Ernst Plischke


An Austrian émigré who sought refuge from the Nazi domination, Ernst Plischke’s modernist designs made an important contribution to post-war New Zealand architecture.

Born in Vienna in 1903, Plischke studied at the College for Arts and Crafts and the Academy of Fine Arts in his hometown. Following graduation in 1926 Plischke worked in a number of prominent Viennese and New York architecture firms.

However, Plishcke’s association with the socialist-leaning Austrian Werkbund, a movement for the promotion of high-quality design and craftsmanship, and his marriage in 1935 to the Jewish Anna Lang (née Schwitzer) made employment opportunities under Nazi occupation dwindle.

Sensing that emigration was the only chance of survival, Plischke, his wife, and son Heinrich arrived in Wellington, New Zealand in May 1939. His first job in New Zealand was an architectural draughtsman at the Department of Housing Construction, where he planned the towns of Mangakino and Kaingaroa, and shopping and community centres for new dormitory suburbs in the Hutt Valley and Auckland.

Plischke also designed over 40 private houses and the landmark Massey House (1951–52), an eight-storey office building in Wellington, the city’s first modern high-rise.

Despite popular esteem, Plischke was not admitted as a member of the New Zealand Institute of Architects and only received an honorary fellowship in 1969. He refused to undergo the necessary examinations because he felt his experience and qualifications should be sufficient to secure admission.

Plischke, one of the foremost early exponents of modernism in New Zealand architecture, returned to Austria in 1963 and remained there until his death in 1992.

Adapted by Matthew Tonks from the DNZB biography by Linda Tyler

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