Napier, on the east coast of New Zealand, is the Art Deco Capital of the World. In fact, there are 140 Napier Art Deco buildings, doors, sculptures, and more in this town. Not surprisingly, as we walked downtown, fun and funky examples of Art Deco in Napier surrounded us.
To clarify, this is all by design. Not by the original plan, but Napier is one of a few world cities that was given a chance to reinvent itself.
This is due to a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that destroyed the city in 1931. As New Zealand does, it turned this disaster into an opportunity. With so many people unemployed during the depression era, the rebuilding of Napier attracted skilled and talented workers from around New Zealand.
As a result, Napier is an Art Deco city that is a must-see, as well as being impossible to miss.
Napier Art Deco Trust
While one could easily discover much of the style on their own, a walking tour helped us capture the magic.
While there are plenty of options (see below), we chose and recommend the walking tour with Napier’s Art Deco Trust. In just 2 hours, we learned about various Art Deco elements as well as Napier’s history.
We walked past classic examples while our passionate volunteer guide highlighted the nuances and finer details.
A few Napier Art Deco buildings
Before we get into what specifically defines the style, take a look at a few examples of the Art Deco in Napier.
- Criterion Hotel: Spanish mission style with cordoba tiles, arched windows, symmetry, ziggurats, and false balconies
- Bowman building: one of many designed by Louie Hay with reinforced concrete covered in brick.
- Public Trust Office: example of classical revival (with Art Deco columns) built in 1921 and repaired after the quake.
This design won awards for its ziggurat and lines:
While the T&G building (now A&B) is an example of stripped classical style:
Even the artwork represents the era
I instantly fell in love with these Art Deco bronze figures on the main street in town.
She stands prominently on Emerson street, while he is a bit less noticeable, hanging onto a street lamp across the street and waving back.
The birth of Art Deco
The 1920s -1930s were an age of change with new technology and materials. A faster-paced modern lifestyle included the availability of travel and new freedoms for women.
From the Napier Art Deco trust, “Art Deco expressed all the vigour and optimism of the roaring twenties and the idealism and escapism of the grim thirties.“
Art Deco’s worldwide popularity was born in Paris in 1925 at the great Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts).
Patterns and features that identify Art Deco
Once you know what to look for, Art Deco decor is easy to identify. With its sharp lines and geometric patterns, the style radiates optimism, speed, the dawn of a modern age, and a bit of breaking the rules.
But more than just the shapes, several primary Art Deco colours are bold, bright, or metallic, yet they often include combinations: black and white; creams, taupes and medium browns; silver, gold, blue, and charcoal grey; or, dandelion yellow, forest green, peacock blue, royal purple, and cherry red.
Above all, the key features to look for in Art Deco architecture include:
- Trapezoids and other geometric shapes
- Sweeping curves, including fans and fountain shapes
- Long vertical lines – symbolise skyscrapers
- Horizontal “speed” lines – Symbols of speed, power and flight
- Ancient cultures (mostly civilisations of Egypt and Central America).
Napier Art Deco buildings with Māori motif
Of course, New Zealand makes it unique. That is to say, the integration of Māori motifs with artistic features gives Art Deco in Napier a distinctive flavour found nowhere else. Much of this design is the work of local architect Louis Hay.
The ASB bank building’s ceiling is a fabulous example of a Maori Motif used in Art Deco architecture.
Napier Art Deco Tour Options
|Guided Afternoon Napier Art Deco Walk||Walk the Napier Art Deco district|
Earthquake history and Art Deco revival
|Private Napier Art Deco Guided Walks||Customized Art Deco walking tour|
History of Napier area
Interiors of Napier Art Deco buildings
Insight to the Art Deco era style
|1 to 2 hrs|
|Vintage Car Napier Art Deco Tour||Explore Napier in a luxury vintage car|
Short Napier Art Deco / history film
See Art Deco quarter and suburbs
Exclusive tour of Napier Municipal Theatre
|Napier Art Deco Tours by Minivan||Morning or afternoon departure|
See and learn about Art Deco landmarks
Explore Marewa and Ahuriri areas of Napier
A closer look at some of the Napier Art Deco buildings
Take a closer look at some of these features:
- Central Hotel – classic Art Deco elements
- The original entrance to the Hawke’s Bay Museum
- Blooms Jewellery’s entrance is an example of an “ingo” with leadlight and terrazzo features.
