Guy Ngan: Wool House, 1983

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Seascape
Medium: Cast aluminium, 19 panels
Dimensions: H2940 x W2120 x D70mm
Date: 1983
Original location: Wool House (New Zealand Wool Board Building), cnr Customhouse Quay, Featherston & Brandon Sts, CBD, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington
Architect: Stephenson & Turner
Current location: Collection of Ron Sang
Heritage status: None known

Seascape is an abstract work made out of 19 panels of cast aluminium. Originally installed in the New Zealand Wool Board building known as “Wool House” in Wellington’s CBD, the work was later removed and put into storage. Some years later, architect Ron Sang acquired the piece and relocated it to his home in Epsom, Auckland, where it remains.

Guy Ngan: Windermere Apartments, 1975

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled
Medium: Aluminium, light fittings
Dimensions: H970 x W2480 x D200mm
Date: 1975
Original location: Windermere Apartments Foyer, 6 The Promenade, Takapuna, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Architect: TBC
Current location: In situ
Heritage status: No known protection

Ngan’s wall sculpture for Takapuna’s Windermere Apartments was perfectly designed to fit in harmony with the apartment’s sleek modern interior. Fully functional, it is an exceptional example of Ngan’s technique of creating wall sculptures with built-in lighting.

The work features five lake-like holes, perhaps a reference to the apartment’s name (Windermere is one of several lakes in England’s Lake District National Park) and the proximity of the apartment building to Lake Pupuke: a renowned geographic feature of the area.

Guy Ngan: Jasmin Licensed Chinese Restaurant, 1983

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Jasmin Licensed Chinese Restaurant
Medium: Mixed media including restaurant décor (colour scheme and furniture), brand/logo design, silk-screen printed room divider panels, and a paint & bamboo diptych.
Dimensions: Variable
Date: 1983
Original location: Jasmin Licensed Chinese Restaurant, Mezzanine level, James Cook Arcade, 294-296 Lambton Quay, CBD, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington
Architect: tbc
Current location: The décor largely remains as it originally was. The paint and bamboo diptych has been removed, and remains held by the family of the original owner.
Heritage status: None as yet

During the early eighties, Ngan was responsible for the interior design and branding of the new Jasmin Licensed Chinese Restaurant. His creative contribution was extensive and included floor plans, designs for the restaurant’s brand/logo, interior décor (including colour scheme and furniture manufactured by Formway), silk-screen printed room divider panels, and a mixed-media painting diptych.

Sold by the original owner to a long-serving employee, the décor  of the restaurant largely remains as it originally was. The paint & bamboo diptych was removed and remains in the possession of the family of the original owner.

Guy Ngan: NZ Wire, 1980

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled
Medium: Stained & varnished chipboard, wire, screws, rods (aluminium or acrylic tbc)
Dimensions: W3045mm x H1000mm x D350mm
Date: 1980
Original location: NZ Wire (now Pacific Steel), 5 Beach Rd, Favona, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Architect: TBC
Current location: In situ
Heritage status: TBC

Little is known about the commissioning circumstances behind this work. If you have any information, please let us know.

Guy Ngan: Aotea Lagoon Rose Garden, 1979

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled
Medium: Stainless steel
Dimensions: TBC
Date: 1979
Original location: Aotea Lagoon Rose Garden, Papakowhai Rd, Papakowhai, Porirua
Architect: n/a
Current location: In situ
Heritage status: TBC

Some limited information is attached to the sculpture that confirms the sculpture was “Made by Chubb Lock and Safe”. The logo for Rotary International is also included, suggesting they may have commissioned the sculpture.

Guy Ngan: Eastern Hutt Roundabout, 1976

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled (Worms Mating)
Medium: Concrete, paint
Dimensions: H4000mm x W3600mm x D2700mm
Date: 1976
Original location: Eastern Hutt Rd Roundabout, Stokes Valley, Te Awakairangi Lower Hutt
Architect: n/a
Current location: In situ
Heritage status: Collection of Hutt City Council [Asset No. 40247.01]

Commissioned by the Stokes Valley Jaycees,  Ngan’s sculpture was constructed by Greg Ross in 1976. Originally untitled, Ngan told the Hutt News in 2011 “I thought if I gave it a name, that’s all that people would remember. I wanted them to remember the shape.” Ngan further explained that, years after the sculpture was completed, the daughter of the family doctor said “Uncle Guy, I saw your worms mating.” He loved the description, and it stuck.*

Originally rendered in bare concrete, the sculpture has now been painted white.

A second mating worms sculpture is located at Stokes Valley’s Scott Court shopping centre shops. Titled “Elevating Worms”, and rendered in stainless steel, Ngan was commissioned by the E Tu Awakairangi Public Art Trust to create it in 2011.

*Simon Edwards, “Twin sculpture to Stokes Valley’s mating worms launched,” The Hutt News, 13 Dec 2011.

