The violence of it all

Vanya Steiner, “(Mis)appropriation in New Zealand Architecture: An Incriminating Cite”, Interstices 4, 1995, see here.

Tschumi notes that any ‘new’ architecture ‘implies the idea of combination, that all form is the result of combination.’ (Architecture and Disjunction, p.181) The process of transformation is complex, and at times violent. But the violence takes place for a reason, a point on a path toward some goal (a goal which may not be known at the start). And, of course, it is difficult to predict with certainty the exact magnitude of the violence until the two sides come together.

Katarina Mataira’s placement of the Battalion building at a pivotal point in the development of marae architecture sets the violence as part of a hopeful path. Mataira declares the combination of styles as a happy and harmonious one. To her, it seems, the violence is a necessity, new forms and adaptations rise up whilst old ones transform or die (she declared the traditional meeting house would die before 2020). It is fleeting, soon to be subservient to the history that subsequently declares a new beginning. As time passes the combination will no longer be read as the violent clash of two elements (this is not a continual struggle), but as a new complete whole.

It is difficult to see this progression in Steiner’s application of violence. Instead the clash of styles is still unresolved, the building remains a site of resistance. This is further amplified by what Steiner calls a continued violation of the building, the recent placement of advertising banners threatening the carvings and the building’s use for ‘improper’ purposes. The complex process of transformation has no end in sight – ‘the building parts invite provisional readings that resist wholeness.’

What of other buildings that attempt a fusion of cultural styles? They cannot be devoid of violence for they too must have undergone the transformational process. Scott’s own Futuna chapel in Karori, Wellington, is heralded as drawing on Maori architectural heritage, melding this with European modern church design. But there is no tension here, no obvious violence arising from the transformational process. In fact, it is difficult to read the influences at all. We almost have to trust authors such as Russell Walden that the references exist, since they are so vague to spot.

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