City & Town

The image of the city has a firm place in the imagination of theology, philosophy, literature, the arts. How a New Zealand city and its suburbs connects at all with this may be a long stretch, but perhaps the materials of an indigenous interpretation have been accumulating in our own literature, arts, and architecture.

Here is a record of quite random discoveries of good visual aspects of the city and suburbs we have inherited, and are responsible for. It is material for synthesis and interpretation.

Conscious of mediocrity, and often outright crassness, one feels dismayed—if one can retain some sensitivity.  We need also to see the positively good things, to recognize what has integrity and enduring worth. Such things are the most vulnerable because least attention-seeking, and most taken for granted. For example, Why, and with what justification, were pine trees classified by Auckland City planners as weeds? Presumably because they disperse seeds and can multiply. On the positive side, there has been gradual and wider recognition of good suburban house design of past eras; and it can be reinforced and refined by further education. One can find things in Avondale, as all over Auckland, and N.Z., in which to take delight, from which to learn.


Mt Albert, as it still is, 2010
Henderson, 1980
Balmoral, 1994
Mt Albert, 2015
Mt Albert, 2015
Mt Hobson, 1997
Glen Eden, 1982
Balmoral Road, 1967
Mt Albert, 2015

Conventional houses in older established suburbs can be an endless source of interest. We tend to think we know all about them, that they are in fact rather boring. Newer suburbs are getting more tedious on the whole. To go back in these photos to the first and second quarters of the twentieth century is instructive, and offers fresh delights. Some of these examples may have been designed by architects, or if not may have been out of builder’s books—but the builders had learned well how to put together a nice house, observing basic good proportions, taking care with little charming details. Good workmanship, good materials. These comprised the common stock - they are not the large and grand houses of the wealthy suburbs.

In the simpler days of around 1950 in Palmerston North it was a popular Sunday afternoon family pastime to drive slowly around the streets (best to walk now) just looking at the houses, pointing out nice features - delightful gables, a lovely curved bay window, a huge Californian style porch, a 'sunroom', stained glass 'fanlights', and so on. Such things still abound in our earlier suburbs, and repay just looking, appreciating, learning.

Some of the ones shown here were photographed many years ago, and may not still survive. Look for examples still existing. If you own or buy such a place respect it’s integrity, love it as it is, be careful how it is altered; don’t allow crass infill housing on it’s site. There are a few quirky survivors too, rather more in a bach idiom.


This beautiful cluster of three pines was along a neighbour’s driveway, prior to an adjacent development.

Here we share some pictures of pine trees, and some great macrocarpas, because they contribute such a lot to the city landscape and character, though in such a familiar way that we hardly notice them. Next time you become aware of these big trees, try to visualize the scene without them—it would be very dull and featureless. Because they are (still) common we tend to disregard them. We think they are ordinary, therefore not important, and therefore might as well be removed.

Consider their beautiful shapes as they become mature. Japanese and Chinese traditional painting delights in such trees. They give scale; that is, their sheer size makes them generally the highest things, and the houses and gardens are relieved of the monotony of smallness. Similarly by their colour—so dark, often seeming almost black—they give contrast. They are generally the darkest foliage in the landscape. Thus they give visual identity and a dramatic element.

Perhaps the best-known pines in that area are the row on the Blockhouse Bay ridge by the shopping street, a landmark visible all the way along Blockhouse Bay Road from Avondale.
The western edge of Lynfield Estate, in 1970s, prior to housing development. The grassed area (right) is a reclamation covering Duck Creek, now in a culvert – to provide a tidier ‘recreation’ space!
The long straight of Great North Road from Kelston to Te Atatu South rises past the Wai-kumete Cemetery and notable Crematorium. The great belt of pines on the cemetery was the most distinctive natural landmark. But it has now gone – maybe from some necessity, or economics, or maybe not.
Here is an old photograph taken of a double rainbow over Hillsborough. To find the pot of gold, head for that big pine tree. It might still be there.

PINE TREES    There were once so many more. Prof. E. M. Blaiklock (Classics, Auckland University) in his book Green Shade (Wellington: Reed, 1967) praised the native bush trees, but also the pines. In the Foreword he said: ‘Let the exotics mingle with the natives, and a plague on those that wantonly destroy them.’ In the first chapter, ‘The Shore Descending Pine’, he wrote (in 1966),

'Who brought the pine to Auckland? Fifty years ago New Lynn and Blockhouse Bay were full of them. You could walk two miles south-west from New Lynn station under their almost unbroken shade, black, tall trees at least half a century old, and dating from the very first days of the settlement of the isthmus. . . . When I was a student I would take my books to a ledge I knew on the cliff tops above Green Bay, and watch the blue harbour and the Wood Bay cliffs through just such a strong tracery of pine as I have seen the world over.'