- Leadlight and chevron designs are prominent on these Art Deco doors at the Masonic Hotel.
The Art Deco walking tour also took us inside the Municipal Theatre where we found classic Art Deco carpet, lighting, seating, and designs.
Art Deco vs Art Nouveau
If you have a keen eye, you might notice occasional influence from Art Nouveau, the defining art form of the time just before the first world war. Whereas Art Deco is defined by its sharp angles and geometrical shapes, the historically earlier Art Nouveau features elegant curves and long lines.
Mixed within the Napier Art Deco, the Australian Mutual Provident building is in Art Nouveau style, as evident in the details.
Napier Art Deco Festival
Like a scene from Back to the Future, Napier’s Art Deco district steps back in time for one weekend each February. It’s a Napier Art Deco Festival that attracts over 40,000 people over four days. (In comparison, the town’s population is 57,000.)
Visitors and residents don Art Deco costumes all weekend long and enjoy events like vintage car parades, Art Deco fashion shows, outdoor concerts, and Great Gatsby themed picnics and dances. If you are thinking about heading to this Napier art deco weekend, you might want to book your hotel now.
Tip on Art Deco in Napier
- There are over 120 Art Deco buildings in Napier. If you are in a hurry and want to see some of the best examples, head to the centre of town and walk along Emerson, Tennyson, and Hastings Streets.
- Many of the building interiors are not open to the public without a tour.
- If you are interested in the finer details of any of the buildings featured here, download the Napier Architecture Reference page.
- A walking tour is one of the best things to do in Napier.
- Napier is on the east coast of the North Island in the Hawkes Bay region. We visited as a detour while driving from Wellington up to Auckland
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Which is your favourite of the Art Deco buildings in Napier?
For more on New Zealand, start here: New Zealand Road Trips: Itineraries for North or South Island Adventures, or you might like …
Disclaimer: As media guests of the Art Deco Trust we were provided with complimentary walking tours to assist in the writing of this review. The opinions expressed here are strictly our own.
Wish I’d done a tour like this during my visit. Had a very short stop in Napier, but loved it – sadly it rained most of our stay, so we didn’t get to explore as much as we’d have liked…
I do love Art Deco architecture, Rhonda, so I’d really like to visit Napier. It’s very useful to read your guide to some of the key features to spot too. Thanks for sharing this gem.
All those details! I love art deco and the colors, shapes and ambience is fun! We had similar tour in Miami back in 2016
Oh my! I am such a big fan of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, I’d absolutely LOVE to see all this. What a great post.
Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields
I have been to Napier twice and loved it both times. Our most recent visit coincided with the Tremains Festival. it was loads of fun seeing the town dress up in Art Deco style for the occasion.
Who doesn’t love art deco architecture. So wonderful that it has been so well preserved and celebrated in Napier. I’d love to visit during the Art Deco weekend – how fabulous to see everyone dressed up in 20s gear.
I love both Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture. The first is more decorative, but the second is sleeker and more modern. These Art Deco buildings in Napier are really beautiful. We have some great Art Deco buildings in Los Angeles too.
I love Art Deco buildings! I remember seeing beautiful ones in Chicago and Minneapolis (not period Art Deco but contemporary buildings built in that style). What a treat! The bronze figures are so fun, too!
I love Art Deco architecture, It’s incredible how much there is in one town
One day I’ll make it to New Zealand and Napier will be on my must see list.
The earthquake provided a clean slate, allowing the town to rebuild. Art Deco was the fashion of the time.
RICCI - WHEN IN MY JOURNEYS
The attention to detail and elaborate designs on the buildings are just amazing. It is always nice to know the story behind every place that we visit, we tend to appreciate it more rather than just passing through and taking pictures.
I agree completely. History and a bit of pre-knowledge on a place really make a difference.
Some fascinating architecture there and some really interesting details. Great post.
I don’t think we would have noticed the details without the tour.
Sydney Sees the World
I love art deco architecture! If I ever happen to be in Napier, I’ll have to check out one of these tours. Thanks for sharing!
