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Black and white photo of two children playing on the floor of a large room with a view of other houses and the harbour

Modern Living: Design in 1950s New Zealand Te Noho Hou: Te Hoahoa ki Aotearoa i ngā tau 1950

The 1952 Auckland exhibition Art and Design introduced New Zealanders to a vision for a more equal, happier way of life that grew from the devastation of World War II. Modern Living offers a lens into this ground-breaking exhibition, and an exciting era of new design in Aotearoa.

  • When | Āhea 22 Aug 2020 – 23 May 2021
  • Where | Ki hea Toi Art, Level 4

A vision for a more equal, happier way of life grew from the devastation of World War II. Good, affordable design was seen as key to society’s transformation and a growing sense of national identity was emerging in 1940s and 50s New Zealand.

In 1952, Auckland’s Art and Design exhibition aimed to attract as large an audience as possible, showing the public that modern art and design were available, affordable, and often made in New Zealand. Through local and international furniture, ceramics, and art, the exhibition explored new ways of making, new use of materials, and new architectural ideas.

Modernist artists and designers introduced recognisable symbols of Aotearoa into their work: Māori art and mythology, native flora and fauna, and local materials like clay and wood, they claimed New Zealand’s position as a unique, modern, and progressive nation.


Prompts for educators

To get you and your class thinking about some of the ideas within Modern Living, have a look at the prompts below.

Try them out with your class and send us some, or all, of the resulting writing or drawing and we can display them in the exhibition and on here. On top of this, we will also give you a free Modern Living learning programme!

  • How can you design a home for happiness and wellbeing? Write about or draw the structure that you would like to live in.
  • Architects and designers of the 1950s used local materials as much as possible. Today, the need for local, sustainable materials is more urgent than ever. Describe or draw your ideal environmentally friendly house. What is it made of – straw, clay, seaweed, flax, recycled materials, wool?

Explore the Modern Living learning programme


  • Photo of external wall of Te Papa, showing the multi-coloured-block windows Te Papa Architectural Tour

    Te Papa Architectural Tour

    Mon 26 Oct 2020, 10.00am–11.00am
    Tue 27 Oct 2020, 10.00am–11.00am
    Wed 28 Oct 2020, 10.00am–11.00am
    Thu 29 Oct 2020, 10.00am–11.00am
    Fri 30 Oct 2020, 10.00am–11.00am
    Sat 31 Oct 2020, 9.30am–10.30am
    Sun 1 Nov 2020, 11.30am–12.30pm
    Meet at the Information Desk, Level 2
  • Black and white photo of an overhead view of a large apartment block Talk: New Zealand’s Modern Heritage

    Talk: New Zealand’s Modern Heritage

    Sat 31 Oct 2020, 11.00am–12.00pm Te Marae, Level 4
  • A black and white photo of a woman in a kitchen in the 50s Curators’ Tours: Modern Living

    Curators’ Tours: Modern Living

    Thu 12 Nov 2020, 2.00pm–3.00pm
    Sat 21 Nov 2020, 11.00am–12.00pm
    Modern Living: Design in 1950s New Zealand, Toi Art, Level 4, meet at the exhibition entrance

For educators Mā te pouako

In Home, we will consider how we can design our spaces through the lens of happiness, equality and sustainability.
Explore this programme
Black and white photo of two children playing on the floor in a big room with a view of other houses and the harbour.

Exhibition highlights Taonga whakaatu

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