Joint symposium by Unitec Institute of Technology (Auckland, New Zealand) and Technical University Munich (Germany)

29 June to 1 July 2022


The beginning of global contact with the South Pacific is often automatically associated with the first explorative travels of James Cook in the 18th century. However, it was the late 19th century which culminated in a complex process of multinational developments, backwards and forwards, battles even. Imperialist interests already dated back many centuries, but in realising the trading potentials in this part of the world, the major colonising powers – such as Great Britain, France, USA, the German Reich and others – occupied and took ‘possession’ of island countries in the Pacific during the latter part of the 19th century. This development reached its first peak around and after 1900. However, before this direct colonial impact, trading firms and missionaries had already caused a first – ‘para-colonial’ – wave (indirect, not yet official colonial), introducing and implementing foreign concepts and customs. This dynamic process of constant negotiations and change of power continued well into the first half of the 20th century: in the context and aftermath of the First World War, countries neighbouring the Pacific from the west, east and south – like the USA and Japan to Australia and New Zealand – took over Mandated Territories from collapsing German colonies in the region, but at the same time acted themselves as de-facto colonisers in the concerned island countries from the Marianne Islands to Papua-New Guinea all the way to Samoa. Today, the impact of these 100 years of para-colonial, colonial and postcolonial experiences of more than a century is still widely felt. The recent apology for the dawn raids of the 1970s offered by New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reflects this.

Taking the Courthouse in Apia/Samoa as an example, we can see how much different actors and cultures have interacted and how historical building from contested pasts continue to be in the centre of contemporary heritage debates: this building, designed by a German architect in 1902 but built with material from the US and other overseas places, first represented German colonial administrations, then New Zealand’s military administration, and finally housed the Samoan Prime Minister’s office. Unfortunately, the Courthouse was dismantled in 2020 despite many attempts to save it.
How, then have the different changes of powers from outside or the inside – from incoming trading firms and missionaries to whole imperialist powers with their established colonies on the one hand to the colonised island populations on the other – impacted on architecture? How have the various ruling powers in the South Pacific conceived and appropriated pre-colonial local architectural traditions (or not)? How did they develop and implement new forms of architecture in the Pacific Island nations? And how did gradual political independence in the region affect architectural production? And finally: What of all these architectural fragments from a century of constant changes of power has survived until today? What kind of architectural heritage is it and for whom? And how can we ‘read’ this complex, multi-layered architectural legacy?

Knowledge on colonial architecture in the South Pacific is still sparse. Connections with pre-colonial settings and the post-colonial afterlife of this built legacy are often missing. In this sense, this conference offers contributions within the targeted time span c. 1840–1990, embedded in the larger South Pacific region. These contributions attempt to link their concrete architectural case studies of buildings, ensembles and urbanist projects with reflections on the influences of and transactions between locals and foreigners, colonials and colonised, and their changing allegiances, even across changing political powers.

• political actors, cultural brokers, firms and agencies, institutions and national regimes
• contact and encounter, competition, collaboration to local and regional forms of resistance and/or exchange
• normative strategies, aesthetic choices of particular styles in relation to the representation of power, implicit or explicit cultural references
• building practices, materials, technical and logistical aspects, applied building norms and eventual results of structural hybridisation in form, function, material and style.

While denominations such as Pacific, Pacific Ocean, Pacific Islands etc. are equally varying in their geographic und cultural definitions and comprise of an enormous region of the world which lies beyond the manageable scope of the symposium, we use the term ‘Oceania’ here to narrow down the core area of investigation: as the specific historic and geo-political entity which Germans referred to as Ozeanien (Oceania) or Stiller Ozean (Silent Ocean) during the 30 years (1884 to 1914) of their colonisation.
During this period, the German Reich took as colonies the Northern Mariana Islands (Marianen), Federated States of Micronesia and Palau (Karolinen), the Marshall Islands (Marshall-Inseln), north-eastern New-Guinea (Kaiser-Wilhelmsland), New Britain Archipelago (Bismarck-Archipel) and Western Samoa (Deutsch-Samoa).
We particularly invited contributions about these specific territories, while case-studies on neighbouring island regions, such as Fiji or Tonga, in their own para-colonial, colonial and post-colonial contexts, were equally welcome. As a consequence, Pacific nations like Australia, New Zealand, the USA or Japan are not targeted as geographical entities per se during the symposium, however they are explicitly included as political players and national actors related to building practices.