If you have ever visited the Urewera National Park, chances are that you will have been through the DoC visitor centre and museum, known as Aniwaniwa. Designed by architect John Scott in 1973 when he was at Hoogerbrug Scott Architects, construction began in 1974 and the building was opened in 1976.

It has been repeatedly hailed as one of Scott’s best works, although Futuna Chapel is generally agreed to be his masterpiece. The visitor centre is perhaps more famous amongst the public as being the place where Colin McCahon’s Urewera mural painting was hung, then stolen in 1997, and just over a year later, recovered and rehung. The painting is now in the care of the Auckland Art Gallery (itself closed for major rebuilding works).

But: the Visitor Centre is no longer fit for purpose. While the two-storey building is built over four different floor levels, structural engineers have condemned the upper floors due to perceived seismic risks and consequently all the upper floors have been closed since 2008. The building has not been maintained adequately, and as a result it is leaking, rotting, and there is a very real likelihood that the building will be completely condemned, and demolished. Most important, and damning of all, DoC don’t want it. That’s the Department of Conservation, in charge of protecting our national flora, fauna, and some of its buildings. According to DoC, this is one of those buildings they are trying to protect – although you could also argue that they have failed miserably so far.

Mr Davies [a Hawkes Bay DoC Conservator] said all efforts had been made to save the building. “We have tried very hard to maintain it. We’ve spent a lot of money on it.” It had been reroofed and reclad, but “some of the design features and the wet location and also some of the materials and construction weren’t the greatest”.

“The area of concern is the timber-framed structure above the basement that encompasses three levels – the administration offices, reception and the museum display area. The external wall construction of this part of the building consists of a plaster finish over wire mesh supported by timber framing. The report states that construction of the external walls did not meet the original specification that called for 10 mm fibrolite sheets to be fixed to the timber framing. The fibrolite was then to be sprayed with a textured coating. The omission of fibrolite has resulted in the construction of walls that lack the bracing required to meet the building standards of the 1970s, let alone those of today. Over time, it has also allowed considerable seepage of water into the wall framing at several locations in the building, resulting in rotten timbers and mildew on the surface of internal linings in some areas.”

“Essentially we have a thirty year old leaky building, with anomalies in its construction that could result in catastrophe in a major earthquake. The damp climate, dense surrounding vegetation and lack of sunlight have also caused deterioration of building materials. Ironically, we know from people who were in the area when the building was being constructed, that John Scott took particular care to design and site the structure within the forest rather than in a cleared space separate from the trees.”

The crunch point really is whether anyone actually wants the building. Clearly, DoC have almost washed their hands of it. “Both Tuhoe and DOC see a visitor centre as a very important thing, but it probably won’t be on that site or in that building,” Mr Davies said. The situation in the Urewera has changed since the visitors centre was built in the 1970s, at the end of a long, winding, unsealed road. In those days few visitors came, and the issue of Tuhoe ownership was not on the cards. Now, political decisions over any matters Tuhoe are a large part of any discussion. “No decision would be made until the Crown reached a Treaty of Waitangi settlement with Tuhoe, and DOC restructured its management.”

In the mean time, Aniwaniwa sits, and rots. Is it too late?
If you believe it should be saved, then sign this petition:


24 responses to “Aniwaniwa”

  1. Interesting:
    “But acting Gisborne-Hawke’s Bay conservator Mark Davies said the centre turned out to be a leaky building that had defied all attempts to rectify design and construction problems for 30 years.”…

    Mr Davies said all efforts had been made to save the building. “We have tried very hard to maintain it. We’ve spent a lot of money on it.”

    It had been reroofed and reclad, but “some of the design features and the wet location and also some of the materials and construction weren’t the greatest”.

    Doesn’t seem like “repair and restore” would be sufficient – redesign and retrofit weatherproofing solutions might be more appropriate – but then, what of much vaunted ‘originality’ (seeing as we aren’t being presented with much else in the way of rationalisation for keeping it)…

    Unless, of course, the above extract is a convenient fib… but I have heard that Scott’s work is notorious for ‘failing’…

    I find Scott’s Waitangi visitor centre to be distinctive, and not without some charm, and wonder whether this too will be a thing of the past 9although I haven’t heard whether they are going ahead with plans to build a new visitors’ centre on the other side of the grounds…? Incidentally, it was Harry Turbott (Becroft House?) who modified the Scott building and designed the elevated walkway that leads out from it…

  2. I meant to say thanks for the heads-up too (before I inadvertently posted the above before checking for typos) – it will interesting to see what happens with this case…

  3. There is certainly one argument to say: demolish the building as it is, and rebuild an exact, non-leaking replica (with new, hidden, non-leaking details). That, of course, would probably be cheaper than trying to renovate the existing building on site… …but no doubt would be seen as a travesty by those in the heritage lobby who advocate complete retention of all ‘heritage fabric’ of a building.

