Lang House

81 Hatton Street, Karori, Wellington

  • Lang House.
    Copyright: Jo & John Beaglehole.
  • .
    Copyright: Jo & John Beaglehole.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7447 Date Entered 28th May 1999

Locationopen/close

City/District Council

Wellington City

Region

Wellington Region

Legal description

pt Sec 37 & Lot 4 DP 14695 & pt Lot 3 DP 19752 Karori District, City of Wellington

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. This report includes text from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Historical:

The Lang House is of historical significance for the reason that it was designed by esteemed modernist architect Ernst Plischke for his stepson Henry Lang. Lang was significant in his own right as a result of his contribution to new Zealand economics and in his role as Secretary to the Treasury. He held the latter position from 1969 until his retirement in 1977. He "fostered its [Treasury's] change from a mainly accounting body to pre-eminent economic adviser to the government". During Lang's time, Treasury "became an intellectual powerhouse and hotbed of debate."

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. This report includes text from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Architectural:

The Lang House was designed in the Post War Modem Domestic style of the period 1940-1960. Style indicators are:

- Cubiform overall shape.

- Overhang for shade.

- Plain shiplapped weatherboard surface.

- Large areas of glass.

- Timber balloon framing.

- Sloping flat roof.

- Widely projecting eaves.

- Open planning inside.

- Standard three-four bedroom plan.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. This report includes text from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

23 (2) (a):

The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

The Lang House was designed by Ernst Plischke (1903-92) between 1948 and 1952 for his stepson, Henry Lang (1919-1997), and family, and built 1952-53. The Lang family has occupied the house since completion. Henry Lang's widow Octavia (known as Tup) has lived alone in the house since his death in April 1997 and is (1999) considering selling it.

Given the direct association of the house with Henry Lang for forty-four years from 1950, the prime historical significance of the place may be said to reside in the career of the man who lived in it. In 1950 Lang, who had just completed a Public Service Commission sponsored diploma in public administration, was appointed to the Marketing Department of the Commission as an investigating Officer. In 1951 he transferred to the Treasury and in 1954 was promoted to senior research officer. In 1955 he was seconded to the Department of External Affairs before taking up the position of economic counsellor in the New Zealand High Commission, London, where he served until early 1958. Soon after his return to New Zealand he became chief research officer in the Treasury. He was appointed assistant secretary in 1963, deputy secretary in 1966, and secretary in 1968, a position he would hold for eight years until his retirement in 1977.

For two decades Lang played a prominent role in economic policy-making. Prime ministers and ministers of finance relied heavily on Henry Lang. By virtue of the office, the secretary to the treasury has significant authority. To this Lang added personal attributes of intellectual incisiveness, sound judgement and formidable negotiating skills. He attracted strong loyalty from staff and had extensive knowledge of activities across the whole range of government. Over the years he established a reputation as the person to whom ministers and senior officials turned for assistance with diverse problems of public policy.

Until 1982 Henry Lang held the post of visiting professor of economics at Victoria university of Wellington, where he was also convenor of the master of public policy programme. He developed a special interest in health economics and chaired government reviews of cardiac surgery and the health of the workforce. He was in demand as a business consultant and company director, serving on numerous boards, including New Zealand Forest Products, Challenge Finance and National Australia bank, and chairing Government Life Insurance Corporation (later Tower Corporation). He was also a member of the Press Council and on the board of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

In 1977 Lang was made a CB and in 1989 he became an inaugural member of the Order of New Zealand. Victoria University awarded him an honorary LLD in 1984.

In assessing the career of Henry Lang it is clear that under his influence the intellectual capacity of Treasury became the dominant force in the bureaucracy. According to his obituary, he "fostered its change from a mainly accounting body to pre-eminent economic adviser to the government." During Lang's time as secretary, Treasury "became an intellectual powerhouse and hotbed of debate." Lang supported the freeing up of the economy and the lifting of import protection, but expressed disquiet about the free-market policies adopted by labour from 1984 and continued by national from 1990.

Henry Lang married Octavia ("Tup") Turton in 1942. They had five children. Henry's step-father, Ernst Plischke, began designing a house for the Lang family as early as 1948. Henry Lang recalled that he and Tup demanded that the house plans be changed about 20 times before a design was presented that they were happy with and thus it was not until 1952 that the drawings were lodged with the Wellington City Council for a building permit. At this time, Henry and Tup had three children. Plischke's wife Anna designed and planted the garden which is sheltered from southerly winds by the house. The garage at the top of the garden (north-east comer) was built in 1954-55, shortly after the house was completed.

Changes were made to the house fairly early on its history. In 1960 the basement was fitted with a small bathroom and used as a bedroom (two more children had to be accommodated by this time) and about a year later (1961-62) an angled bedroom was added on to the rear of the house.

