Activities

Art Deco City: Exploring Napier’s Architecture

Napier is a city of just over 60,000 people in Hawke’s Bay, on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Being a coastal town, Napier has all of the tourist draws you would expect: beautiful weather, beach access, scenic views, charming cafes, and that overall relaxed vibe. But what Napier is really known for is its huge collection of Art Deco style buildings.

When most people think of Art Deco cities, they think of places like Miami or NYC. New Zealand, let alone Napier, is not usually the first place to come to mind (unless you are really into Art Deco, then maybe you know all about Napier). And yet Napier is considered the Art Deco Capital of the World, boasting one of the largest concentrations of Spanish Mission, Stripped Classical, and Art Deco buildings in the world. Napier is even home to the annual Art Deco Festival, which sees tens of thousands of people from all over the world.

Napier: The Art Deco City

Napier is not a place most backpackers mentioned, so when I came to New Zealand, it didn’t seem like many of the travelers I met had heard of the place, and certainly didn’t care to go. But I’m a sucker for architecture (even if I don’t really know anything about it), so when I heard about Napier’s Art Deco reputation, I put it on my must-visit list. While I didn’t have plans to go, a roadtrip-gone-wrong landed me in Napier unexpectedly. So I stayed.

I immediately fell in love with the buildings, the art, and the overall aesthetic of the city. Simply wandering around on my own led me to see plenty of examples of the Art Deco style, but I wanted to see and learn more. I knew I wanted to go on an Art Deco tour of the city, so I signed up for one right away. I joined a walking tour with the Art Deco Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving and celebrating the Art Deco heritage of the city.

Napier: The Art Deco City

The tour began at the Art Deco Trust’s headquarters, where the group assembled for a 20-30 minute introduction and lecture given by the tour guide. This presentation gave a brief but informative overview of the Art Deco style, the history of Napier, and the devastating earthquake of 1931 (more on that in a minute). We were taught some of the basic elements of Art Deco architecture so that we could look out for them while on the tour. Common features of Art Deco buildings include sunbursts, zig zags, speed lines, and geometric forms. A streamlined, modern appearance was the main goal.

Once the tour began, we spent about an hour and a half walking around the main center of Napier. Our guide pointed out some of the most prominent examples of the Art Deco styles, giving us the history of the buildings and the architects. Some of the buildings we were shown specifically were the Daily Telegraph building, the Auckland Savings Bank building (originally the Bank of New Zealand), and the Criterion Hotel.

Why are there so many Art Deco buildings in Napier? Well the answer to that brings us back to the Earthquake of 1931. On February 3, 1931, a 7.8 earthquake shook much of the Hawke’s Bay region in New Zealand. In addition to damage done by the earthquake itself, fires after the quake burnt down much of the city center. The full story of the earthquake and further details is worthy of a post of its own, but for now I’ll stick to the Art Deco aspect.

Napier: The Art Deco City

Napier: The Art Deco City

Rebuilding efforts soon started. The Art Deco style, which was often referred to simply as Moderne during the 1930s, was popular during the time of rebuilding. Because it was really just the modern style of the time, many of Napier’s buildings were designed in Art Deco and Spanish Mission styles. With so many buildings being constructed at once, it’s no wonder they all centered around the same styles. It wasn’t until the 1980s and 90s that people started to recognize the buildings of Napier as historically significant, and now they are widely celebrated.

The tour ended back at the Art Deco Trust building with a short film about the earthquake of 1931. To be able to bring together so many things (history, art, architecture) into one tour, made for a great learning experience. These two things really do define Napier. They are the thread of the city.


Art Deco Walking Tour Information

The Art Deco Trust runs daily walking tours, both in the morning and the afternoon. The afternoon tour that I attended is $20 NZD per person. There are other tours available as well, which you can browse here.

Hawke’s Bay Earthquake of 1931

For further information regarding the Earthquake of 1931, I suggest visiting the MTG while in Napier. A permanent exhibit gives a interactive look at the earthquake and the damage it caused.


Napier: The Art Deco City

Napier: The Art Deco City

Napier: The Art Deco City

Napier: The Art Deco City


Read Next:

A Guide to Napier, NZ

Napier, New Zealand // Photo Diary


Pin image to save & share!

Art Deco City: Exploring Napier's Architecture

Save

Save

You Might Also Like

12 Comments

  • Reply
    MTG Hawke’s Bay: Museum Theatre Gallery – Travel Daze
    July 21, 2016 at 8:09 pm

    […] exhibits. The first was Rene Lalique, who became one of the most well-known glass makers during the Art Deco period. The second exhibit focused on artist Nigel Brown, a contemporary New Zealand painter. The […]

  • Reply
    New Zealand by the Month: July 2016 – Travel Daze
    August 2, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    […] Napier: The Art Deco City: An essay and photo diary about the art deco architecture of Napier. […]

  • Reply
    Sunken Gardens // Napier, NZ – Travel Daze
    August 4, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    […] you walk along Marine Parade in Napier, New Zealand, you’ll see many things: art deco buildings, crashing waves, the National Aquarium, a skate park, and lots of sculptures and  […]

  • Reply
    Juliette @ Snorkels To Snow
    August 5, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    Awesome – I love Napier! Have visited many times as my sister lives in the region. It’s like a second home to me! I love the art deco buildings there. I’m yet to go to their Art Deco Festival but one day! I think it would be so much fun!

    • Reply
      Courtney Minor
      August 12, 2016 at 9:44 pm

      Yes, I think the Art Deco Festival looks like a lot of fun! With everyone in period dress and bringing in their classic cars–would be a fun time!

  • Reply
    ttbchloe
    August 6, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    How beautiful!! This city reminds me kind of Miami or a coastal city in Florida. The architecture is just so fun! Thank you again for joining #FlyAwayFriday!! We are so happy to have you and can’t wait to follow each others adventures. Xo Chloe TimeTravelBlonde

  • Reply
    Kana
    August 6, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    Oh my gosh the art deco buildings melt my heart! Takes me back to the Great Gatsby and the Grand Budapest Hotel and I LOVE it. I actually wasn’t aware of Napier at all, thanks for introducing it with such beautiful pictures! Thanks for joining #FlyAwayFriday too, hopt to see you next week! xo

  • Reply
    nattieK
    August 7, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    Love your photos! Art deco is awesome and I had no idea about this this city. Very cool!

    • Reply
      Courtney Minor
      August 12, 2016 at 9:43 pm

      Thank you! I had never heard of Napier before arriving in New Zealand. It’s a beautiful little city.

  • Reply
    New Zealand Adventures: 2 Months on the Road – Travel Daze
    August 15, 2016 at 10:59 pm

    […] in the city. Napier is one of the most visually-inspiring towns I’ve ever visited. Between the art deco buildings, public art, sculptures, gardens, galleries, and murals, I filled my camera with hundreds of […]

  • Reply
    A Guide to Napier, New Zealand - Travel Daze
    September 29, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    […] is known for a few things: Art Deco, nature, and wine. After the Hawke’s Bay Earthquake of 1931, the city was largely rebuilt in the […]

  • Reply
    Napier, New Zealand // Photo Diary - Travel Daze
    March 2, 2017 at 8:13 pm

    […] Art Deco City: Exploring Napier’s Architecture […]

  • Leave a Reply