  4. “The situation in the Urewera has changed since the visitors centre was built in the 1970s, at the end of a long, winding, unsealed road.”

    It’s still at the end of a long, winding unsealed road. I had a very unpleasant drive in my rental car and the visitor’s centre, along with the majesty of lake Waikaremoana, were the only things that made me not regret the bloody drive.

  5. thomas Avatar

    Wherein does the love for this building lie? Is it simply because it was designed by Scott, or is there something about its actual architectural qualities (aside from those that failed)? Honest question, don’t we need to understand this before decisions about what to do with it are made?

  6. You’ve hit the nail on the head there Thomas – what ARE the quality aspects of the building? It does (or did) have a nice feel about it, but it is nothing like the feeling of spirituality that you get from Futuna Chapel. That’s hardly surprising, as Futuna was designed for spiritual purposes, whereas this is on a more residential scale.

    Perhaps, as Robyn has been there recently, she could tell us more about it? And my apologies Robyn about the sealed / unsealed road – I could have sworn I had read a report about the road getting sealed a year or two ago. I must have been wrong then.

  7. tyson Avatar

    Re the quality aspects, it is interesting that Deidre Brown talks more about McCahon’s painting than Scott’s building in her book ‘Maori Architecture’ – an indication that what the building holds (or held) is more important than the building itself. Geoff Park was more sympathetic to Scott’s building, calling it a chapel to environmental conciousness, drawing on concepts of ‘sanctuary and salvation to the mission of nature conservation.’

    Personally, I like the fact that the chalets at the camping ground down the road – which I understand Scott also designed(?) – are more inviting and interesting (and less leaky,at least when I stayed in them) than his visitor centre. It’s almost as though he wanted to reward you for staying, but if you’re just passing by you don’t get the full works.

  8. Let me say first – I have never been to this building. But from looking at the interior shots and understanding the struggles in and around Tuhoe, I think this building as a marker of place and as a beautiful example of space-making in New Zealand’s natural environment. Efforts should be made to rectify what can be saved – and perhaps a part-demolition could be considered with a modern extension?
    I know the McCahon painting has now been removed, but I would like to add that I think that’s a TREMENDOUS shame. It detracts from the Architecture and it’s raison d’être. Just like the Young and Jackson Hotel in Melbourne where there is a painting which cannot be separated from the building, I think that the relationship here between these two works demonstrates a rare and important cultural expression, of understanding and respect for that land and it’s history – and should have been treated similarly.

  9. Monday Avatar

    tyson – do you know the name of the camp-ground? It sounds marvellous!

  10. No fancy marketing tricks up that way – the motorcamp is simply known as the ‘Lake Waikaremoana Motorcamp’. The link below is to their accommodation page where they state that the chalets were designed by John Scott – From memory they had a mezzanine bed like all good chalets should, and also build-in furniture which did the double duty of seat during day and single bed at night etc. Well worth staying in rather than the larger tourist cabins they have.

  11. There’s a definite marae feel to me about the chalet accommodation – I remember staying there in 1976 with my parents, grandparents, and an English cousin – who i think was slightly freaked out that he was sleeping in the loft with me and my mum. That’s one of the things about marae sleeping arrangements (with which i confess i am non too familiar) – that you’re all in it together. Once you get used to it (terrifyingly all too close for contact from the protestant anglo-saxon point of view) then it is quite nice. Don’t think i’ve slept with my Mum since then…

  12. So what are the actual architectural qualities of this building? What makes any building any good?

    Scott has an architectural language all his own and he selects his “words” carefully, wisely. He has a wonderful feel for those architectural intangibles of size, space, volume, light, texture, tone. All these things come together in the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre. It is a tree hut and a church at the same time.

    To me the Visitor Centre has some other qualities we seldom see in NZ architecture – humour and playfulness. I think the windows are a piss-take. Scott has a round window, square windows, rectangular windows, skinny windows and an arched window; something for everyone. He means you to smile.

    I think that the elevated walkway is another bit of fun, a folly – the entrance around the back, through the trees, along the garden path, it’s only purpose is to take you on a journey to connect you with the bush. Go in the front way and you end up in the dunnies.

    This building is as good as the McCahon it used to shelter, as a piece of art. Well worth preserving.

