Story: Domestic architecture

Page 1. 19th-century domestic architecture

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Nineteenth-century settlers and colonisers brought architectural knowledge with them. New Zealand’s earliest architecturally designed dwellings were influenced by a range of overseas precedents. While architects have designed only a small proportion of New Zealand houses, their work has often influenced non-architecturally designed dwellings.

Georgian architecture

New Zealand’s first architecturally designed houses were Georgian, built in the 1820s and 1830s. Georgian architecture developed in Britain during the reign of King Georges I–IV (1714–1830) and was a restrained form of classicism. In Australia and New Zealand, Georgian buildings tend to have rectangular floor plans, hipped roofs with small eaves, symmetrical facades with regular windows and ground-floor verandahs. Centrally located entries open into a hallway with rooms on either side. Examples include the Northland mission stations at Kerikeri (1821–22, New Zealand’s oldest building), Te Waimate (1831–32) and Mangungu (1838–39), and the Treaty House at Waitangi (1833–34). All were built in timber.

Treaty House

While mission houses were often designed by clerics, the building now known as the Treaty House, built for the British Resident James Busby and his family, was designed by Sydney architect John Verge, with amendments by New South Wales Colonial Architect Ambrose Hallen before construction began. The original portion was largely prefabricated in Australia. This forms the building’s front today, while the back is a series of additions.

The ‘battle of the styles’

Throughout the Victorian period (1837–1901), New Zealand architecture continued to follow overseas, particularly British, developments. This included the ‘battle of the styles’, which raged between the classical revivals and the Gothic revival.

Renaissance revival

Among New Zealand’s best classical revival (or, more specifically, renaissance revival) houses is Auckland’s Old Government House (1855–56). It was designed by William Mason and constructed of timber fashioned to look like stone. Osborne House, built for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on the Isle of Wight (1845–51), provided the model for Italianate houses throughout the British Empire, using Italian renaissance forms and details in an irregular and asymmetric manner. The Italianate style is well demonstrated by the house Westoe, at Kākāriki in the Rangitīkei (1874). Charles Tringham designed this house for former New Zealand premier William Fox and his wife, Sarah. Osborne House was cited as a precedent, right down to the round-headed windows and bold tower.

Gothic revival

Gothic revival domestic architecture soon showed an American influence, notably through the 1840s and 1850s pattern books of designer and writer Andrew Jackson Downing. These popularised the use of the Gothic revival language for houses, including its adaptation for construction in timber, known in the United States as carpenter Gothic.

New Zealand’s best Gothic revival houses include Highwic, in the Auckland suburb of Epsom (1862), and Oneida, at Fordell, near Whanganui (1870). Both feature timber construction, steeply pitched roofs, decorated bargeboards and finials. The design for Highwic was taken from one of Downing’s books, while Oneida was designed by a local surveyor and architect, George Frederic Allen, for Joseph and Mary Ann Burnett. Oneida’s verticality is most apparent in a central hall that reaches to a lofty 13.5 metres.

Other houses reveal the diversity of the Victorian age, including:

  • Dunedin’s Larnach Castle (1870–74), which follows Scottish baronial precedents
  • Goldie’s Brae (1876) in Wellington, nicknamed the Banana House because of its curved plan
  • Overton, near Marton (1884), a half-timbered house designed by Frederick de Jersey Clere in partnership with Alfred Atkins, with concrete between the structural timbers.

Harnessing the sun

The semi-circular floor plan of Goldie’s Brae is unique in colonial architecture. The house was designed by its owner, Alexander Johnston, and was built of concrete. Its front comprised a continuous glazed conservatory, which provided solar heat to each of the 10 rooms. It might now be seen as an early attempt at sustainable design.

Diversity is apparent in materials too, with brick and stone also being used in domestic architecture. Towards the end of the 19th century, houses got noticeably bigger, for example in the 53-room Holly Lea (later known as McLean’s Mansion), designed by R. W. England and built in central Christchurch (1899–1900). Wealth, class and taste were expressed in Victorian interiors, which have been interpreted by later generations as cluttered. Grander houses often had an adjoining servants’ wing of smaller scale, with a narrow staircase that allowed servants to go unseen.

How to cite this page:

Julia Gatley, 'Domestic architecture - 19th-century domestic architecture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

Story by Julia Gatley, published 22 Oct 2014