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