Four Shorts on Architecture

Short Film, 1975 (Full Length)

Director Sam Neill uses ‘Architect Man’ — a cartoon superhero trying to save Wellington’s buildings from mediocrity — to open this visual essay on contemporary Kiwi architecture. A montage of construction materials is followed by views on the high rise, woolshed, and Futuna Chapel. Renovation, DIY, prefabs and non-conformist design thinking are offered as hopes for the built environment’s future. Made by Neill when he was working at the National Film Unit, it was released in a shortened version (without the animation) in 1977, the same year he starred in movie Sleeping Dogs.



Curated by NZ On Screen team

NZ On Screen’s Dunedin Collection offers up the sights and sounds of a city edged by ocean, and famed for its music. Dunedin is a bracing mixture of old and new: of Victorian buildings and waves of fresh-faced students, many of them carrying guitars. As Dave Cull reflects in his introduction, it is a city where distance is no barrier to creativity and innovation.

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Science Express - 1984 'Best of'

Television, 1984 (Full Length Episode)

From a pre-Mythbusters but post-blackboard and pointer era, Christchurch-produced Science Express took a current affairs approach to reporting contemporary NZ scientific research. Presented by broadcaster Ken Ellis this 1984 ‘best of’ dives beneath fiords to explore mysterious black coral forests; and looks at teeth transplants, efforts to stimulate deer fawning, and the STD chlamydia. Finally the show visits Wellington and Christchurch Town Halls to profile concert hall acoustics pioneer Harold Marshall, and his mission to attain perfect sound for listeners.

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Whare Māori

Television, 2011

This 13 part Māori Television series looks at Māori architecture, exploring its unique buildings, history and its relationship to the communities it inhabits. Similar to the work that The Elegant Shed did in articulating a distinctly Pākehā architecture, Whare Māori broke ground for Māori design. Here architect Rau Hoskins takes on the David Mitchell interpreter role. Diana Wichtel in The Listener applauded: "beautifully shot local cultural history through architecture". 'The Village' episode won Best Information Programme at the 2011 Aotearoa Film and TV Awards.


The Elegant Shed - Behind the Garden

Television, 1984 (Full Length Episode)

In this episode of the influential NZ architecture series, dapper tour guide David Mitchell looks at the 'Christchurch Style'. He begins with the humble baches on Taylor's Mistake's cliffs, before focusing on the Euro-influenced brutalism of Miles Warren and the "flamboyant" practice of Peter Beaven (earthquake victims SBS House, and Lyttelton Tunnel's "fifth ship" are featured); and the cottage's modern descendent: Don Donnithorne's post-war home. Warren intriguingly compares his process designing Christchurch Town Hall with Jørn Utzon's Sydney Opera House.

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Antonello & the Architect

Television, 2007 (Excerpts)

The 17th century portrait St Jerome in his Study by Italian painter Antonello da Messina, intrigued Wellington architect Bill Toomath all his life. In 2002 Toomath designed and built a study for his house based on the painting. Toomath discusses this project, his architectural training and practice, and some of his clients. Time-lapse camera footage captures building progress, and the completed studio with replica desk emerges as a portrait of Toomath himself, and a tribute to architecture and ideas. Bill Toomath passed away on 20 March 2014. 

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Intrepid Journeys - Mexico (Donald Grant Sunderland)

Television, 2004 (Excerpts)

Changing Rooms star Donald Grant Sunderland visits Mexico, Guatemala and Belize for this episode of Intrepid Journeys. This excerpt features the Mexican town of Merida, where the TV interior designer is impressed with the architecture and design of his guest house, which dates back to the 1600s. Sunderland also goes shopping for food at a street market, where he samples tamales and cactus fruit (apparently with some ill effects later in the journey). Sunderland also visits the beautiful Uxmal Temples, Mayan ruins dating from 600 BC.

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Kaleidoscope - Auckland High-rises

Television, 1986 (Full Length)

By the mid 1980s Auckland had shifted from city of sails, to city of cranes. In the lead-up to the 1987 sharemarket crash, it was in the grip of "an unprecedented building boom". This 1986 Kaleidoscope report looks at the demolition and development from an architectural angle, as malls and mirror glass transform the city. Interviewees include developer Seph Glew of the (ill-fated) Chase Corporation, and his architects. Architecture critic Mark Wigley rates the BNZ Tower an "insult", but says Auckland's "crude" new buildings have at least provoked debate about what the city needs. 

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Kaleidoscope - Auckland Houses

Television, 1986 (Full Length)

In this 1986 Kaleidoscope piece, presenter Mark Wigley offers his take on grand designs in Auckland housing. Fresh from completing a doctorate at Auckland University in architectural theory, Wigley argues that New Zealand has "had a building tradition rather than an architectural tradition". He finds that contemporary houses (from a David Mitchell-designed house in Parnell, to a Paritai Drive mansion) are starting to explore potential beyond simple boxes, toward being works of art. Wigley went on to become Dean of Architecture at Columbia University in the United States.

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Kaleidoscope - Architectural Resorts

Television, 1987 (Full Length Episode)

For this 1987 Kaleidoscope report, architectural commentator Mark Wigley uses Kiwi resort towns as fuel for an essay on local architecture. He visits Waitangi, arguing that Aotearoa should have followed the "rich ornamental example" of the Whare Rūnanga, instead of the restraint of the Treaty House. He praises Paihia’s "cacophony of bad taste" motels. In part two, he compares Queenstown and Arrowtown, and admires a gold dredge and the Skyline gondola. Wigley, then starting his academic career in the United States, would become an internationally acclaimed architectural theorist.