by Jennifer Taylor and James Conner. University of Hawai'i Press, August 2014. 352 p. ill. ISBN 9780824846725 (cl.), $75.00
Reviewed March 2015
Janice Shapiro Hussain, Technical Assistant, Columbia University, email@example.com
While substantial documentation exists on the architecture of Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea, the buildings that make up the rest of the Oceania islands have until now been a largely uncharted area of scholarship (with the exception of some studies on indigenous art and architecture). This gap is partly due to the extremity and unpredictability of the region's climate and geographical features which have assaulted these smaller islands, destroying not only buildings but records of their existence. Unable to rely much on existing documentation, architects and authors Jennifer Taylor and James Conner take on the ambitious task of detailing recent architectural developments of this region (primarily post-1980) in their new publication Architecture in the South Pacific: The Ocean of Islands. Research for this book was often obtained first hand through direct conversations with architects, engineers, conservators, politicians, and residents, among others.
In the format of a collection of themed essays, the authors cover the many buildings, designers, and architects of the Coral Sea and the Polynesian Triangle islands, while providing context to the islands' incredibly diverse history of migrations, exploration, colonization, war, nationalism - and notably in terms of development, tourism. With millions of visitors arriving to the Pacific islands each year, the presence of resort architecture is a story finally told here.
Set against the clear waters of the South Pacific is a range of architectural expressions and practices - from the overwater thatched-roof bungalows of Bora Bora, evocative of vernacular Polynesian huts, to the modern and French-influenced multi-level towers of New Caledonia. Interspersed on the islands are numerous churches, some lasting remnants of nineteenth-century Christian missions, along with places of worship for several eastern religions.
The diversity of styles depicted in this book provides the reader with a fascinating insight into past and modern development of the region. And yet the authors remind us that this story is still in flux, given the volatility of natural conditions and shifting definitions of national and cultural identity. In addition, the region once considered remote is now increasingly being connected to an outside world, particularly in terms of investment, design, and construction.
The 352 page cloth-covered book features numerous color photographs and architectural plans (including several full-page images) with some buildings being documented here for the first time. Architecture of the South Pacific is a necessity for any complete and up-to-date architectural library; its academic yet introductory chapters make it particularly useful as a starting point for further research.