1 New Group Image Kate Turner

This thesis investigates how an excavation of the content and structure of New Zealand author Eleanor Catton’s novel, The Luminaries, can lead to an architectural response that interrogates the cyclical conditions of architecture in the context of a modern day gold rush.

The novel is set in the Hokitika Gold Rush of the 1860s and is a story of speculation, stolen gold, hidden clues and forged identities. Catton overlays an astrological cyclical structure to organise her narrative while indulging in descriptive detail of interior spaces, characters and events that upon reading echo a spatial experience.

The chosen site, Crown Hill Road in Karangahake Gorge, Coromandel, is a contested site with a history of gold mining and may be subject again to gold mining operations. This location provides a contemporary context for five provocations to exist within echoing the gold mining industry which set the backdrop for The Luminaries. In response to the crafted nature of the novel, The Meeting House and four craft houses are proposed, providing spaces for gathering and making as well as bedrooms for temporary living. They echo the small scale domestic and commercial dwellings of gold mining townships. The craft houses comprise of The Jewellery House, The Pottery House, The Printmaking House and The Glassblowing House. Physical models demonstrate their close positioning to each other on site, forming a community of crafters.

Practice based research methods are used to extrapolate the novel’s spatial attributes. Attributes from the site were revealed through site visits and photographic documentation methods. Visits to craft studios were undertaken to provide insight into the spaces where jewellery, pottery, printmaking and glass blowing practices take place.

In prospecting for architecture through narrative, idiosyncratic architectures have emerged that reflect the novel’s complex structure and layered multi-perspectival method of narration.

The idea that the novel was spatial in the experience of reading it was confirmed upon hearing Catton talk about the novel as a “spatial affair” using the term ‘architectural’ to describe her narrative. Dedicating a year to prospect for architecture through narrative extends upon an interest and sensitivity towards the interior experience of architecture, and the generative power of narrative to produce unexpected architectural outcomes.

To translate a piece of literature into architecture requires the discovery of spatial attributes that will produce an interpretation of this literary text. Practice based research methods, such as mapping and model making, perform architectural readings extrapolating fifteen spatial attributes from the novel. One artefact made is map charting the reader's journey through The Luminaries. Conditions of ground and surface are revealed through the fabrication of topography and accumulation of material layers. A circular grid reveals the novel’s cyclical narrative structure, giving weight to the idea of a continuous experience. In the novel’s timeline, the reader ends up where they began; it is a cyclical narrative, not a linear one. Material studies were undertaken, to explore the varying effects one material can produce, giving weight to the cyclical. Copper was a material chosen for its temporal condition.

The circular grid, the construction of the map’s layers and its twelve parts generate a framework of fifteen spatial attributes, ordered under three themes; the cyclical, the surface and the ground. A diagram demonstrates the spatial attributes gathered from making, forming the methodology for undertaking a translation from literature to architecture. This design framework defines a way in which to approach the design of the four craft houses and The Meeting House.



Once extrapolated, these fifteen attributes, for example the curve, accretion or filtering, are interpreted into physical form through the generation of iterative models. The collage of images show an array of models made that express spatial attributes from the novel. This making resulted in multiple outcomes allowing for any attribute to be architectonically expressed in a variety of different ways. The images featured demonstrate models which express the curve, accretion and filtering.

Each iterative model made is categorised under a certain spatial attribute although one model may interpret more than one attribute, inherently linking the models to each other. The notion of the cyclical comes to the foreground within the methodology itself through a continuous repetitive action of making and cross references that can be made between them. In combination with each other the array of iterative models made inform the design of the craft houses.

Moments and quotes collected begin to inform material choices and themes that each craft house conveys through architectonics. The narrative is complex and not every moment is addressed but has been carefully selected to tap into the narrative’s key themes.

The buildings reference each other through interior experience, form, pattern, materiality and colour. Materials such as timber, brass and copper as well as colours reference details of the novel and thread the finer details of the provocations together. For example, the colour orange makes reference to the colour of Anna Wetherall’s dress in the novel, and is used in both The Meeting House and The Glassblowing House, creating a reference between provocations.

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Finished Product

Where these attributes are activated alongside moments and themes of the novel can be demonstrated by discussing one of the five buildings. Please note, the buildings are each a result of a combination of attributes, not just one. Also, they may share the same attributes which are expressed differently, generating the cyclical architectural condition.

The attribute of the curve originates from the grid of the map and Catton’s preoccupation with the theme of fate and fortune, as the curve draws an analogy to the gambling wheel. Iterative models activate the curve in different ways. A quote from the novel reveals an experience one character has in a hotel and gambling house. Catton writes, “The operations of the House of Many Wishes had been revealed to Anna gently, and in degrees.” The use of the word “degrees” references a circle activating the attribute of the curve and the theme that it can express. In The Pottery House, the roof has been carved into, excavating the interior space. The curve is lined with glazing and timber columns. Catton writes, “At her mistress’s invitation she stepped onto the podium, and spun the gambling wheel- watching the rubber needle clack, clack, clack towards the final jackpot…” These timber columns make reference to the repetitive “clack, clack” of the gambling wheel. Upon developing workspaces for the making of pottery a site visit was undertaken to Dryburgh Pottery Studios in Grey Lynn. The curve is activated in The Meeting House through a golden brass curtain track and white curtain and more extensively in The Glassblowing House through curved glazing that blurs the edge condition of the building.

Drawing on multiple sources from various architectural eras, understood through the fifteen extrapolated attributes, informed a unique architectural language of form, pattern and colour questioning the power of narrative in design, freeing architecture and interior space from any one stylistic movement. This thesis establishes an approach towards the generation of multiple ideas by using a framework that binds each interpreted outcome back to the novel. Through resolved craft spaces, spatial attributes of the novel are activated and explored. Perspectives generate a rich luxurious representation of this architecture evoking the Victorian aura and mystery of The Luminaries.

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Critic's Text

Kate Turner's thesis systematically interrogates the variegated interior landscapes located within New Zealand author Eleanor Catton's Booker Prize winning novel The Luminaries. This interrogation is complex and layered, excavating the rich conceptual, formal and material terrains found within the narrative, a narrative undergirded by the strictures of deliberate, convoluted literary constraints, reminiscent of those pioneered by the Oulpian avante garde. Catton’s novel luxuriates in descriptions of idiosyncratic detail: the weight of golden nuggets hidden in the hem of a voluminous skirt, dragging heavily across well-worn floorboards. A suite of narrative details, such as the one described, informed the construction of architectural models generated by using a rigorous series of iterative design practices, also subject to formal constraints. This research led to the design of a series of craft houses alighting on the Karangahake Gorge in Coromandel.

— Dr Rachel Carley, supervisor