Guy Ngan: Canterbury University Engineering School Lecture Hall, 1957

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled
Medium: Concrete
Dimensions: Approx. 457 m²
Date: 1957
Original location: Lecture Hall exterior, Engineering School, University of Canterbury, Creyke Rd (opposite 48), Christchurch Ōtautahi
Architect: Helmut Einhorn, Ministry of Works Architectural Division
Current location: Demolished in 2011 due to earthquake damage.
Heritage status: n/a

The University of Canterbury School of Engineering’s Lecture Hall was completed during Guy Ngan’s time as an employee of the Ministry of Works (under Gordon Wilson), where he advised on how public art might be incorporated into architectural design.

Fondly referred to as the ‘Mushroom’ due to its appearance, the iconic Lecture theatre was one of the first buildings to appear on the Ilam campus. It was added to and modified several times during the years, and its copper roof gradually aged to a verdigris hue.

The building was damaged in a major earthquake in Canterbury on 22 February 2011, after which a decision was made to demolish it, along with Ngan’s mural.

Guy Ngan: Naenae Post Office, 1959

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled
Medium: Linoleum
Dimensions: Approx. H5400mm x W6400mm
Date: 1959
Original location: Naenae Post Office, Hillary Court, Naenae, Lower Hutt
Architect: Walter Frederic Charles Vine, with Gordon Wilson (Supervising Architect), Ministry of Works and Development
Current location: Presumed destroyed
Heritage status: No known protection

Mid-century New Zealand was marked by the end of both the depression and WWII. An urgent need for housing struck the country and inspired the government to implement a plan to construct thousands of houses. Lower Hutt was one beneficiary of the plan and several suburbs—and their respective community centres—sprung up including those of Epuni, Taita, and Naenae.

Designed by Viennese émigré architect Ernst Plischke, Naenae’s Hillary Court opened in 1954, with the Naenae Post Office as the centrepiece of what may have been New Zealand’s first pedestrianised shopping mall.

The design of the Post Office building was handled by architect Walter Frederic Charles Vine, under the supervision of Government Architect Gordon Wilson. During this time Guy Ngan was employed full-time at the Ministry of Works Architectural Division as a design consultant. In this capacity he was invited to to create a site-specific work for the main public-facing area. Hon Michael Mocham, Post Master General, laid the foundation and opening plaques. The contractor was J M Construction, and the building was officially opened on 4 December 1959.

This artwork is unique in Ngan’s oeuvre as it is the only known linoleum work he completed (most of his public murals and sculptures were constructed from concrete, aluminium, and tile); it is a colourful work (also rare for his public artworks); and it is the only known two-dimensional public artwork that Ngan made for the Hutt Valley. Linoleum was a popular mid-century flooring product, created primarily from linseed oil, albeit with traces of lead. Highly durable, it was applied in a range of commercial and domestic settings. Renowned as a thrifty creative, it is possible that Ngan made this mural from offcuts of linoleum.

The Naenae branch of the Post Office closed in 2016, however the mural had already disappeared by this time, possibly when additions, alterations, and general “redecoration throughout” occurred to the building in 1984.

Image: Guy Ngan, courtesy of the Ngan family