City Gallery City Gallery Wellington

Past exhibition

Ernst Plischke

5 September–28 November 2004

The Austrian architect Ernst Plischke brought international modernism into New Zealand architecture and design. Having established a practice in Vienna, he emigrated to New Zealand in 1939 to escape the Nazis. He remained in Wellington for twenty-four years, designing private houses, public housing, office buildings, and community plans. Plischke adapted his modernist design knowledge to local materials and technologies. Through his writings and lectures, he became an influential voice.

When Plischke was working in New Zealand, modernism was under acknowledged. The City Gallery show brings attention to his architectural legacy, especially in Wellington, where the most examples of his mature work exist. In Wellington, his buildings include the private home Sutch House, and the high rise Massey House, on Lambton Quay. Eight-storeys high with a glass curtain wall, it was Wellington’s first modern high-rise. On its ground floor, Plischke designed the bookshop Parsons.

Plischke returned to Vienna in 1963 to take up the post of Professor of Architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts. He visited New Zealand in 1969 to receive an honorary fellowship from the New Zealand Institute of Architects—belated recognition. He died in 1992. In 2003, the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts celebrated the centenary of his birth with the exhibition Ernst Plischke: Modern Architecture for the New World. 

The City Gallery show is divided in two: Plischke in Europe (addressing the first and last stages of his life) and Plischke in New Zealand. It features models, drawings, designs, and photos of buildings, as well as examples of his furniture design. There’s a model of Sutch House and archival material about its construction. There's material relating to Plischke’s Kahn House and Dixon Street flats, and his churches, St Martin’s in Christchurch and St Mary’s in Taihape. In conjunction with the show, there is a public tour of Plischke buildings in Wellington.

Architect Sam Kebbell says the show offers a history of architecture we are still growing from and that we can learn from modernism’s modesty and earnestness.