The Waiapu Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist is a landmark in the Napier townscape, occupying an open site in Browning Street adjacent to the intersection of Hastings Street and Shakespeare Road.
The Cathedral’s impressive form, and its tall square tower gives it a very strong presence on the northern fringe of the Napier CBD.
The Cathedral is increasingly recognised as a fine example of modernist architecture. The building breaks with tradition in showing very few signs of Gothic or Classical precedents, being built at a time (in the late 1950s) when modernism had taken firm hold in New Zealand.
There is tradition in the general plan form of the building – it has a long narrow nave, oriented east-west, a chancel at the eastern end, a powerful vertical element in the tower set on the northern side by the main entrance – yet these elements are entirely devoid of decoration.
The finish is smooth in-situ concrete, marked out in squares and painted cream, with tall narrow windows lighting the interior; there are circular windows in the eastern ends of the nave and chancel.
The gable roofs of the nave and chancel, and the flat roofs of the tower and other ancillary parts, give the church a strong geometric quality; the interplay of these shapes, the patterning of the openings, the play of light and shadow, give the building the quality of a wonderful piece of sculpture.
The simplicity of the exterior carries through into an interior that has a soaring, beautifully lit quality. The progression along the nave is marked by the concrete portal frames that stand proud of the walls and ceiling, neatly dividing the space into bays, with a tall narrow window to each bay of the walls and a ‘coffered’ pattern to each bay of the ceiling.
The focus of the nave and chancel is a plain wall with a rose (or wheel) window high up in the gable with a cross below, while the opposing wall at the western end has thoroughly modern coloured glass in an abstract pattern.
The side aisles, timber pews and red carpet hark back to more traditional Anglican architecture. The warmth of the timber of the pews and the red-carpet contrast with the cool off-white of the walls and pale blue of the ceiling.
— Courtesy Napier City Council, “Proposed new places and items for inclusion in the Heritage Schedule for Napier City“