“Beware the Snufflebust, My Son!”: Clough Williams-Ellis in New Zealand, 1947-1948

Skinner, Robin

Ngā Pūtahitanga / Crossings: A Joint Conference of SAHANZ and the Australasian UHPH Group

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On a journey to see their New Zealand-based scientist daughter, Dr Charlotte Wallace (1919–2010), Clough Williams-Ellis (1883–1978) and Amabel Williams- Ellis (1894–1984) were initially reticent about their perceptions on New Zealand; however, this was not to last. During their visit, the Williams-Ellises travelled extensively and gave interviews. Speaking to a meeting of the New Zealand Institute Architects in Wellington, Clough was critical of the government’s state housing scheme, declaring that the houses were “just little bursts of sound, whereas they could have been linked up to make a tune.” Presumably, he was criticising the regularity of the suburban rhythm with its solitary houses siting on individual sites and a material palette that included the houses’ ubiquitous concrete tile roofs. The Assistant Director of Housing, Reginald Hammond, and the Minister of Housing, Robert Semple, were swift to react, with the minister declaring Williams-Ellis to be a “snivelling snufflebuster.” Others leapt to Williams-Ellis’ defence. The exchange was reported throughout Australasia. This paper discusses response to Williams-Ellis’ criticism in a locale where architectural visitors were rare, and where criticism from the home country was rarely welcome.