Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 15 - the X issue
Log 15 - the X issue
About, Around and Over It:X Culture and Aspects of Pacific Architecture
Albert L Refiti

`In my experience cross-cultural is anything that crosses culture - a recognition that culture and cultural entities have been crossed, our definition has to be wider since the idea of culture is a complex one that must encompass many spheres from identity to the way time and space is enacted in the theatre. `[1]
- Lemi Ponifasio

Asau Congregational Church, Savaii  the last `hybrid' church architecture of the `old style' left in Samoa, also the last major building before you cross into wilderness territory.
Asau Congregational Church, Savaii [photo in print]:
the last `hybrid' church architecture of the `old style' left in Samoa,
also the last major building before you cross into wilderness territory.

`Happy' conceptualisation of cultural boundaries strives for a commonality that must make a positive return. Its subject position is located in the balance of fairness where the transactions are seen in fair play; where the between-boundaries exchange is an event played out with a satisfactory ending. These practitioners of difference include anthropologies, sociologists, philosophers and architects.

Irony is often the result of asymmetrical and `unhappy' crossings between boundaries. Irony is essentially asymmetrical in nature because its subject position is one where the viewer or the arbiter of taste deemed the transaction faulty and misleading thus the boundaries appear uneven creating a creasing that does not flatten easily. This is the case with popular conceptions of hybridity. These practitioners of difference include, the police, artists, politicians and writers.

This essay is an exploration of the issues of crossness, of crossing in and crossing out. The stitching together of different cultural entities must confront (bridging and denial or smoothing out in some cases) the fissure of displacement. Boundaries move at different speeds and planes to each other. Some multiply their boundaries and others obliterate and consume their own limits. In the Pacific these boundaries are not so easy to define anymore; to delimit them further in Auckland would be hilarious. But we have to go back a little bit historically to draw some boundaries for us to be crossed about, around and over it somehow.

An older form of cross-cultural exchange in architectural ideas was the design and construction of churches in the Pacific. The early churches were an adaptation of a long and large fale[2] with coral and lime walls closing off the sides, forming a long processional space suitable for a Christian congregation. Reverend John Williams and his native teachers from the Society Islands (Tahiti) created the first ones in Savaii in Samoa with the help of tufuga fai fale or traditional builders in 1932.

The churches in the second half of the 19th century were of a cross-cultural hybrid affair. They were intitially coral and lime churches built in Tahiti and Avarua by missionaries of the London Missionary Society who wanted to imitate the Neo-Gothic and Romanesque stone churches of rural England.[3] The Pacific versions were sited mostly in prominent spots in the villages, raised up high on stone and concrete platforms which often dwarfed the surrounding chiefs' meeting houses. Lime washed in white made the buildings glare brightly in the tropical sun. They were built by craftsmen who were members of the traditional builders' guild or tufuga fai fale who were responsible for the erection of houses. The craftsmen adapted the designs and construction of the European church to suit the mode of construction they were used to, like traditional houses or fale. The prominent feature of these church buldings was the entrance archway and connecting bell towers which gave the building an authority in the context of the village's open common ground or malae. A large roof in gable form or round arch would span the space behind the entrance archway, forming the body of the church. A fence would often enclose the building on the sides and in front. Churches from the late 19th century and the beginning of the last century are still standing. Modern versions are further developments of this kind of hybrid.

An interesting development in these buildings is the way the Polynesians imagined them to be the ideal version of the height of European spirituality, of a place that represented the utopia of a heavenly paradise in the eyes of a Euro-centric God. These buildings can be considered romantic projections by Pacific people of what a European paradise might be - fantasy creations caught in the absurd space of expectation. These (mis)representations are often at the heart of cross-cultural exchanges and imaginings. Now imagine another situation where these architectural imaginings are re-transplanted further to another location, as is the case in the suburbs of Mangere, Otara and Newtown. Somehow a double movement of cross-cultural exchanges starts to blur and change the boundaries of what a Pacific culture might be in these places. These artefacts, once the product of a (mis)representation of a Euro-Christian ideal, have become the very objects a Pacific culture becomes identified with in New Zealand. But the nature of the hybrid in a funny way can often blur and distort fixed assumptions about identity and can produce strange results.

The best example of these architectural cross-cultural imaginings is the Tonga Methodist Church in Favona, Mangere. This is a very large church with a large barrel-shaped roof that has echoes of a long fale. In front of this church is a malae[4] area surrounded by a rather exotic garden. The minister's house and outdoor cooking house encloses the complex. The building has quite an imposing presence on the area with a large and impressive driveway adding an air of grandeur. The interior furnishings are typical of church interiors in the Islands, with windows down the sides providing ample lighting and the pulpit situated at the end of the long space.

The siting of the complex is the most fascinating aspect. The church, some 200 metres from the road, is bounded by a 1.5-metre-high volcanic stone wall which gives the whole complex a perfect outline; an outline which could be conceptually seen as a cut-off-line enabling the transportation of such a complex from the Pacific to Auckland. This boundary between the Pacific and Mangere resonates at different speeds creating an eerie line or fissure between two worlds. The crossing over in irony is prominent from the road. The experience of driving past highlights where the uniform and uninspiring line of 1970s state houses is suddenly broken by the `exotic' appearance of this complex. For a moment the continuous homogeneous and familiar fabric of suburbia is disrupted by a strange and uncanny break and you are not quite sure if the experience is real. Such a simple and straightforward transplantation of architecture (with romantic hybrid beginnings) from one place to another raises some questions about our familiar environment.

This line or break is a moment, and it resonates with a mute laughter, manslaughter even. The eye of difference (the view of the architect, police or artist) draws lines from the planes of juxtaposition (between cultural entities) that cannot be untangled. The gaze of difference is deflected into a crossness, an ex(cremental) that is rebutted about, around and over.

Albert , Aquarian, drives a Volvo and lives in Pt. Chev in a brick `n' tile house overlooking a cricket/rugby league/soccer field.

Saleilologa Congregational Church from the car, Savaii
[slide taken from the car]:
typical example of church architecture influenced by Tahitian and missionary ideas. These were imagined by Polynesians to be the ideal version of the height of European spirituality, of a place that represented the utopia of a heavenly paradise in the eyes of a Euro-centric God.

Tongan Methodist Church, Favona, Mangere
cross-cultural imaginings in the heart of South Auckland.

[1] Ponifasio L (2001): A practitioners experience of creating a cross-cultural dance in New Zealand, a Creative New Zealand report.

[2] The fale form is common throughout the Pacific and parts of South East Asia and it is an oblong shaped house, with a long middle portion approximately 15-20 metres long by 6 metres wide with rounded ends. See Buck, P. (1927) Samoan Material Culture, Bishop Museum; also Kramer A. (1995): The Samoa Islands Vol. 2, translated by T. Verhaaren, Polynesian Press, Auckland, NZ.

[3] I am referring specifically to Buzacott's church in Avarua described in Buzacott A. (1866): Mission Life in the Islands of the Pacific, being a narrative of the life and labours of Rev. A. Buzacott, edited by J P Sutherland and A. Buzacott, Snow, London.

[4] In Samoa and other parts of Polynesia malae or marae (Maori) is the common open ground adjacent to chiefly meetinghouses. It often acts as the total space where boundaries are obliterated by the glare of authority and rule that governs good manners in Polynesian societies.



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room