The end of the Norian House
In a corner of a former boxing school in the grounds of the Taranaki Aviation Transport and Technology Museum, you will find the last few remnants of a most peculiar house.
There are two hexagonal tables, two small chairs, a few photographs, two scale models and a hexagonal window frame, the glass still in it.
The original house was built in 1953 at 36 Sanders Avenue, New Plymouth, by ‘Bee Man’ Edgar Roy Brewster (1905 – 1978) and his wife Nettie.
The hexagonal house in Sanders Avenue was a popular tourist feature of New Plymouth, hosting more than a quarter of a million visitors in its 20 year life.
Brewster’s vision was based on the idea that there are “NO RIght Angles in Nature”, and that the hexagon was the perfect geometric form. Brewster also produced and sold his own honey, and experimented with aviation technology.
He owned and flew a Flying Flea in the 1930s and apparently carried out some interesting aerodynamic experiments. As Bruce Air Commodore commented in The Wings Over New Zealand Aviation Forum:
He tried developing the flying Flea tandem wing arrangement to its extreme, creating wings with the entire to surface made up of thin slats. In theory this would control the boundary layer, but must have created incredible drag.
One can understand why, as a home designer and builder, Brewster found the Flying Flea appealing. Its inventor, Henri Mignet, claimed that “If you can nail together a packing case, you can construct an aeroplane.” Unfortunately the Flea was spectacularly unsuccessful, with a tendency to nosedive on the slightest provocation. The Fleas were banned in Britain after a number of fatal crashes. Brewster’s was one of only three known to have flown in New Zealand.
Though Brewster’s ideas may possibly have been unique, Brewster’s house was not the only hexagonal house ever built. In the 1964 documentary “Hexagonal Houses”, British Pathé describes them as heralding a “brave new world of aesthetic economics”. There was also a hexagonal house on Parker Road in West Auckland. A straw bale version even made it onto Grand Designs.
According to the Museum, the house stood for around 20 years, but gradually fell into disrepair. The house design, though elegant, had some practical challenges, and apparently the leaky roof was a constant source of difficulty. The house was finally demolished after Brewster sold the land in 1966. Brewster began reconstructing a new version at the Frankley dairy factory. However he fell ill and when he died in 1978 it was still uncompleted.
Apart from the few items that ended up in the Museum, the unique ‘Hexagon House’ went up in smoke.
And though Norian was a lovely concept, there are definitely right angles in nature. For example, the structure of a salt crystal (NaCl) which is common to LiCl, KBr, RbI, MgO, CaO and AgCl.