Guy Ngan: Wellington Civic Centre, 1974

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Geometric Progression (also variously referred to as Geometric Growth and Geometric Progressions)
Medium: [Original] Concrete, stainless steel; [Remake] Sandblasted, zinc & powder-coated 8mm mild steel plate, stainless steel
Dimensions: H8500mm (W x L TBC)
Date: 1974
Original location: Civic Centre, Cnr Victoria & Mercer Sts, CBD, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington
Architect: n/a
Current location: Removed in 1989 for the development of Civic Square and damaged in transit. Reconstructed and reinstalled at the Michael Fowler car park, Wakefield St, in 2006.
Heritage status: Wellington City Council Public Art Collection.

In 1969 seven sculptors were invited to submit proposals for a new sculpture for Wellington’s Civic Square. Guy Ngan won the competition, and Geometric Progression (also variously called Geometric Growth and Geometric Progressions) was commissioned by Wellington City Council with funding assistance from Mainline Contractors Pty Ltd (later Mainzeal). The sculpture was  constructed by Mainline Contractors and installed in 1974 at the intersection of Victoria and Mercer streets in the Wellington CBD.

In his proposal, Ngan stated that the title (then referred to as “Geometric Growth) implies “the application of geometry in compliance with natural laws. Visually, this echos the harmonious pattern of our houses, roadways and, more recently, our motorway, in the way these follow the natural formation of the land and water surfaces of our City.  There are of course, many other ways this work and its title can be interpreted at various levels but at this stage, I prefer to leave these interpretations to the beholders.” The blocks pointing towards the sky were said to encourage aspirational thinking.

The original work was uprooted in two hours by two front-end loaders in 1989 to make way for the development of Civic Square (including new council buildings and the Wellington Central Library). This hasty uplift damaged the sculpture beyond repair. It languished in storage in the council’s Newtown Depot for some years until a Wellington City Council grant of $40,000 was used to recreate the sculpture, with Ngan’s involvement.

In 2006 the City Council arranged to have the work reconstructed, replacing the original concrete base with 8mm steel plate. It was unveiled by Mayor Kerry Prendergast in December 2006 in its current position next to to the Michael Fowler car park on Wakefield Street.

Guy Ngan: Newton Post Office (Star), 1973

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Star
Medium: Bronze
Dimensions: TBC
Date: 1973
Original location: Newton Post Office, 300 Karangahape Rd, Newton, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Architect: Mark-Brown Fairhead & Sang, commissioned by Ministry of Works & Development
Current location: In situ
Heritage status: No known protection

The Newton Post Office was commissioned by the Ministry of Works and designed by architects Mark-Brown Fairhead and Sang. Wellington-based artist Guy Ngan created Star, to adorn its façade, and it has remained in situ since 1973. It exists as companion piece to Ngan’s Newton Post Office Mural (1973), which is now in the collection of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

The piece was originally backed with brown tiles, but these were removed due to deterioration.

Guy Ngan: Newton Post Office (mural), 1973

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Newton Post Office Mural
Medium: Aluminium panels (41 pieces) with built-in lighting
Dimensions: H2900mm x W7250mm
Date: 1973
Original location: Newton Post Office, 300 Karangahape Rd, Newton, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Architect: Mark-Brown Fairhead & Sang, commissioned by Ministry of Works & Development
Current location: Collection of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
Heritage status: Collection of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki [Accession no. 2005/3.1-41]

In the Sixties and Seventies Guy Ngan was a public art insider, an artist working with architectural practices and the Ministry of Works. A Wellingtonian, he designed many pieces for buildings in the capital, including a large tapestry in the Beehive. In a period of expansionist “think big” government spending, his public work was caught up in a bureaucratisation of modernist precepts and forms.

Ngan’s mural was made for Auckland’s Karangahape Road Post Office, commissioned by the Ministry of Works and designed by architects Mark-Brown Fairhead and Sang. 3 metres tall and 7 metres wide, it is made of interlocking cast aluminium panels arranged in a 4 by 10 grid. The work was constructed using a novel “lost polystyrene” process. The panels were initially carved from expanded polystyrene – the ubiquitous lightweight packing material. Aluminum was then poured into moulds encasing the carvings, vapourising them in a noxious puff. The fine porous texture of the sawn and sanded polystyrene remains visible on the mural’s soft grey surface. In a fascinating doubling of materials, the light, fragile and disposable polystyrene is replaced by silvery aluminium. Aluminium itself is a paradigmatic modern metal; displayed in ingots next to the Crown Jewels in the Paris Exhibition of 1855 and not producible in commercial quantities till 1886. Its lightness and strength made it a post-war stalwart of the aerospace industry. Ngan’s first use of Aluminium was in a mural for the Invercargill Centenary in 1971. Comalco, the artwork’s commissioner, operate New Zealand’s only Aluminium smelter at Tiwai Point in Southland. The smelter began operations that same year.

