Napier is often referred to as the Art Deco Capital of New Zealand. Once you begin to explore the charming pastel streets of Napier, you’ll soon see why. Napier has one of the highest concentration of buildings designed and built in the authentic Art Deco fashion of the 1930s. From sleek silhouettes and elegant decoration to the gorgeous pastel hues, it’s well worth a visit to admire the period architecture. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a film set from the 1930s!
Here’s our guide to art deco in Napier. Find out all about this design movement, the details on the Napier Art Deco Festival, and where to see the best architecture in the Art Deco Capital!
What is Art Deco Napier?
Napier is famous for its stunning Art Deco architecture and beautifully preserved buildings from almost a century ago. As you walk down the street in Napier, it’s like you’ve been transported back into the jazz era of the 1930s. Everyone, you’ll see the simple, clean lines that are so popular in the Art Deco movement, but with a New Zealand twist. For example, as well as the traditional arches and elegant shapes, Maori motifs are also featured.
What is the Art Deco style?
The Art Deco style was a form of architecture and design that originated in the 1920’s in France but really took off in the 1930s. Modern, sleek buildings with a streamlined silhouette feature heavily in the art deco style, often with geometric decorations. Some of the most famous Art Deco buildings include the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the Rockefeller Center in New York.
The groundbreaking Exposition des Art Decoratifs et Industriels was held in Paris in 1925. It was one of the biggest influences on the Art Deco movement and where the name originally came from.
The art deco influence seeped into every area of design, from architecture to fashion, product design, and filmography. It was the most significant design movement between the two World Wars. Art deco buildings manage to be both glamourous and modern, influenced by earlier design movements but with their own distinctive style.
What city has the most Art Deco?
Without a doubt, Napier has the most Art Deco in New Zealand. It might seem strange at first that such a high concentration of Art Deco buildings can be found here. Napier is a fairly small city in New Zealand, a long way away from the origins of the movement. But once you know about the local history, you’ll begin to understand.
It’s possible to trace the flourish of the Art Deco style in Napier back to the devastating earthquake of 1931, which levelled much of the city and caused 256 deaths. The quake lasted for 2.5 minutes and hit 7.8 on the Richter scale. Aftershocks continued to rock the area for weeks to follow.
It was a shocking experience for everyone who lived in the Hawke’s Bay area. But people rallied round and poured their efforts into rebuilding the city of Napier. The centre of Napier was hit particularly hard and many significant buildings were completely wiped out. As a result, most of the city was rebuilt in the fashion of the time, the elegant and modern Art Deco style. And that’s how Napier became the Kiwi Art Deco capital!
You can also see examples of the Stripped Classical and Spanish Mission styles, but Art Deco is by far the most noticeable in the centre of the city.
Art Deco Trust Napier: Tours, Events, Shop and More!
The Art Deco Trust was founded in 1985 to preserve and promote Art Deco in Napier. By this time, news of this cocoon of gorgeous Art Deco buildings was spreading, bringing tourists in to see the wonders of Napier for themselves. Visitors travelled from near and far to see how the reconstruction of Napier into this extraordinary Deco-style beauty of the 1930s.
You can find the Art Deco Trust in the large Art Deco Centre in the middle of Napier, Hawke’s Bay. The team of staff and volunteers run daily guided walks through the city, sharing the story of Napier rising from the ashes of the earthquake.
You can also pick up a map and leaflets full of info about the architecture of the city, so you can take off on a self-guided tour. Don’t miss the shop, which is full of uniquely charming gifts and items. You’ll find water jugs, jewellery, accessories for men and women, and informational books in the shop, among other Deco goodies.
The Art Deco Trust works to preserve and enhance the buildings, which have been standing for almost a century. Thanks to the Trust’s hard work, Napier is now on the world map as a destination for tourists both from New Zealand and internationally.
The Trust also runs an exciting range of events throughout the year, from the popular Art Deco Festival in February to the Vintage Car Tour, which you can book by appointment.
If you want to see Napier in the most glamorous way possible, book the Vintage Car Tour. You’ll be swept off down the street in a vintage car from the past century, by a driver in full costume. It’s the chance to learn more about Napier, the earthquake, and the recovery, and you get exclusive access to the interior of the Napier Municipal Theatre. This unique Art Deco Trust experience is sure to be a highlight of your weekend in Hawke’s Bay. A screening of the short movie about the 1931 earthquake is also included in the package.
The Napier Art Deco Festival: What You Need to Know!
Every year, the fun Art Deco Festival runs in Napier New Zealand, swirling you into a Gatsby-esque world of elegance, dances, and vintage cars. The Festival runs every summer in February, this year from the 19th – 23rd February. You’ll need to buy tickets in advance, as they are in high demand and sell out quickly. So don’t wait around! If you want to experience Napier in full 1930s swing, grab your tickets and get yourself to Hawke’s Bay.
Over the five days of the Festival, the programme menu is chock full of varied and fascinating events. You can treat yourself to cocktails at the Great Gatsby Party (don’t forget your dancing shoes!). Enjoy music in the open air at the Mission Lawn Jazz Party, or feast at Bootleggers on the Beach. Many more events are on the menu, so you’ll have to choose carefully! The Art Deco Festival is one of the highlights of the year in Hawke’s Bay, making it the best time to visit for the weekend!
The Wrap Up
Napier is a one-of-a-kind city in New Zealand: it’s welcoming and full of architectural Art Deco beauties to check out. The gem of Hawke’s Bay, it’s the perfect place to base yourself for a short break. As you walk down the street, you can admire the incredible Art Deco architecture. Plus, the fantastic festival held by the Art Deco Trust every February is not to be missed!
But Napier has much more to offer than the gorgeous Art Deco architecture on display. Don’t miss our full guide to things to do in Napier! There’s something for everyone, including thrill seekers, nature lovers, and wine aficionados! If you have any questions about Art Deco Napier, feel free to send me an email. I’d be happy to help!