Ernst Plischke: Architect


Media Release: September, 2004. 

Revered in his homeland, Austrian architect Ernst Plischke (a contemporary of Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier) was a key figure in the introduction of modernism into New Zealand architecture and design. Plischke’s place in both New Zealand and European architecture is the subject of a new exhibition opening at City Gallery Wellington on 5 September 2004.

Born in Vienna in 1903, Plischke was the son of an architect, and worked in the family joinery business every summer. He trained in architecture at the Akademie der Bildenden Kunste (Academy of Fine Arts), Vienna, graduating in 1926. By the early 1930s Plischke had achieved great critical success in Vienna and beyond.

In 1939 however, Plischke and his Jewish wife Anna and her two children were forced to emigrate to escape the Nazi regime. Plischke’s International Modernist style and involvement with a worker housing project in Vienna were also viewed with suspicion by the German Reich.

Plischke and his family, like many other refugees from Nazi Germany, settled in Wellington, where he initially found work as a draughtsman with the newly formed Department of Housing Construction.

Plischke left the Department in 1948, and went on to design over 40 private houses in his adopted homeland. He also designed public housing, worked on community planning, and become a prominent voice within New Zealand culture through his writings and lectures. In 1947 Plischke became a New Zealand citizen. He continued to work here until 1963, when he returned to Vienna to become chair of architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts. Plischke died in Vienna in 1992.

City Gallery Wellington director Paula Savage says “Plischke is a larger-than-life figure in the history of New Zealand architecture. Not only did he design quintessential modernist buildings such as the Sutch House, he was involved in many areas of cultural life in Wellington.”

A radical international figure like Plischke was never going to fit easily into conservative war-time New Zealand society. Upon arrival in Wellington, he and Anna were given the nationality “German” and had to comply with the Aliens Emergency Regulations. The Plischke family was viewed with some suspicion – on one occasion, after lengths of steel tubes were observed being delivered to the Plischke’s home, Plischke had to provide photographs of his studio in Vienna to explain to police how he used steel tubing in his furniture. He was also viewed with some caution by the people he worked with. One former colleague at the Housing Department recalled that Plischke was thought by some to be a Bolshevik, on the basis of his “strange ideas”.

City Gallery Wellington has collaborated with two Viennese institutions, the Academy of Fine Arts and the Imperial Furniture Collection, to bring this exhibition to New Zealand. In 2003 the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, celebrated the centenary of Plischke’s birth with the exhibition ‘Ernst Plischke: Modern Architecture for the New World’. Paula Savage says “Exquisite watercolours and architectural drawings which were exhibited in Vienna last year are being brought out to New Zealand for this landmark exhibition. This will be an exciting experience not only for people interested in architecture but for anyone interested in modernism, design and the cultural history of Wellington.”

City Gallery Wellington’s exhibition ‘Ernst Plischke’ will bring attention to Plischke’s architectural legacy in Wellington, where the best examples of his mature work exist. Plischke’s influence on Wellington’s inner-city will be traced through displays devoted to the Dixon Street Flats and Massey House on Lambton Quay, buildings which were seen to herald the arrival of modernism in New Zealand.

Outstanding examples of Plischke’s domestic architecture in Wellington include the Sutch House in Brooklyn. This building, the largest and most innovative of Plischke’s New Zealand houses, is regarded as one of the best early examples of International Modernism in this country. The Sutch House was recently restored by Wellington architect Alistair Luke, and received the New Zealand Institute of Architects Resene Award for Enduring Architecture earlier this year. A feature of ‘Ernst Plischke’ will be a scale model of the Sutch House and a collection of archival material that tells the story of its construction.

‘Ernst Plischke’ includes over 100 original plans and drawings, vintage and contemporary photographs of Plischke buildings, furniture, architectural models, and books, correspondence and ephemera related to Plischke’s time in New Zealand. Material for the exhibition has been drawn from the archives and collections of the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, and from New Zealand collections.

A major Ernst Plischke monograph from Prestel Press is being translated in English in association with the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, and the Imperial Furniture Collection, Vienna, and will accompany the City Gallery Wellington exhibition.

A dynamic programme of lectures and floortalks will open out aspects of Plischke’s career. A keynote lecture series is scheduled, featuring talks by local and international architects and architectural historians. A tour of Plischke’s significant buildings in the Wellington region will be a special feature of the public events.

‘Ernst Plischke’ is presented by City Gallery Wellington and the New Zealand Institute of Architects in association with the Akademie der Bildenden Kunste (Academy of Fine Arts), Vienna, and the Kaiserliches Hofmobiliendepot (Imperial Furniture Collection), Vienna.

Proudly supported by Housing New Zealand Corporation

‘Ernst Plischke’ will be shown alongside the Dunedin Public Art Gallery touring exhibition ‘Ronnie van Hout: I’ve Abandoned Me’.

For more information, images and interview opportunities please contact:

Courtney Johnston, City Gallery Wellington Publicist

T: 04 801 3959 E: