type='image/x-icon'/> Ernst Plischke Buildings in New Zealand: January 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

St Mary's Church, Taihape (1951-52)

This Catholic church in basilica style is one of Plischke's most readily identifiable buildings, Donated to the Parish by John and Maude Bartosh, the building was commenced in 1951 under conditions of severe materials shortage, a hangover from the war years. Bob Fantl, who at that time was working for Plishke & Firth, remembers undertaking some of the detailed drawing work as part of his own registration as an architect. The building as constructed differs in only small ways from the floor plan published in Sarnitz & Ottillinger; most of the differences concern the small ancillary rooms at the rear of the church.

Some changes have been made to the building since it was first erected. A new entrance has been added to the side, allowing the old entrance to be converted to a kitchen. The original perforated light fittings have been replaced; these were virtually identical to the design used for St Martins in Christchurch. A pair of fittings surfaced at auction recently and were described as being from St Martins, however the design is identical to the ones shown in early photographs of St Mary's and a good idea of the fittings can be gained from the illustrations in the relevant Art+Object catalogue.

The uncompromising form and mass of the building has been softened somewhat by the growth of surrounding trees over the years, so the church no longer presents as a stark landmark when entering Taihape from the north, but it remains one of the most dramatic and unusual church designs in New Zealand. Plischke himself in Ein Leben mit Architektur recounts the story of the commission like this:

"Catholic Church in Taihape

Shortly afterwards, a young catholic priest who had been impressed by KHANDALLAH, suggested to an archbishop in Wellington that I should also be given a chance in his church. It is interesting how much the multilayeredness [complexity] of the Catholic church in New Zealand is expressed in the genesis of TAIHAPE. A prosperous Hungarian immigrant, whom strangely I have never met, seized the initiative to build a church. He embarked on a world trip and came back with the conviction that nothing except the style of St Peters in Rome should be considered. For tiny Taihape, that was of course a little bit farcical. The local Irish priest, M. Connelly, referred the decision to the archbishop, and the latter asked me to visit him. He told me all about it, we both smiled, then he said: “The money won’t stretch to a dome.”

"I suggested we should use as the model a basic basilica, which in New Zealand had the same associations with the Roman Catholic church as the Gothic style did for the Church of England. The archbishop, a smart man, gave me a free hand and I put down a very simple church. It differed slightly from the Roman Catholic tradition in that it was not symmetrical. My former tutor in religious art at the Masterschool, Prof Dr. Herbert Muck, in an essay for the Institute for Religious Art in Vienna, had the following to say about this church:

“His [Plischke's] Basilica had now assumed the simple form of an only moderately elongated solidium, rather a lying, resting block of stone than a ship or processional way of the old kind. The traditional apse he transformed into a light oriel, into a bright niche, which also received light from several sides. The portal opening introduced in place of the traditional triumphal arch became, through asymmetrical treatment of the portal framing, a less restraining transition. On this side a roomy area for the pulpit was gained by simultaneously setting back the right shield wall. He achieved the serenity of spaciousness in the ship by limiting lighting from above from one a single row of circular windows set high on each side wall. He could fully realise his conceptions in the open roof framing, which shows the clear, light bar work, reflecting today's structural design methods.”

"The calm solidium on the hill in the centre of town became for the catholics of New Zealand an indication of the break from the old tradition of building of churches. In my inauguration speech in 1965 I said about it: “To me it was at that time the most important current priority to overcome eclecticism or historicism of every kind and coinage and to justify and develop from the modern technical and social conditions a contemporary stylistic idiom, a stylistic idiom which should ultimately give us back again the possibility of expressing and shaping the essential character without affectation or dressing up.”

In neighbouring Palmerson North the catholics, in view on the earthquake danger, had built a church in pure reinforced concrete, but sermons and church music suffered severely from the poor acoustics. Thus with the church in Taihape, likewise built in concrete, an internal membrane shell on a light framework was placed at fixed intervals in front of the solid concrete wall. The effect of this membrane is similar to that of a violin and results in good acoustics. On the occasion of the completion of the church a professor of architecture at the University of Auckland organized an excursion to distant Taihape. It is perhaps quite funny to mention that, on seeing inside the wood panels, he explained to his students in all seriousness that this church was of plastered timber construction."

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Cockayne House, Waikanae

Designed & Built: 1955

Client: Miss M. Cockayne

Location: Horopito Rd, Waikanae

Design Features:

Ceilings are partially exposed beam and follow the pitch of the roof. Extensive use of glass walls. Designed for indoor-outdoor living.

Construction Details:

Timber, vertical board and batten

Current status:

Privately owned, last changed hands in 2009.


Mentioned in L Tyler thesis, p.119; listed in Sarnitz & Ottillinger; otherwise very little documentation available.