The World’s Art Deco Capital Is a Small City in New Zealand

Earthquakes get a bum rap.

Deservedly, of course. Felled buildings, high death tolls, displaced populations … a good reputation these do not make.

But sometimes — or at least one time — earthquakes also create things. Artistic, architectural things.

A three-minute, 7.8-Richter quake that devastated Napier, New Zealand in 1931 claimed more than 260 lives. It also pushed the seabed up three to six feet. Over the next three years, that elevated land became the foundation for one of the largest collections of Art Deco homes and buildings in the world.

Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced architect Louis Hay began building the boxy, two-story, concrete buildings after the quake. By 1933, the town boasted more than 110 modernist structures. Although Spanish Mission, Prairie Style and Stripped Classical buildings were also erected during the Depression-era reconstruction, affordable Art Deco construction was the “unifying theme” of the “cohesive, harmonious townscape.”

The town embraced its new identity, and the Art Deco Trust holds a festival each February featuring vintage car parades, fashions shows and other experiences to celebrate becoming a “small New Zealand City that seems sometimes fictional.”

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