Depicting postal and telegraphic communication, the Post Office Mural’s semi-abstraction typifies modernist-inspired public art of the period. From the left, wavy lines emanating from a postmark bearing the words “Newton 1973” in Eurostyle font (favourite of late modernist architects everywhere) diverge into what could read as roads or telephone lines. The lines snake through a cluster of lozenge forms – houses, stylised letters or perhaps packets of information – before shooting out beyond the abstracted conurbation.

Near the centre of the mural, a broad strip of parallel lines moving from the top swoops down over an inbuilt light, before merging with a narrower horizontal band and another broad strip from the bottom of the mural. The converging sweep of lines then encircle a domed light, forming a motif that is part stylised koru, part motorway interchange.

The sinuous lines cutting between the clustered hollow lozenge forms recall a feature of the Newton landscape under construction at the same time as the Post Office building – the sweeping camber of ‘spaghetti junction’, Auckland’s most vexed piece of roading. Contemporary aerial views show the new motorway interchange cutting through the old central suburbs in just the way the sweeping lines zoom through the mural’s clustered forms, before trailing off into the aluminium countryside. To extend the reading of the mural in terms of this very new and dominant feature of the local landscape, the vertical band which loops over the first inbuilt light could be seen as referencing the Karagahape motorway overbridge. Just a block down the road from the Post Office, the bridge was constructed as part of the same major roading development (and also under the auspices of the Ministry of Works).

The mural evokes a sense of movement, while its abstraction allows a multiple reading of its moving, sweeping lines: as roads, as phone cables and as lines of flow. In its evocation of two modes of communication — post and telegraphy — the mural works at the cusp of the twentieth century’s major communicational shift – from object transfer to information transfer, from physical to electronic information.

Ngan’s mural was positioned in the building’s street level public area, filling an entire curtain wall. It was lit from above by spotlights in orange plastic dome fittings and skirted at its base by heavy-duty black plastic; the two lights built into the surface added focal illumination. The mural was decommissioned when the building was remodeled following the Post Office’s Rogernomic restructuring and the subsequent subleasing of parts of the building in the late 1980s. It remained in basement storage for a decade, only resurfacing in 1999 when I included it in my Artspace show, Nostalgia for the Future. Artspace is situated on the first floor of the Post Office building, so it seemed a highly appropriate context for a work designed in conjunction with the building’s construction.

In the 1970s a critic condemned the Post Office Mural as depthless décor, but today Ngan’s futuristic artwork seems stylish and dynamic, a social artefact representing a free-spending, infrastructure-happy governmental culture.

– Stella Brennan

Read this essay, and see more of Stella Brennan’s work at

Guy Ngan: Wellington Teachers’ Training College, 1971

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Acorn for Education
Medium: Cast bronze set on a concrete plinth
Dimensions: H3230 x W2560 x D1140mm
Date: 1971
Original location: The Quad, Wellington Teachers’ Training College, 26-40 Donald St, Karori, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington
Architect: Stanley William (Bill) Toomath, Toomath & Wilson Architects
Current location: Relocated to rear of Cotton Building (North End),  Victoria University of Wellington Kelburn Campus in 2019
Heritage status: Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, formerly Wellington College of Education Art Collection, accessioned 2009 [VUWCE.2009.92]

Cast by the Turner and Evans Foundry in Newtown in 1971, Acorn for Education was installed on-site in the main quad of the Wellington Teacher’s Training College Karori campus the following year.

Created using the lost polystyrene process where the polystyrene (positive) forms the design mould (negative) and is burnt away by the molten bronze during casting, the sculpture was ground and finished by hand before being assembled onsite. The finished sculpture consists of several bronze sections bolted together, set on a concrete plinth.

Guy was not paid for his design or work but agreed to do the project if the casting costs were covered. The casting and installation costs were funded through donations from people associated with the College, with the Students’ Association donating funds for the concrete base in honour of the College’s recently deceased Vice-Principal, Keith Fox. Inspired by the College’s motto, Lateat scintillula forsam (perhaps a small spark lies hidden here), it was said that the sculpture depicts ‘the roots [of the acorn, which] have tremendous grip on the ground and the shoots are bursting forth, pushing away the husks as the growth expands inside’.*

In 1988 the Wellington Teachers’ Training College changed its name to “Wellington College of Education, which then merged with Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) in 2005. Between 2014-16 the Karori campus was formally transferred to VUW, including its collection of art, with staff and students vacating the site and moving to the VUW Kelburn campus. In 2018 the site’s new owners, Ryman Healthcare, moved to demolish the campus. Acorn was uplifted from its original site by VUW, eventually undergoing cleaning and restoration work before being unveiled at its new site in December 2018.

Ngan also had a smaller maquette cast for his Stokes Valley garden.

* ‘College sculpture symbolises creative imagination in education’, National Education, p.295. ‘Cover caption’, National Education, vol.54, no.588, Jul 1972, p.242.

Thanks to Liz Ngan for her contribution to this text.