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Tange and Kuma: Lessons of Symbol and Context

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posted on 05.09.2021, 20:21 by Palmer, Benjamin

Aotearoa New Zealand’s architectural landscape has been said to rely on other nations as well as carrying the residual effects of colonisation within its built environment through the mimicking of European and Anglo-American styles (Bird, 1992). Despite the increasing profile of what has been a continuous Māori architectural tradition, since colonisation New Zealand’s indigenous Māori culture generally has had a diminished presence. There are successful examples of New Zealand’s bi-cultural heritage, but these instances are few. A large portion of the examples that do attempt to represent this bi-culturalism are usually watered down to iconographic representations of traditional art and architecture.

This research explores ways in which New Zealand’s architectural identity can better reflect New Zealand’s own society, culture, materiality, and nationhood. In order to do this, the focus of this research takes a radical approach turning to a study of the career of Japanese architect Kenzo Tange (1913-1945) who has been able to successfully confront issues of tradition, society, and nationhood through architectural designs. The intent of this research is not to duplicate Tange’s style. It is rather that through a series of studies, Tange’s methodologies and processes related to issues of tradition, society, and nationhood are examined and applied. Tange’s modernist work drew from tradition to develop a renewed design sensibility in a contemporary Japanese idiom. His approach is examined to determine a strategy that could reinforce characteristics of New Zealand’s nationhood through architectural design.

To extend the study beyond Tange’s career, the career of Japanese architect Kengo Kuma (b. 1954) is analysed for the contemporary perspective his work brings to some of the issues that Tange confronted. This approach is applied to the design for a new public library in Wellington, where the findings from this case study are implemented amongst issues pertaining to society, culture, and nationhood in order to continue the development of New Zealand’s architectural identity.

This design is also used in an exploration to discover how a decolonised library building could be created in New Zealand. Libraries in their current form are mainly seen as repositories that accommodate access to physical and digital forms of information. This design considers alternative ways in which information can be shared and accessed that do not currently exist within New Zealand’s library models. The effectiveness of this process is then reflected upon and conclusions are drawn.


Advisor 1

Skinner, Robin

Advisor 2

Thomas, Geoff

Copyright Date


Date of Award



Victoria University of Wellington - Te Herenga Waka

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Victoria University of Wellington - Te Herenga Waka

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Architecture

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Wellington School of Architecture