Guy Ngan: BNZ Onehunga East, 1977

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled
Medium: Paint on wood
Dimensions: 27.43m x 1.22m (90ft x 4ft)
Date: 1977
Original location: Bank of New Zealand, Onehunga East Branch, 146 Neilson St (cnr of Victoria), Onehunga, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Architect: Ron Sang
Current location: Missing
Heritage status: No known protection

This striking frieze spanned two large walls in the Bank of New Zealand’s Onehunga East branch, opened in 1977. Designed by Ron Sang, a December 1977 article in the BNZ’s Staff News magazine describes the décor of the space as featuring “a specially commissioned bright green carpet, brown and orange furniture and fittings and strong orange enamelled ducting of the air-conditioning system”. Ngan’s mural, painted on wooden panels, was likely to have been in keeping with this vibrant colour scheme.

Alongside Ngan’s mural, a number of other artworks were featured as part of the branch fitout including “two colourful smaller murals woven of wool, one by Guy Ngan’s wife, Jean, and the other by Wellington weaver, Jenny Hunt, of Days Bay”, and two pots by Doreen Blumhardt.

We haven’t been able to pin down what happened to Guy Ngan’s frieze for the BNZ Onehunga East branch. Please contact us if you have any information.

Thanks to BNZ heritage for their assistance with this research.

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 & power-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: BNZ Queen St, 1973

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled
Medium: Woodcarving: Kahikatea; Mural: TBC
Dimensions: TBC
Date: 1973
Original location: Bank of New Zealand, Queen St Branch, Cnr Queen & Victoria Sts, CBD, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Architect: TBC
Current location: Missing
Heritage status: No known protection

Guy Ngan created both a kahikatea carving and mural for a temporary BNZ branch on Queen St, which had been set up while the main branch was undergoing alterations. The carving was inspired by the Auckland landscape with its volcanic cones and craters. The mural consisted of at least four panels and was installed directly opposite the woodcarving.

We haven’t been able to pin down what happened to Guy Ngan’s kahikatea carving and mural for the BNZ Queen St branch. Please contact us if you have any information.

Thanks to BNZ heritage for their assistance with this research.

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: H2400mm x W2200mm x L635mm
Date: 1971
Original location: 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.

Guy Ngan: Reserve Bank, 1972

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Taiaha
Medium: Bronze with integrated lighting system
Dimensions: Approx. height 9.14m (30ft), weight 1180kg (2600lb). Exact dimensions & weight unknown
Date: 1972
Original location: Reserve Bank, 2 The Terrace, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington CBD
Architect: Ministry of Works
Current location: In situ
Heritage status: TBC

In 1970 Guy Ngan left his job with the architectural firm Stephenson & Turner to focus solely on his arts practice. It was in this year that the Reserve Bank ran a competition to select a sculpture for the exterior wall of its new head office. Ngan entered Taiaha, and won the competition.

Taiaha is made of 50 interlocking parts, and weighs more that one tonne. For Ngan, the work symbolised the bank’s solidity and strength, symbolised by the inclusion of two stylised taiaha (Māori weapons used in ceremonial challenges and, historically, in battle). An article in 1972 noted that this work was the biggest bronze sculpture mounted in Wellington since the War Memorial horse and rider.

Guy Ngan: Teal Park, 1971

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Teal Park Rocks
Medium: Basalt blocks
Dimensions: TBC
Date: 1971
Original location: Teal Park, Tamaki Drive, Mechanics Bay/Judges Bay, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Architect: n/a
Current location: In situ
Heritage status: Listed by Auckland Council

Named after Air New Zealand’s predecessor, Tasman Empire Airways Ltd, Teal Park was established to commemorate Air New Zealand’s 30th Anniversary.

The park was developed as joint venture between the Harbour Board and Air New Zealand, with the Harbour Board providing the land and rock for the sculpture, and Air New Zealand commissioning Guy Ngan to design the park’s layout.

Referred to by Ngan as a “stone sculpture garden”, the assembly of the blocks was overseen by Harbour Board design engineer Mr Colin Pask who worked from a model provided by Ngan. The basalt rock sculpture is made from stone that was once part of the old Graving Dock that stood at the bottom of Albert and Hobson Sts.

Teal park was officially opened in May 1971. The sculpture was originally twice as tall (15ft high), however it was deemed a health and safety issue, so the height had to be reduced.

A plaque, which has been attached to the sculpture since the park opened, states:

The name of this park and the basalt blocks used in the central feature are both linked with the history of Auckland
On 1st April 1940 Tasman Empire Airways Limited now Air New Zealand pioneered the first commercial Trans Tasman Air Service from Mechanics Bay some 300 yards West of this site
The Basalt Blocks were originally built into the Auckland Dock in 1878 between what are now Hobson and Albert Streets later these blocks became part of the Eastern tide wall
When the seabed in this locality was reclaimed for the container terminal in 1968 the blocks were recovered and now stand as a tangible link with the history of the Port of Auckland

This park is provided by the Auckland Harbour Board the design of the feature was sponsored by Air New Zealand to commemorate their 30th Anniversary

Guy Ngan: Invercargill City Council Administration Building, 1971

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: The City Centennial Mural
Medium: Aluminium
Dimensions: Approx. W3962mm (13ft) x  H2438mm (8ft), and weighs almost 317kg (700lb).
Date: 1971
Original location: Invercargill City Council Administration Building, 101 Esk St, Waihōpai Invercargill
Architect: TBC
Current location: In situ
Heritage status: TBC

In 1969 Invercargill held a competition to select a new artwork to mark the South Island town’s centenary. Guy Ngan won the competition with a scale model made in polystyrene, leading to the creation of this work.

Completed and installed in 1971, the work was cast in Wellington using aluminium donated by COMALCO that included some of the first batch produced at the Bluff foundry.

Installed behind the main reception desk of the Invercargill Council’s Administration Building, the work was said to depict, in a highly stylised and abstracted form, “the development of the Invercargill City from rural to an industrial and commercial community.”

The work was deinstalled and put into storage before being reinstalled in 2020.