Subsequent changes to the house were designed by Robert (Bob) Fantl, a European architect who had worked in the office of Plischke and Firth. Fantl's alterations include the extension of the roof over the garage (1970) and the extension of the living/dining room on the north side of the house (1970-71).The latter project also included the reroofing of the house using long-run metal roofing (it was originally bitumen with pea gravel binding). No major changes have been made to the house since this time, although new steps and a sculpture were added to the garden in front of the dining area by Tanya Ashkin c.1990.

As a modernist designed building, Henry Lang's house does reflect in an important sense the arrival of Modernism in Wellington following the Second World War. In a more obvious way, however, the house reflects Lang's essential character as a man of wide cultural interests - a man who was greatly respected not only for his contribution to the development of economic policy in New Zealand, but also for his work in art and culture. This later aspect of his personality may be judged from the comment above that both he and Tup changed the house plans many times before a design was arrived at that they were happy with.

23(2)(b):

The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

Events: None, other than the usual events associated with family life.

Persons: Henry George Lang, 1919-1997. Henry Lang was born Heinrich George Lang in Vienna, Austria, on March 3 1919, one of two sons of Robert Lang. Henry's mother Anna Lang divorced and in 1935 married Ernst Plischke. Henry was educated in Vienna and completed one year of military service in the Austrian army. His mother was Jewish and after the German occupation of Austria after the Anschluss of 1938, the family came to New Zealand, arriving in May 1939. They settled in Wellington. Lang was nineteen at the time. Five years followed in which he was still technically an alien. However he found work as a factory worker in Petone, studying in his spare time for a commerce degree at Victoria University of Wellington. From 1942 to 1943 he was accountant and secretary for Warner Brothers pictures in Wellington, and from 1944-46 was accepted for military service in the Royal New Zealand Air Force ground crew staff.

Eventually Lang became a civil servant with the Economic Stabilisation Commission, a body which controlled prices and justified subsidies. Recruited by Treasury as one of its first graduates, he rose to become Secretary. He recruited the brightest graduates from a variety of disciplines and through its intellectual capacity Treasury became the dominant force in the bureaucracy. His views brought him into conflict with the projectionist officials Dr. Bill Sutch and Jack Lewin, and also over the Kirk Government's superannuation scheme, with Robert Muldoon. After retiring in 1977 he became part-time professor at Victoria University, and instrumental in setting up the Institute of Policy Studies. He was also involved in the development of the Museum of New Zealand (MONZ). Henry Lang died in Wellington on April 17, 1997.

Ideas: The Lang House is of outstanding architectural significance. It is one of Plischke's better known houses in New Zealand and is an outstanding example of mid-century modem domestic architecture. It was published in Plischke's own books - Vom Menschlichen im Nuen Bauen (On the Human Aspect in Modem Architecture), Wien, Munchen, Verlag, Kurt, Wedl, 1969; Plischke, EA, Wein, Akademie der Bildenden Kunste, 1983; and Ein Leben mit Architektur, Weill, Locker verlag, 1989.

The Lang House was more consistent with international modernism than it was with the search for a New Zealand modernism that pre-occupied many New Zealand architects of the day. Plischke was keen to differentiate himself from any ideological nationalist spirit and in his own books he chose to omit those of his buildings which might have been seen to conform with a "New Zealand modernism" in favour of those with an international flavour. The Lang House was one of those that Plischke chose to publish in his books - it was pure modernism, the type he wanted to be remembered for.

23(2)(g):

The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

DATE: Designed 1948-52. Built c.1952-54

ARCHITECT: Ernst Anton Plischke (1903-1992)

STYLE CODE: 83: Post War Modem Domestic, 1945-60.

DESIGN:

The Lang House is a modem house with a flat roof, open living spaces and careful attention to indoor-outdoor living. Though timber-framed and clad with weatherboards, it was more consistent with international modernism than it was with the search for a "New Zealand modernism" that pre-occupied many New Zealand architects of the day. The exterior is painted an olive-green colour and, according to Tup Lang, has always been this colour.

The living/dining room is the exceptional space within the house. It is 35 feet long, north-facing and has a wonderful view over the garden and the bush-clad hills behind. The north wall originally contained two pairs of french doors but when the space was extended by pushing the north wall out 7 feet, the french doors were replaced with sliding glass doors, opening the living room up to the outdoors even more. Skylights were added within the roof of the extension. A wooden bench outside the doors can act as either a step or a seat. Also of significance within the living/dining area are the built-in cup boards and bookshelves which line the east and south walls, providing both storage space as well as a bench-top for vases and bowls.