  13. Interesting comments Chris. Geoff Park suggests that when Scott suggested McCahon to the Park Board that he knew that here was an artist who would toy with the Board’s ideas of landscape and culture, playing with them by not giving them what they would want (but perhaps what they needed(?)). I wonder, given your comments, whether Scott had a similar intention with his Visitor Centre, a bit of toying and playing with what the Board would expect from such a building. If that could be the case, then Scott’s fun and folly may have a more ‘political’ element to it, and the comparison to the piece of art it held is perhaps stronger than has otherwise been thought.

  14. sorry, that should be Craig, not Chris – apologies Craig!

  15. Scott usually gave his clients what they needed rather than what they wanted. He often waited until the two moved closer together. And I’m sure he worked hard with the Park Board to provide what was needed at Aniwaniwa.

    Oh, and I forgot the other window in this building, the McCahon painting. It is a vital part of the design, it is a window into the past, into the history and wairua of the Urewera and I’m sure that Scott saw that as its function. It is a window that an architect couldn’t provide but an artist could and it is essential to understanding and appreciating the Visitor Centre as a whole.

    I wonder if the decline of the fabric of the building is related to the loss of the painting, beginning with its theft in 1997? You shouldn’t muck with these things…

  16. You could also look at the other objects held in the Visitor Centre (Rua Kenana objects etc) and ask whether their status was perhaps too great for the building, especially given their provenance. Something only Ngai Tuhoe could answer I suppose. Would certainly make for a far more interesting description of the building’s degradation than the usual technical points.

  17. Or that the construction of the building using pine and Hardyboard / cement plaster was asking for trouble? Foreign materials they are, and they don’t suit life in the Tuhoe forest. Imagine if this building had been built with quality materials like totara and could age the way the trees there do, like the trees on Panekeri bluff, with long wisps of lichen trailing away from the tree trunks on the south facing side…

  18. The iconic visitor centre in Urewera National Park has received a stay of demolition — for now — but Department of Conservation staff have made it clear that they no longer want it…
    Gisborne Herald Wednesday, July 06, 2011 • Kristine Walsh

  19. Yes, you could argue that the fact that DOC doesn’t want it has been apparent for some time. By reason of their continued lack of basic maintenance, lack of structural upgrading, and lack of any signs of interest and / or care in the building, DOC have made it abundantly clear that they have no interest in the building whatsoever – except of course, as a potential government bargaining chip with Tuhoe.

  20. Detail note re m-d (1)above.
    Yes, Harry Turbott did the Becroft house with Peter (Pud) Middleton, edge of Lake Pupuke Takapuna. I’m in regular contact with Harry who’s now reluctantly closing his office. He’s still a keen supporter of John Scott. I think the covered-way bush approach to John’s Visitor centre at Waitangi was Harry’s idea. [You will know of Craig’s website on Scott’s work.] On the Urewera job, there was a Designscape issue featuring it at the time.
    Waitangi has needed additions — I’ve just uploaded a few shots on flickr if interested:
    Oh, and I remember John talking to the Centre, in Karori, on his return from the Japan award. (Helmet’s place?)

    Regards t’all
    Peter Shep 🙂

  21. Andrew Millard Avatar
    Andrew Millard

    I visited the Waitangi site during construction. John was there at the time for a site meeting. I remember talking to him as we stood where the walkway was to be built. They were doing the earthworks to form the banks either side of what was to become the covered walkway. I understand that the original concept was a tunnel but it was too expensive. Given the covered walkway was constructed at the same as the main building I would be very surprised if Harry had anything to do with it. Harry did design another building close by. The workshop across the road past the boat ramp. It is not a public building. Harry also did the Russell visitors centre and toilet block at Rainbow Falls up the road from the Stone Store in Kerikeri.

  22. Andrew Millar Avatar
    Andrew Millar

    I checked with the person who commissioned the building for the crown. The concept for the covered walkway was a tunnel as I said. But it was only a concept an never intended to be a tunnel as I suggested. Harry designed a cafe at the back added later and a bridge structure which is part of a walkway at the back of the building.

  23. Andrew Millar Avatar
    Andrew Millar

    Regarding the comment above by tyson ……..Personally, I like the fact that the chalets at the camping ground down the road – which I understand Scott also designed(?) ……… I checked with the same person who also commissioned the Aniwaniwa building for the crown. He confirmed the chalets were designed by John as suggested.

  24. Harry designed the elevated walkway at Waitangi that leads through the bush, not the covered walkway before the centre. Whether or not the elevated bush walkway was part of Scott’s original scheme, I don’t know, but Harry has related to me, on the actual walkway itself, how he designed this and that turn to provide this and that view, etc…

    He redesigned aspects of the back part of the building, where the elevated walkway connects to it (and around a small theatre as I recall).

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