It's funny sometimes, isn't it, how you get a song in your head that seems to have come from nowhere. For the last couple of days I've had one by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters running through my brain:
'You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between.'
It appeared in 'The Singing Detective' by Dennis Potter and has, apparently, recently been covered by Paul McCartney on his new album 'Kisses on the Bottom.' Anyway its relevance to this blog is that although it was published in 1944 it perfectly captures the spirit of the residents of Napier who, after their city had been almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in February 1931, decided to not only rebuild the city but to do so in a new and contemporary manner.
The architects no doubt saw the opportunity to rebuild the city with a consistent aesthetic approach. The citizens of Napier apparently had rather more mundane concerns. In particular, following the earthquake, they were wary of things that could fall on their heads. Fortunately these two impulses coincided and the clean lines and lack of ostentatious decoration characteristic of Art Deco found favour with the people of the city. As there has been relatively little development of the centre since then the result is that Napier boasts just about the best collection of Art Deco buildings in the world.
The city has now woken up to the tourist potential of this and Napier is firmly on the map as 'The Art Deco City'. Fortunately, it is done in a largely tasteful way under the benign oversight of the Art Deco Trust. We signed up for a two-hour guided walk led by an enthusiastic volunteer guide. So we traipsed around the streets gazing upwards at the characteristic trademarks of art deco architecture - ziggurats (the stepped silhouettes associated with New York skyscrapers), zigzags, speed lines, the rising sun and an angular geometry suggesting power and speed.
Art Deco has always struck me as capitalism's response to the more radical modernist aesthetic of Bahaus and other, predominantly European, movements that sprang up immediately after the First World War with an avowed agenda to change the world. Art Deco, on the other hand, was more about just having a good time, trying to pretend that the depression wasn't happening and celebrating those people who were still doing well at a time of mass unemployment and poverty. It still strikes me in that way but, when seen en-masse, as in Napier it can't be denied that it produced some very attractive buildings. So whilst I won't be dressing up in 30's clothes and practising my Charleston (those flapper dresses just don't suit me) in preparation for the next annual, Napier Art Deco weekend in February 2013 I will agree that Napier was well worth the visit.