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Institute of Architects urges DoC to save Aniwaniwa Centre

Institute of Architects urges Department of Conservation to save the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre

The New Zealand Institute of Architects is dismayed by the decision of Department of Conservation Deputy Director-General Mervyn English to demolish the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre, and urges the Department to reconsider this decision urgently.

Aniwaniwa is a Heritage New Zealand Category One Historic Place located at Lake Waikaremoana in Te Urewera. The building was designed by the late John Scott, a pioneering Māori architect and an outstanding figure in twentieth century New Zealand architecture.

“John Scott’s architecture was original, and his importance to New Zealand architecture is increasingly recognised,” said Institute of Architects President Christina van Bohemen. “The Institute awarded John its first Gold Medal for career achievement in 1999 and just last year named its award for public architecture in his honour.”

Ms van Bohemen said the 1976 Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre is one of John Scott’s most significant works. Scott also designed Wellington’s acclaimed Futuna Chapel, which was itself threatened with demolition before its reprieve and subsequent restoration.

“Aniwaniwa is a unique building designed by a unique architect for a unique place,” said Ms van Bohemen. “It strongly expresses some of the defining characteristics of John Scott’s architecture: concern for the land, a sensitive approach to site, and an innovative fusion of modern architecture and Māori building and design traditions.”

“The Department of Conservation proclaims on its website its commitment to New Zealand’s unique legacy and enjoins us to pass it on. So why is Mr English determined to demolish a building that Heritage New Zealand has found to be of outstanding significance?”

“Why is a public servant in a government department ordering the destruction of a building that a Crown entity values so highly? What sort of example does that set for the community and for owners of heritage buildings?"

Ms van Bohemen said the demolition decision is especially regrettable because the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre was commissioned by the Department of Conservation itself.

“The Department is walking away from one of its own buildings, commissioned on behalf of the New Zealand public and paid for by the New Zealand public.”

Ms van Bohemen said Mr English has supported his decision by citing the poor condition of the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre.

“This is an ignominious position. Mr English is effectively using his department’s failure to properly maintain Aniwaniwa as justification for the building’s destruction.”

“Why has the building been neglected?” Ms van Bohemen asked. “Government departments are required to ensure that places of heritage value in active use are managed in such a way that the heritage values are maintained, and that the fabric of such places is not allowed to deteriorate while decisions about future use are made.”

Ms van Bohemen said despite the lack of care shown to the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre the building is reparable.

“If there is a will, there are ways to restore Aniwaniwa and find a use for it,” Ms van Bohemen said. “The Department of Conservation’s opinion of the building’s condition and estimates of the cost of remedial work have been subject to serious questioning, but Mr English has closed off any options to preserve the building because he has pre-determined its demolition.”

Ms van Bohemen said that the Institute of Architects’ judgement of the importance of Aniwaniwa is supported by the Registration Report prepared in 2012 for the New Zealand Historic Places Trust – now Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga – which successfully advocated for the building’s Historic Place Category One heritage listing.

The Report found that Aniwaniwa “features many elements of Māori architecture in its marae-based form”, and responds to “the immense importance of its surroundings through carefully considered form and pathways to honour the beauty and wairua of the landscape, and function as a storehouse of invaluable taonga and the visitor gateway to New Zealand’s fourth largest national park.”

“The Visitor Centre is architecturally significant as a building of great consequence in the body of work of this nationally and internationally acclaimed New Zealand architect, whose designs have achieved high recognition and awards,” the Registration Report said.

Ms van Bohemen said New Zealand has often been careless with its built heritage, but she had hoped attitudes were changing.

“It is always disappointing when Government agencies fail to protect the national legacy, but it is unforgiveable when they actively promote its destruction.”

“The Department of Conservation should reconsider its course of action immediately.”

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