Thompson house, Kohimarama

Front of Thompson House, Kohimarama, Auckland

It is obvious that something different is being expressed through Rewi Thompson’s house in Kohimarama, Auckland (1985). Justine Clark and Paul Walker call the house ‘difficult’. To them it offers a provocation to both architecture and the broader culture, and does so in a very overt way.

Thompson himself recognises this ‘difficulty’, seeing it as an intersection point between two cultural value systems. Reactions can be negative because they are not informed by an effort to look from the other perspective – he says ‘if it can’t be absorbed or understood in a bi-cultural sense then it is seen as a resistance or protest.’

It is perhaps no surprise that the architectural nature of pa was a driver behind the design. Obvious to most is the shape – the steps referencing the terracing of pa, the hills cut away to form inhabitable space.

But it also draws on the idea of pa and their place in cultural interaction. Thompson talks of how Auckland is a violent place, with the volcanoes, being the site of past wars (both Maori vs. Maori and Maori vs. colonials), and more recently a place where ‘people fight over land, they fight a war for a view of the water.’ Pa, Thompson says, are also about violence. They can be seen to represent the violence taking place around the site in terms of land as well as the more general violence that has taking place from the interaction of cultures.

This violence manifests itself in the confrontational nature of the house. It sits right on the street frontage, contrasting the neighbouring homes which politely sit back on their well manicured sections. This positioning disrupts suburban tidyness, much as pa disrupted the tidyness of settlement. Further disruption is caused by the blank face offered to the street, with no windows or obvious doors presented. Like an onlooker gazing upon a pa, this blank face acts like a palisade in that it divulges very little to the outsider. Even the choice of material adds to the confrontational aspect – ‘raw’ materials such as plywood and ??? not fitting in with general ideas of acceptability or architectural merit.

Clark and Walker make no direct link between pa and Thompson’s house, despite discussing pa in other places in their article. And while they discuss the house under a section of the article titled ‘The House as a Site of Inquiry’, they do not consider it in terms of inquiry into cultural concerns. They are not alone – most of the publications on New Zealand architectural history fail to pick up on this angle.

Justine Clark and Paul Walker, “Making a Difference: New Zealand Houses at the Beginning of the 21st Century”, pp.60-67 in Geoffrey London (ed), Houses for the 21st Century, Pesaro Publishing, Sydney, Australia, 2003.

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