In the 1960’s there was an effort to engage in the Town Planning process was to appeal against the Auckland Harbour Board’s proposals for the development of its large Lynfield estate. Their scheme allowed only the narrowest coastal reserve strip, which was largely cliff face. A fringe of pines extended back from the edge, and would be largely removed for subdivision of the land. Some rather meagre concessions were given, and some of the trees remain, though for how long is uncertain, for the Council indicated a few years ago that they were to be removed.

Remarkably, our New Zealand cities and towns have grown up with ubiquitous pines, even as the dominant treescape. How they are taken for granted, and how they must be all-unconsciously loved. Native-trees-only purists, and trend-setter landscapists promoting exotic palms and such, would lead us to despise, or feel guilty about the ordinary pine trees. But the pines are valuable and incomparable. Just to sit in the pine needles in the sun.

Bill Manhire, in his selection of 121 New Zealand Poems (Auckland: Random House, 2005), included this (No 31) written by Una Currie, 1930:

Trees, they’re funny things –
    They hurt somehow;
I’ve seen the whole sky caught
    In one black bough.

Pines I’ve loved best.
    You hear the sea,
All swelling soft and hoarse
    In just one tree.

They stand all black and tall,
    With stars between
Their strong dark boughs some nights.
    I know. I’ve seen.

I’ve watched trees drag and droop;
    Seems they weren’t meant
For towns – all crying ‘gainst
    The sky, and bent.

That hurt a bit, but pines –
    They stir me deep,
That soft, lost roar of theirs;
    They never sleep.

They hurt somehow, do trees.
    I’ve loved them all,
But pines, they twist my heart
    With their wild call.

Great North Road, Newton, 2005
Carrington Road, Mt Albert, 2005
Whau estuary, Heron Park, Waterview, 2005

MACROCARPA TREES   These are not so widespread in urban landscapes, but always to full of distinctive character. We pass them every day, and give them not a glance or thought. But what if they just weren’t there? How dull it would be.

The New Zealand Army Headquarters in Great North Road, Newton, has a fine building, expressing in rather an appropriate way its function — yet it seems to concede power and eminence to the great tree, which was there before it.

Only the people who live in this house with this enormous presence in the front of their property can know what it means in their lives every day. One hopes they are unusually blessed by it, and that it will remain for a long time.

Heron Park runs down to the tidal mangrove estuary at Waterview, Auckland. This remarkable pair of macrocarpa trees standing on the edge must not be wantonly removed. They are worth a visit to see their contrasting trunk structures.




Tony Barnes
Sunday, 12 June, 2016, 7.00 pm.

City of Timber

It has been suggested that Auckland’s tens of thousands of timber buildings (which are mainly houses) constructed from the time of European settlement, and through the first decades of the 20th century, contribute to a phenomenon of international cultural heritage significance.

This legacy is the result of a confluence of many factors, such as the availability of the Kauri, an outstanding timber for construction, which was used for the vast majority of buildings through to the early 20th century.

Pressures for redevelopment and indeed fundamental change to Auckland’s urban form, as well as increasing expectations of complete freedom of choice for the individual, suggest that we cannot assume it will endure in anything like its current form.

This presentation is intended to provoke thought and to stimulate discussion on the value of this outstanding legacy, which forms much of the fabric of Auckland’s inner suburbs, and also contributes to some early town centres and settlements throughout the region.

Tony BarnesTony Barnes, , MArch, MPlanPrac(hons), ANZIA, M.ICOMOS, has a background as an architect and town planner and is currently a team leader in the Heritage Unit of the Chief Planning Office at Auckland Council. He is currently concluding the management of an architectural survey of the early suburbs and settlements in the Auckland region.




Tony Barnes
Sunday, 2 April, 2017, 7.00 pm.


The last development of the villa is generally known as the transitional villa. It has been described as 'villa in form and bungalow in manner', and dismissed by some writers as a degraded form of the villa not really worthy of the name.

More detailed examination of these houses reveals them to be more than a hybrid precursor to the Californian bungalow, particularly in regard to innovations in the plan layout, and the emergence of a more individualistic approach to housing in the early years of the twentieth century, even though this does not seem to have been sustained in the boom years of the early 1920s.

This lecture offers some insights into what in respect of some examples of the type could be called a transformation rather than a transition. Unfortunately for most house purchasers more considered approach was swept away by the almost wholesale and more formulaic approach speculative builders took in adopting Californian bungalow style.

Tony BarnesTony Barnes, , MArch, MPlanPrac(hons), ANZIA, M.ICOMOS, has a background as an architect and town planner and is currently a team leader in the Heritage Unit of the Chief Planning Office at Auckland Council. He is currently concluding the management of an architectural survey of the early suburbs and settlements in the Auckland region.