Monday, November 30, 2009

Corrugated Iron - The New Architecture

Apartment. Ahuriri, Napier
As a follow on from my previous posts about New Zealand rural architecture and the preponderance of corrugated iron in the landscape, I’d like to touch briefly upon the use of this material in contemporary architecture. It’s something that Australian architect Glenn Murcutt treated very seriously and he more than any other architect, has given corrugated iron a new status that moves beyond the paddock.
House details,Christchurch I like Murcutt’s Australian work very much. It has a sense of place about it that is singularly appropriate given the fact that like New Zealand, the Australian rural landscape is dotted with practical agricultural examples of the use of corrugated iron that goes back decades. Like the French architect, Pierre Chareau, Murcutt has discovered beauty in apparent banality. He has turned out attention to the ordinary, to the things we walk passed every day without ever really seeing them. He has toyed with materiality, incorporating the iron’s linear aspect into his designs; and he has paid homage to simple things like the sound of rain on tin roofs that we all love so much.
House, Lincoln, Canterbury
House, Kaiapoi, Canterbury In New Zealand, a good many architects have used corrugated iron in the last ten years – some more successfully than others it must be said. I wonder sometimes, just when corrugated iron stops being a homage to rural vernacular and slips into the realms of pastiche, gimmickry and token gesture. The fact that it is light, strong, versatile and economic – all the qualities that have guaranteed its place on any good working farm – may also have seen it become ‘the cheap solution.’ I refer especially to inner city apartment blocks where sheets of corrugated iron scream loudly of ill-conceived design ideas and a lowering of material costs.
Apartments, Christchurch But I must not become sarcastic. There are also plenty of good examples of the sensitive, well-considered use of corrugated iron in modern architecture. They can be hard to find I’ll admit – I certainly never found anything riveting when I went in search of good domestic examples to photograph here in Christchurch. But maybe when the trendy, fashionable aspect of its use has waned, we’ll see serious architects taking this cultural icon and making poetry in buildings that celebrate the ordinary in an extraordinary way.

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