Story: Building stone

Page 5. National buildings and memorials

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Although many churches and some other public buildings were built of stone in the 19th century, there are no national buildings made of stone from that period. In Wellington, memories of the destructive 1855 earthquake lingered, and although the new Government Buildings of 1876 were designed in the Italianate style, they were built in wood.

Parliament House

The parliamentary complex in Wellington is a glorious mixture of architectural styles, all built in reinforced concrete. The neoclassical front of Parliament House, the central building, is faced with Tākaka marble, with a base course of Coromandel granite. This building was deliberately designed to display New Zealand materials, and marble and other local stones were used in the foyer and other public areas.

Beauty and the Beehive

The Executive Wing of Parliament, commonly known as the Beehive, is an example of 1960s reinforced concrete design. To enhance the stark concrete, Tākaka marble was used for decoration internally as well as on the lower external walls.

War memorials

After the First World War there was a widespread desire to commemorate those who had died or been injured. Local committees and organisations all over New Zealand raised money for their own memorials, and decided how they were to be designed and built.

Overall there was less use of local building stone than might have been expected. Many memorials were built in concrete moulded to look like stone. Local stonemasons often opted to use polished slabs of imported stone. Many of the statues were imported from Italy where they could be obtained more cheaply than those quarried in New Zealand. Of the larger edifices, Auckland War Memorial Museum was built of imported Portland stone (limestone) from England, and the Bridge of Remembrance in Christchurch was built of Australian sandstone. Local rock was used for some of the smaller memorials, and the Blenheim memorial was built of rock from all around the Marlborough region.

National War Memorial

In 1919 the government voted £100,000 for a National War Memorial in Wellington – a huge sum in those days (equivalent to $11 million in 2021). After considerable debate, it was agreed to build a complex that included a national art gallery, museum, and war memorial (including a carillon – a tower housing a set of bells) in the central suburb of Mt Cook. A competition for the design was won by the architectural firm of Gummer and Ford.

The complex made considerable use of New Zealand stone. Both the carillon and museum building (now part of Massey University) were clad with pinkish-brown Putaruru stone. Unfortunately the material was variable and weathered badly in places. It was removed from the carillon and replaced by Tākaka marble in 1982.

The Hall of Memories, beneath the carillon, is lined with cream Mt Somers stone. Inside, Hanmer marble, Coromandel granite and Tākaka marble are all used. Within the foyer of the old museum building, the columns are made of Whangārei marble.

Memorials to prime ministers

Several prime ministers have been commemorated with memorials made of local stone:

  • R. J. Seddon (1893–1906). The column, at the Kinross Street entrance to Wellington’s Bolton Street cemetery, is faced with Coromandel granite and surmounted by a bronze statue representing the state in mourning.
  • William Ferguson Massey (1912–25) is commemorated at Point Halswell, Wellington. The memorial is constructed of Tākaka marble on a base of Coromandel granite.
  • Michael Joseph Savage (1935–40). The memorial at Bastion Point, Auckland, is made of pre-cast concrete faced with Ōamaru stone.
How to cite this page:

Simon Nathan and Bruce Hayward, 'Building stone - National buildings and memorials', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 June 2024)

Story by Simon Nathan and Bruce Hayward, published 12 Jun 2006