Napier in New Zealand is a city shaped by its geology. Lying on one of the world’s most active tectonic fault lines, the north island city was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1931, leaving mid-century town planners wondering how to rebuild their city. The art deco marvel they created still stands today, one of New Zealand’s best architectural heritage areas and a reminder of Napier’s regeneration against the odds.
In Napier, as in much of New Zealand, architecture and art in Napier is influenced by a common factor: plates. Namely the Indo-Australian and Pacific plates, and their constant rubbing, sheering and sliding that has seen a tumultuous and turbulent history shape a people and a place. The country’s most fatal earthquake took place on February 3rd 1931 in Napier, a small town on the East coast of the North Island. At 7.9 on the Richter scale, buildings crumbled and 258 people died. Once the initial shock had ebbed the townspeople embarked on an ambitious rebuilding programme, with a few key stipulations: new buildings must be safe, modern, and cheap.
Enter art deco.
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