From Past to Present: The Evolution of Avarua, Cook Islands’s Architecture

Imagine stepping onto the sun-kissed shores of Avarua, the vibrant heart of the Cook Islands, where the architecture is as rich in history as the cerulean waters are in marine life. The evolution of Avarua’s architecture is a tale of tradition meeting modernity, a dance between the old and the new that has given this tropical paradise an aesthetic all its own.

The Roots of Rarotongan Design

The story of Avarua’s architecture begins with the traditional Polynesian structures, known as ‘are’. These huts, with their thatched roofs and open walls, were designed to provide shelter from the tropical climate while allowing a seamless flow between indoor and outdoor living. The materials used—mainly coconut palm and pandanus leaves—were sourced directly from the island’s generous landscape.

As you wander through Avarua, remnants of these traditional designs whisper tales of a time when the community and the environment were deeply intertwined. The ‘are’ wasn’t just a building; it was a testament to a way of life that respected the rhythms of nature.

Colonial Influences and the Shift in Style

With the arrival of European missionaries in the 19th century, Avarua’s architectural landscape began to shift. The missionaries brought with them new building techniques and materials, such as corrugated iron for roofing, which were more resilient to the elements. They also introduced the concept of the church, which became a focal point in many communities.

The Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC) in Avarua is a prime example of this colonial influence. Its white coral walls and steeple stand as a beacon of the island’s spiritual and cultural transformation. The blend of European design with Polynesian motifs created a unique architectural style that still resonates in the community today.

Modern Movements and Contemporary Constructions

Fast forward to the 20th century, and Avarua began to embrace modern architectural trends. Concrete became the material of choice for many new buildings, offering strength against cyclones and the passage of time. The island’s airport and government buildings are testaments to this modernist approach, showcasing cleaner lines and more robust structures.

Yet, even with these contemporary designs, Avarua has managed to maintain a sense of place. Many buildings incorporate local wood and stone, ensuring that the island’s heritage is not lost amidst the march of progress. The fusion of modern techniques with traditional aesthetics is a balancing act that Avarua performs with grace.

Preservation and Progress: A Delicate Balance

Today, Avarua faces the challenge of preserving its architectural heritage while accommodating the needs of a growing population and the demands of tourism. Efforts are being made to protect historic buildings and to ensure that new constructions respect the island’s cultural identity.

One such example is the renovation of the Avarua Town Market. While it has been modernized to support local vendors and provide a better shopping experience, its design still reflects the open-air concept of the traditional ‘are’. It’s a place where both locals and visitors can feel the pulse of the island’s vibrant culture.

Embracing Sustainability and Eco-Friendly Design

In recent years, there’s been a push towards sustainability in Avarua’s architecture. Architects and builders are increasingly looking to renewable resources and energy-efficient designs to reduce the environmental impact of their projects. Solar panels are becoming a common sight, and rainwater harvesting is being integrated into building plans.

This eco-conscious approach is not just about being green; it’s about ensuring that the beauty and resources of the Cook Islands can be enjoyed by future generations. It’s a commitment to living in harmony with the environment that has always been at the heart of the island’s ethos.


  • What is the most distinctive feature of Avarua’s traditional architecture?

    The most distinctive feature is the ‘are’, with its thatched roof and open walls designed for tropical living. These structures reflect the island’s connection to nature and its resources.

  • How did European colonization affect Avarua’s architecture?

    European colonization introduced new materials and building techniques, as well as the concept of the church, which led to a blend of European and Polynesian architectural styles.

  • Are there any efforts to preserve Avarua’s architectural heritage?

    Yes, there are efforts to protect historic buildings and ensure new constructions respect the island’s cultural identity, such as the renovation of the Avarua Town Market.


In Avarua, the past is not just remembered; it’s lived. The evolution of its architecture from the humble ‘are’ to the sturdy modern edifices is a journey through time, culture, and innovation. It’s a narrative that continues to unfold, with each new structure adding its verse to the ongoing story of this enchanting island.

As we’ve seen, Avarua’s architecture is a melting pot of influences, a place where tradition and modernity coexist in harmony. From the coral walls of the CICC to the eco-friendly designs of the present day, Avarua’s buildings are more than just structures; they’re symbols of resilience, adaptability, and respect for the environment.

For those of us lucky enough to experience Avarua’s architectural tapestry, it’s clear that the true beauty of this island lies not just in its pristine beaches or lush mountains, but in the way its buildings tell the story of a community that has always found a way to blend the old with the new, the functional with the beautiful, the past with the present.

So, whether you’re a real estate investor, a homeowner, or simply a traveler with a keen eye for design, Avarua’s architecture is sure to leave an indelible mark on your heart, just as it has on the landscape of this Pacific paradise.

Kurby Team

The Kurby Content Team is a diverse group of seasoned real estate experts dedicated to providing insightful, reliable information for homebuyers, real estate investors, and real estate agents. With backgrounds ranging from real estate brokerage, property investment, and residential home buying, our team combines decades of experience with a passion for demystifying the real estate world. We at Kurby are committed to helping you make informed, successful real estate decisions. Whether you're a first-time homebuyer, a seasoned investor, or a real estate professional, count on the Kurby Content Team to deliver the most relevant, actionable real estate content you need.