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  • Architecture in the South Pacific: The Ocean of Islands by Jennifer Taylor and James Conner
  • Hetereki Huke
Architecture in the South Pacific: The Ocean of Islands, by Jennifer Taylor and James Conner. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2014. isbn 978-0-8248-4672-5, 352 pages, illustrations, index, bibliography. Cloth, us$75.00.

Architecture in the South Pacific: The Ocean of Islands is a welcome effort to chart the development of architecture across the insular Pacific, a process deeply marked by the search for a regional identity, by the revaluation of vernacular elements, and by a critical sensitivity to social, political, and economic processes in each territory. The book bears a lusciously illustrated witness to the multiple phenomena that have shaped what we now recognize as an emerging architecture in the regional Pacific. The book opens with the challenge to make sense of the diverse and dynamic history of the region as a matter of its territories’ architectures, characterized [End Page 583] by “architecture of acceptance … not of resistance” (5). The pragmatic and aesthetic need to respond to the region’s oceanic context, geographical conditions, and the changing climatic and cultural factors make this last statement key to understanding the profound distinctiveness of Oceania’s established and emerging architectures in an era of increasing globalization.

Among other notable accomplishments, authors Jennifer Taylor and James Conner should be commended for bringing a conversation about the architectonic transformations of highly urbanized island communities in the grasp of sometimes startling transnational development and global capital projects into conversation with historically rooted architectural influences across the South Pacific—including French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, the Cook Islands, American and Western Sāmoa, Tonga, and Wallis and Futuna. All of these locations and their respective capitals serve to illustrate the diversity of this area in terms of a structural response to development and urbanizing pressures. The authors illuminate well the significance of the different experiences of the Pacific countries and territories as they became embroiled in development processes made material through architectural practice. This approach allows us to understand the architecture of these islands as manifesting a dynamic response to numerous forces.

Colonialism and the influence of the respective colonizing countries, the militarization of some islands, the strong development of tourism, economic growth, and internal social and political processes have all shaped urban and architectural realities across the region. With respect to such dynamics, the book moves across very different fields—sometimes away from the purely architectural—but presents an understanding of regional architecture as the result of a juxtaposition of situations, conditions, and human groups. Similarly, the examination of elements beyond the merely constructive helps to fashion a more inclusive idea of architecture in the region, including the landscape, urban infrastructure, and vegetation.

Tourism, now the primary economic activity in many of these territories, is among the main factors that have influenced architectural development and practice in the Islands, including a profound change in the use of space. Of course, the most notable examples of this are found in the big hotels and resorts, which can serve as landmarks for both local purposes and transient visitors’ most memorable experiences. Intriguingly, this new reality has strongly promoted the “rescue” of local styles that can be redeployed as attractive tourism products locally, but it has also promoted the export of these styles among the different islands entangled in the larger capital and development project of regional tourism. However, tourism development has also been different in each island and is strongly related to the strategic location of the territories and the existence of airport infrastructure and routes established by the airlines. The result has been strong economic growth in some islands, also manifested in greater architectural production.

In general, the authors observe that regions with higher levels of economic [End Page 584] development—whether from tourism, mining, or other industries—have higher levels of architectural westernization, while less developed areas have retained more of their traditional ways of life and building systems. At the same time, the intensive development of tourism as well as the strong urbanization of some islands has resulted in harmful effects on the environment, from which has...


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