Behind the living/dining room is the kitchen. It faces south, but a north-facing clerestory lets in sun and light. In addition, there is a cupboard between the kitchen and the dining area which has sliding glass doors on either side and provides a visual connection between the two spaces. It means that the north garden can be seen from the kitchen and the south garden from the dining area.

The house was designed to be added to as finances permitted. In 1964 when more bedrooms were required, the basement was completed. The basement is reached via a steep stairway from the living room. The stair has a hatch over it which is carpeted and thus the lower level can be completely closed off.

The west wing of the house contains the main bedrooms and bathrooms. The planning of these spaces is tight, with doors providing access between the two north-facing bedrooms. Originally there were three bedrooms in this wing, with a fourth added on the south side in 1961-62.

23(2)(m):

Such additional criteria not inconsistent with those in paragraphs (a) to (k):

In terms of registered comparative examples, the national register has only two listed modern houses, the Plischke House in Christchurch, 1940, built for Otto Frankel and Margaret Anderson, Category II, and the Vernon Brown House in Auckland, 1940, Category I. This significant gap in Modernist buildings is not particularly helpful when comparing the Lang House with a broad range of domestic houses that exemplify both International Modem designs and the search for a New Zealand Modem vernacular in domestic house design.

However, the best way of making a comparative assessment of the architectural significance of the Lang House is to compare it with other unlisted Modernist designs and to point out some of the similarities and differences. Perhaps one of the better known Modernist houses in the international modem style is the Khan House in Ngaio, Wellington, designed by Ernst Plischke and built in 1941. The Khan house has the same Modernist antecedents as the Lang House, viz., open planning inside, the deliberate positioning of the house to utilize maximum sunlight and views of the hills and harbour of Wellington, and large areas of glass to bring the outdoors inside - a concept facilitated by french doors or ranch sliders, and timber construction. The same planning may also be seen in the well known Sutch House (1953) which Plischke designed at the same time he was working on the Lang House. Like the Lang House, the Sutch House emphasises Plischke's concern with lightness and transparency expressed through an innovative structure. Modernist features in the Sutch House are, once again, extensive areas of glass, a large living room with a moveable wall emphasising the informal freedom of open planning, an inner courtyard, and a floor plan on three levels which takes advantage of the hill site of the place in Brooklyn, Wellington.

Two historians have pointed out that Plischke's interests were not with the search for a modem architecture of a New Zealand national character, and that this may be seen in the European emphasis in the planning of his houses. Comparatively speaking therefore, if we ask ourselves what are the special and outstanding features which distinguish the Lang House, we have to say that they reside in its specific concerns with international modernist planning concepts rather than with a search (as undertaken by Plischke's new Zealand contemporaries) for a specifically New Zealand form of modernist domestic architecture. As Peter Shaw suggests, "Plischke preferred not to designate internal spaces according to a specific purpose. There was rarely a formal dining area; kitchens and bathrooms were invariably very small and built-in furniture predominated."

By contrast, Plischke's modernist New Zealand contemporaries had specific concerns with planning for the average New Zealand family. Interior spaces were specifically and formally designated, and were in the form of three bedrooms, kitchen, living room with dining area, and rumpus room. This is not to say that (comparatively speaking) Plischke was not concerned with the same planning issues, and with providing a standard form of public housing that drew its identity from professional urban planning concepts. The real difference is, perhaps, that architects like Paul Pascoe, Cedric Firth, Vernon Brown, and other contemporaries, were working towards a type of house design that eventually became standard for some types of State House in the 1950s, although this has to be qualified by saying that in the case of the house which Al Gabites of the Architectural Centre in Wellington designed (the "Demonstration House") the intention was to go beyond the limitations of the state house. Modernist houses that fell into this category (the search for a New Zealand architectural identity) were such places as the original Architectural Centre Model House just mentioned, called the 'Demonstration House' designed largely by Al Gabites and built in Karori, Wellington, by the Architectural Centre in 1948-49, the Vernon Brown House in Auckland, 1940, the Cedric Firth House, Karori, Wellington, designed as his own house by Ernst Plischke's partner in 1941, and architect Paul Pascoe's own house (1948) at Sumner, Christchurch. Plischke himself, however, was more specific about the difference between himself and his New Zealand contemporaries. He is quoted as having said to Nikolaus Pevsner in 1960 that in New Zealand the word "indigenous" had priority over everything else, and that this particular concern had an ideological nationalist motivation behind it which he did not wish to identify with.

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Construction Professionalsopen/close

Plischke, Ernst Anton

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1948 - 1952
Post War Modern Domestic

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Central region office.

Some of the assessment material in this report was taken, with minor modifications, from the nomination form for Lang House.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.