Inside the Mid-Century Homes of New Zealand

In 2013, photographer Mary Gaudin photographed the modernist homes of her native country.

Among the pillars of modern architecture, perhaps none stands taller than the principle emphasis on utility. American architect Louis Sullivan, the “father of modernism” and an early mentor of Frank Lloyd Wright, once famously wrote that “life is recognizable in its expression / that form ever follows function”. By his words, the purpose of a house, first and foremost, is to provide a home.

It is one of the great ironies of modern architecture photography, then, that the focus is on the form of the structures instead of the personalities of those that occupy them. Down the Long Driveway, You’ll See It, a photography book by New Zealand native Mary Guadin, accomplishes the opposite. In the fall of 2013, Gaudin, now living in Montpellier, France, returned to New Zealand to photograph 15 Mid-Cenutry homes across the country. “The idea for the project wasn’t so much to document the houses in purely architectural terms”, she says, “but to give an idea of the way these houses were and are lived in”.

“A number of houses in the book were designed by European émigré architects who came to New Zealand during and after the war”, says Guadin, who studied landscape architecture in New Zealand before moving to Europe. Among the houses featured in the book, those designed by architects Ernst Plischke, Cedric Firth and Helmut Einhorn are the most well known.

“The starting point for the project came after visiting family and friends in Christchurch after the 2011 earthquakes, and seeing how many modernist houses had been badly damaged or completely destroyed”, says Guadin. “Added to this was the fact that I’d been living overseas in London and France for 20 years and I wanted to undertake a project that renewed connections for me.” Gaudin spent six weeks shooting the project, using both digital and film cameras to document her subjects. “I ended up selecting mainly the film images for the book”, she says; most of the pictures were taken on a Contax 645 120 with Portra 400, a color film stock made by Kodak for purposes of process scanning. “It was an inspiring few weeks”, she says. “Meeting the owners and photographing their houses was by the far the most rewarding part of the project for me.”

Though the design of each house was an important muse for Gaudin — “native New Zealand hardwood timbers were widely used to build the houses”, she says — social relation to the architecture is manifest in Down the Long Driveway, You’ll See It, a name extracted from an email by Bruce Martin, owner of a home built by Kiwi architect John Scott (himself famous for incorporating elements of native Maori culture into his homes). The photography of the book captures these Mid-Century homes of New Zealand at their most candid hour: a lawn is littered with fallen leaves, a desk with wires; fresh fruit still wear stickers from the market; a bed, though made, is marked with rumpled imperfections — the clear, humble work of a human.

Buy the Book

Layout and design for Down the Long Driveway, You’ll See It are credited to Duncan Forbes of The International Office, text to Matthew Arnold, and all photography to Mary Gaudin. For additional photos, the book can be purchased online. $50

Jack Seemer is the deputy editor at Gear Patrol.
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