The tragic de­mo­li­tion of John Scott’s his­toric Ani­waniwa Vis­i­tor Cen­tre

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In early Septem­ber, the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion be­gan de­mo­li­tion of one of New Zealand’s most im­por­tant build­ings: the Ani­waniwa Vis­i­tor Cen­tre in Urew­era Na­tional Park, de­signed by John Scott in 1974. The build­ing is listed as a Cat­e­gory 1 His­toric Place on Her­itage New Zealand’s reg­is­ter. In 2008, it was closed by the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion and left to rot.

Scott was a pioneer­ing ar­chi­tect and one of the most im­por­tant fig­ures in New Zealand ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory. He de­signed Welling­ton’s lauded 1961 Fu­tuna Chapel – it­self sorely ne­glected for a time – and the 1971 Martin House in Hawke’s Bay, both of them Cat­e­gory 1 His­toric Places. The Ani­waniwa Vis­i­tor Cen­tre was com­mis­sioned by the Na­tional Parks Board as a wel­come cen­tre for vis­i­tors to the park. It was ini­tially in­tended as a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the gov­ern­ment and Tu¯ hoe, the lo­cal iwi, but the board’s klutzy han­dling of the process meant this spirit of part­ner­ship was never prop­erly hon­oured; many Tu¯ hoe con­se­quently re­gard the build­ing as a colo­nial im­po­si­tion. “The ex­is­tence of that build­ing,” Te Urew­era Board chair­man Ta­mati Kruger told me­dia, “re­minded Tu¯ hoe peo­ple that they no longer had a place in their own home­land.” A new vis­i­tor cen­tre, de­signed by Ten­nent Brown Ar­chi­tects, is be­ing con­structed nearby, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion.

Scott – who had Te Arawa lin­eage but no Tuhoe an­ces­try – at­tempted to de­sign a build­ing that re­flected Tu¯ hoe’s re­la­tion­ship with Te Urew­era. A series of pavil­ions is nes­tled in the bush; you en­ter via an el­e­vated con­crete walk­way through the trees. I lived nearby as a child, and loved the build­ing. The in­te­rior en­cour­ages ex­plo­ration and feels as it if is part of the land­scape.

The De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion says the build­ing is so badly de­graded that it would cost mil­lions to fix, but this claim is dis­puted. The de­part­ment ne­glected the build­ing then used that ne­glect to build a case for its de­mo­li­tion. Could the build­ing be re­born in a way that wouldn’t taunt Tu¯ hoe with re­minders of the area’s grave his­tory of in­jus­tice? Should a build­ing be re­tained as a re­minder of an imperfect past? Be­cause of the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion’s ac­tions, we will never know, and an im­por­tant piece of ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory is lost for­ever. — Jeremy Hansen

Top left Th­ese pho­to­graphs were taken by David Straight on Septem­ber 4 and 5, when the de­mo­li­tion process be­gan. Here, the vis­i­tor cen­tre’s round win­dow looks back into the bush.

Top cen­tre and right

Stair­way de­tails at the en­try to the build­ing, af­ter the jour­ney up a con­crete ramp through the trees.

Left Pro­tes­tors, de­mo­li­tion crew and mem­bers of ar­chi­tect John Scott’s fam­ily gather out­side the Ani­waniwa Vis­i­tor Cen­tre on the day de­mo­li­tion was sched­uled to be­gin.

Cen­tre A plat­form out­side the build­ing’s en­trance.

Bot­tom left John Scott died in 1992, but his daugh­ter Ema (in orange shawl), son Ja­cob (at top of stairs) and oth­ers were present to sing a wa­iata to lift the mauri from their fa­ther’s build­ing and say farewell.

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