganda: The Politics of the Dixon Street Flats" in Fabrications 7, August 1996, pp.77-98.
Linda Tyler, The Architecture of E.A. Plischke in New Zealand. Unpublished thesis, University of Canterbury, 1986, pp.46-52
Home & Building, Summer 1944

Photos from Wellington Guide, circa 1946.

The Dixon Street Flats today.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Abel Tasman Memorial

Another "political" structure, the Abel Tasman Memorial at Tarakohe is a joint effort between JC Beaglehole, who headed up the history section at the Department of Internal Infairs, his assistant Janet Wilkinson (later to become Dame Janet Paul) and Plischke.

The unveiling of the memorial and the opening of the Abel Tasman National Park in 1942 was attended by a delegation of five from the government of the Netherlands, notwithstanding the risks and dangers of this event during wartime. Plischke in his autobiography talks about the entire Dutch government being in attendance, but this is an exaggeration.

The memorial has been modified several times. Queen Juliana of the Netherlands presented a plaque in 1970 that has since been incorporated into the column. The marble plaque has been moved from its original "table" structure to form part of the boundary barrier and the wooden deck and railings were added by DOC in 1992 in the lead up the 350-year celebrations.

The plaque is now revealed as white marble, the original blue-grey and red colours having been removed.
Designed & Built: 1942

Client: NZ Government. Erected to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Tasman's arrival in 1642 and the death of four of his crew at the hands of the locals.

Location: Wainui Road, Tarakohe

Commission: JC Beaglehole recommended Plischke for this assignment.

Design Features:
Stark, white, strongly geometric and abstract form.

Construction Details:

Concrete pillar. Plaque text by Beaglehole, typography by Janet Wilkinson (later Janet Paul). The memorial was unveiled on 18 December 1942 on land which had been donated by the Golden Bay Cement Company, and which became a reserve under the Scenery Protection Act. The cement used in its construction was also donated by the company.

The text reads:

Current status:
The memorial is managed by DOC.

E.A. Plischke, Ein Leben mit Architektur, 1989, pp.258-267

Friday, July 10, 2009

Kahn House

Plischke's first private commission in Wellington, the Kahn house is notable for its sparse framing and innovative sliding glass door, which had to be specially designed. The striking eggshell blue exterior colour scheme has been a feature of the house to the present time.

Designed: 1940/41

Clients: Joachim and Gertrud Kahn

Location: 53 Trelissick Cres, Ngaio, Wellington

Commission: The Kahns were personal friends of the Plischkes

Design Features:

Hilltop site, flat roof, first glass sliding door in NZ. Plischke compared this house with one he designed for his friend, the painter Walter Gamerith, overlooking Lake Attersee in Austria in 1933/34. This comparison, intended to show that the same house design works just as well in Wellington as it does in the Austrian Alps, was written up in his article "Two Houses", published in Design Review, available here.

Construction Details:
Built by H. Bradshaw between 1941 and 1942
Timber skeleton frame with glass infill (i.e. post and beam construction, rather than conventional timber framing)

Current status:
The house has remained in the Kahn family since its construction. It still includes much of the original furniture, and fittings, and is in close to its original condition.

You can see a photo of the building today here.

Heritage Status: Category 1
Registration confirmed BD2005/12/16 on 9 Dec 2005

Dennis Sharp and Catherine Cooke, The Modern Movement in Architecture: Selections from the DOCOMOMO Registers, Rotterdam, 2000, p.188
Linda Tyler, "The Architecture of E. A. Plischke in New Zealand: 1939-1962"; University of Canterbury Masters Thesis, 1986
Linda Tyler, "The Urban and Urbane: Ernst Plischke's Kahn House", in Wilson, J., (ed.), Zeal and Crusade: the modern movement in Wellington, Christchurch, Te Waihora Press, 1996, pp. 33-38
E.A. Plishke, "Two houses" in Design Review 02/05 (Feb/Mar 1950), pp.93-95

Reference Number: 35mm-35610-20-F. Object #39929
Exterior view of the Kahn house, Ngaio, Wellington, New Zealand. Photographed by Irene Koppel in 1941
This and the following photos all from the Irene Koppel Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library

Reference Number: 35mm-35607-5-F. Object #39936
Exterior view of the front of the Kahn house, Ngaio, Wellington. Photographed by Irene Koppel in 1941.

Reference Number: 35mm-35607-2-F. Object #36837
Exterior view of the Kahn house. Photograph taken by Irene Koppel between 1965 and 1969

Reference Number: 35mm-35604-25-F. Object #39928
Interior of the Kahn house, Ngaio, Wellington. Photographed by Irene Koppel in 1941

Reference Number: 35mm-35602-14-F. Object #36831
Interior of the Kahn house, Ngaio, Wellington. Photograph taken in 1941 by Irene Koppel.

Reference Number: 35mm-35606-40-F. Object #36832
The dining room of the Kahn house, Ngaio, Wellington. Photograph taken in 1941 by Irene Koppel.

View of Kahn house today, taken from the road.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Frankel House

Plischke's first commisssion in New Zealand, the Frankel house is relatively conventional in construction because Plischke felt disinclined to experiment in what were to him unfamiliar surroundings. The basic L-shape was to remain a dominant feature of his subsequent work, however.

Designed & Built: 1939-40

Location: 9 Ford Rd, Christchurch

Clients: Sir Otto Frankel (d.1998) & Margaret Anderson (d.1997)
Otto Frankel assisted Plischke to emigrate from Austria to New Zealand, arranging employment for him at the Dept of Housing Construction.

Design Features:

L-shape floor plan, flat roof, oriented to garden; multi-purpose space; built-in furniture; Linda Tyler draws extended comparison with Wright's first Usonian house for Herbert Jacobs (designed 1936, published 1938); also with Paul Pascoe's Harris House. Plischke himself denied any prior knowledge of the Jacobs house.

Construction Details:
Timber framing, roughsawn rimu weatherboard cladding

Current status: Heavily modified

Heritage Status: N/A

A picture of the house today can be seen here

For comparison, check out this 1938 picture of the Jacobs house:

Photo from January 1938 issue of Architectural Forum.

E.A. Plishke, Design and Living. Wellington Dept of Internal Affairs, 1947. Line drawings and narrative, pp.39-42
E.A. Plischke, On the Human Aspect in Modern Architecture. Wedl, 1969. (pictures of the house on pp.130-131)
Linda Tyler, The Architecture of E.A. Plischke in New Zealand. Unpublished thesis, University of Canterbury, 1986. (commentary pp.66-73)
Frank Lloyd Wright, "Usonian House for Herbert Jacobs" in Architectural Forum, Jan. 1938, pp.78-83.