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

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Frankl House to let

The Frankl house in Christchurch is now available to rent. As Plischke's first residential design in New Zealand, this is a very significant building. Although it has been added to, the original core remains more or less intact.

The future of the building is now uncertain. Condemned after the earthquakes, and then reprieved because of its architectural significance, it remains vulnerable to redevelopment. Fortunately, the current owner is keenly aware of the building's history and importance, and sale for redevelopment is not a likely outcome in the short term. If the building is to be preserved into the future, however, it will need eventually to find a new owner that shares an enthusiasm for heritage protection. New Zealand does not have many buildings from this era (1939) designed by international modernist architects.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

J Ritchie House on the market - February 2017

The J Ritchie house in Karori is currently on the market. This classic modernist 1957 design by Plishke & Firth attracted my attention because it does not appear in Plischke's catalogue raisonnee, nor is there any mention of Ritchie as a client in any of Plischke's books or articles -- or at least none that I have found so far! Of course, as the Griffin house in Nelson proved, the absence of a project from Plischke's list does not mean it was not his work. Perhaps in the end, whether the work was mainly Plischke or mainly Firth is unlikely to be resolved and in any event is not all that important. Both men are significant architects of that era -- which seems to be achieving renewed levels of popularity, as the occupants of modernist houses find them so liveable. I have often been surprised how many modernist houses from the 1950s and 60s are still owned by family of the original client.

The house is a simple L-form structure oriented to the north, with a central fireplace. As designed, the central chimney mass acted as a fulcrum, around which the layout pivoted, allowing both a free flow of movement and simultaneously a clear separation of living, entertaining and utility functions. The chimney was removed during renovations in the 1970s, making for a more open-plan layout, but it remains a compact gem. The V-shaped roofline, with its central gutter, is unusual for its time, and I am not aware of either Plischke or Firth using this device elsewhere - but I am happy to be proved wrong. The two-storey structure is dictated by the sloping site. An annotation to one of the drawings (kindly made available to me by owner Brent Thomas) suggests a partial additional floor was contemplated as well. The sketched addition is very reminiscent of annotations that Plischke made on drawings for the Pickard house in Hamilton, reflecting the way he would use drawings to make a point during conversations with the client. It is not possible to say for sure that the sketch is by Plischke, but it certainly reminiscent of both his practice and his style.

Another pointer to Plischke's involvement - but again not an absolute guarantee of it - is the use of black and white checkerboard tiles in the entrance foyer (now covered over by carpet, but still intact). This was a favourite trick of his, as used for Paul's bookshop in Hamilton and subsequently copied by Hamilton architect Philip King (who worked with Plischke on that project) for the Paton house around the same time. The effect is to make the space appear larger than it actually is.

The photographs on the sale website show a light and airy interior with a marked lack of ornamentation and clutter. I was interested to note from the drawings that much of the planned built-in storage, including wardrobes, was marked as being for a future stage, so perhaps some of that was never actually constructed.

Brent pointed out that a very interesting aspect is how they weatherproofed the roof. It is not obvious from the drawings, but there is basically a bitumen tarsealed road under the roof. It has roof beams under sarking-like timber (possibly 6x1) then tar covered by gravel, then roofing paper and finally a roofing sheet. It was exactly like walking on an old road. Brent says that might explain why he got a lot of gravel on his head when he replaced one of the ceilings.

Also of note, Brent says, is the fact that the downstairs lobby was originally the entrance for people walking up the hill from Makara Road. The access up the drive was added in the 1970s he thinks.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hardwick-Smith House for sale November 2014

I see that the Hardwick-Smith house is on the market as of today. You can find the listing on TradeMe here and the house at 124 Park Rd, Belmont.

The plan of the house as originally designed is a simple T. The upright of the T contains the lounge. On one side of the cross-bar are the bedrooms, and on the other side the carport and garage. At the junction of the T are the dining room, kitchen and bathroom. The T is angled to make the best use of the sun for the patio, which while common today, was still something of a novelty in 1948 when the house was built.

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.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Melrose Terrace Again...

I was recently down in Nelson, and I took the opportunity to check out the TOM GRIFFIN house, which Plischke designed in 1961. New owner Jan generously showed me around and is clearly determined that any renovations are going to be sympathetic to the original concept. From the chequerboard black-and-white vinyl tiles to the built-in storage to the utility space that makes servicing easy -- it shows all the hallmarks of Plischke's attention to detail, and it has a fantastic ocean viewe as well! This house is not listed in Sarnitz & Ottilinger's catalogue of Plischke's work, but the plans are from the Plishke & Fantl era (1960-62) and Bob Fantl confirms the house was designed for the son of the founder of the Griffins biscuit empire. The house seems to be in excellent hands. It needs a lot of work, but the new owners have the resources and motivation to do what is needed and do it well. The indoor spaces already work well, and even the old diesel-fired central heating works. The mode of indoor-outdoor living has changed a bit since 1961, so we can expect a few changes to the design of the patio areas.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Plischke House in Nelson

In May 2012, a "new" Plischke house was discovered. In Melrose Terrace, Nelson, Plischke designed a home for Tom Griffin, the son of the Griffins Biscuits founder. Not listed in Sarnitz & Ottilinger, the house is nevertheless well documented, with plans held by the Nelson City Council. Done while Plischke was in partnership with Bob Fantl (1960-62), this is the only known work of Plischke's in Nelson.