Yes, I encourage you to take a tour, it brings it all alive.
I love a city/town inspired by art. The bronze figures, architecture and even the manhole structures look so good. Would love to walk around this place and soak in the beauty.
The Art Deco theme is carried out everywhere in Napier.
Wow, it looks like you’re taking a step back in time with all the architecture looking similar in Napier!! Beautiful pictures. I love the bronze statues too! You’ve provided a great list of tours, too! I love tours when I first visit a city! I think it’s the best way to get a sense of a place and figure out how to spend the rest of your visit!
The Art Deco walking tour we took really made a difference in understanding the Art Deco style, but more so in pointing out the nuances in each design.
I love Art Deco and Napier looks like it has some great examples. If you’re ever back in the States, and near Asheville, give their self-guided Art Deco tour a try – or take a tour. They have alot of examples also.
Cool. I love Art Deco, and have never been to North Carolina.
What an awesome place! I never even knew this existed in New Zealand (just another reason to put it on the travel list!). I always watch the Art Deco episodes of Grand Designs so jealously, there’s something about the style of achitecture that makes me want to travel back in time to the 20s!
There is something “happy” about the colours and shapes, I think that is the appeal.
L. Diane Wolfe
It’s as if you’re touring a studio lot. But they are real.
I like Art Deco and your post is very interesting!
The city looks amazing! I’m into walking tours that specialise in the architecture of a city, so I’ll definitely check this out if I can ever visit Napier. I love the bronze figures, esp. the boy on the street lamp!
Napier is a city designed for walking, and the art deco tour really brought it alive.
Handmade Jewelry Haven
Beautiful commentary on Art Deco Architecture!
Thank you for sharing!
Glad you enjoyed it. Hopefully, you will get a chance to see it for yourself someday.
After reading this blog on Art Deco, i checked out your profile and expected you to be a master at Architecture. To my surprise, you are not! That means you have researched a lot on all the buildings and have come out with a very well researched and a sort of case study on Art deco in Napier! I am extremely grateful to you for taking the pain and explaining the concept like a class teacher would! I loved reading the post though i couldn’t understand too much!
Yes, a bit of research and also paying attention during the tour.
Looking at all the photos, it felt like I had gone back in time. The town has a lovely old world charm which I like. Of all the captures, I liked the pair of bronze figures – the lady with the dog and the boy waving back to her. Very nicely done. I also liked the entrance to Blooms Jewellery; the terrazo tile work is beautiful.
LOL – Walking down the street feels like we had gone back in time.
It’s so cool to see all the history behind the buildings and the amazing artistry. I really like the Art Deco bronze figures, especially the one of the little boy. So cute!
I agree. The history and interesting stories make the walking tour so great. I only touched on them here, there is so much more we learned about.
That Maori motif in the building design is so unique and striking too. I’ve not yet been to New Zealand, or heard of Napier, so I really enjoyed reading this. Art Deco is always a pleasure to see, and clearly Napier has many stunning examples on show.
It is that Maori motif found in many of the buildings that makes New Zealand’s art deco unique.
Hi Rhonda – it’s definitely a place I’ll visit should I ever get to NZ … love the whole look of Napier – cheers Hilary
I love the look of it too. There is an attractive quirkiness to the town. You can read more about the town here.
I loved the characters at the beginning the piece. They look real even though they are Art Deco bronze figures. See ya Rhonda.
The woman with the dog brought a smile to me. At first, I thought she was just waving at the people on the street and I wanted to wave back. It wasn’t until the tour guide pointed out the boy that I noticed him.
I like the hotel best and I love the bronze lady with the dog. Awesome.
What a fun and informative post.
Have a fabulous day, Rhonda. ♥
Yes, I knew you would like the dog. 🙂 And, I am glad you found it all useful.
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Felt like I was stepping back in time viewing those photos. I would definitely take the walking tour just so I had time to see everything.
That’s how it feels walking down the streets, like entering a time warp. I would love to go for the Art Deco weekend one year.
Love the art deco those figures made me smile, I particularly like Criterion Hotel
Have a artdecotastic week Rhonda 🙂
LOL – I already had my artdecotastic week when I was there 🙂