Kōrero: Public, commercial and church architecture

Whārangi 3. New takes on old styles, 1900 to 1930s

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

In 1905 local architects created the New Zealand Institute of Architects to promote and protect their profession. If there was hope this development would lead to a vernacular architecture it was short-lived. Instead architects continued to employ European revivalist styles.

Edwardian baroque

Fashionable in the early 20th century was the florid Edwardian baroque idiom of the classical style. Prominent buildings in this style were Dunedin railway station (1907) by George Troup, which featured a long colonnade and campanile-style clock tower, and the equally flamboyant Public Trust Building (1909) in Wellington. The latter was designed by Government Architect John Campbell, who oversaw a programme of post-office building in the same idiom. These ranged from the simple Hunterville Post Office (1903) to the more ornate Roslyn Post Office, Dunedin (1908), through to the splendid Auckland General Post Office (1912). This last boasted cupola-topped pavilions, Ionic capitals and scroll-shaped keystones.

Mix and match

Among the last buildings designed under John Campbell was Parliament House (1922). Campbell had completed Thomas Turnbull’s Gothic Parliamentary Library (1898) but designed the new building in the Edwardian baroque style. Due to budget constraints it was only half built; a second wing and a crowning cupola were to be completed later. When the money became available in the 1960s, architects convinced the government not to finish Campbell’s design. The brutalist-style Beehive (Executive Wing) was built instead, creating a stylistically eclectic but ill-proportioned Parliamentary precinct.


During the 1890s basilicas became popular for Catholic churches as a way of distinguishing them from Protestant churches and emphasising links with Rome. The foremost practitioner of the style was Francis Petre. His masterpiece was Christchurch’s Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament (1904; partially collapsed in the 2011 earthquake). It featured a Corinthian portico, flanking towers and a grand dome. The cathedral’s vast scale rivalled the city’s Anglican Cathedral and many critics considered it the better building.

Early skyscrapers

In 1908 the spires and domes of Dunedin’s skyline were challenged by the seven-storey New Zealand Express Company Building. Designed by Alfred and Sydney Luttrell, it introduced the Chicago ‘skyscraper’ style to New Zealand. The building displays the Louis Sullivanesque (tripartite) division of base, shaft and cornice in its facade. It was built of pre-cast concrete slabs over a reinforced concrete frame.

Also influential was Auckland’s Guardian Trust Building (1918), designed by William Gummer in the stripped classical style, where forms and elements are simplified. Gummer and Reginald Ford’s nearby Dilworth Building (1925) went further, with an angled corner addressing a corner site. A fine Wellington example of the Chicago style was the T & G Building (1928), by Australian firm A. and K. Henderson. Some architects employed the commercial Gothic skyscraper style, where mullions (piers), narrow windows and towers emphasised verticality. Auckland’s Landmark House (1929), by Alva Bartley and Norman Wade, was an exemplar of the style.

Freaky building

Local architects were livid when Americans Roy Lippincott and Edward Billson won the commission for Auckland University’s new arts building in 1920. Its neo-Gothic design was ridiculed as an ‘architectural freak’, with one critic stating that ‘the hideous tower springing out of the medley of ridiculous buttresses brand the building as the work of a child’. However, a local newspaper promised ‘the building would grow on the community’.1

Spanish mission and art deco

By the 1920s and early 1930s the revivalist styles were challenged by the (American) Spanish mission and decorative art deco styles. The first notable Spanish mission building was Auckland Grammar School (1916), by R. Atkinson Abbott.

The style did not take off until after the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake. Alongside art deco, it was extensively used in the region’s rebuilding. Napier’s art deco Masonic Hotel (1932), by W. J. Prouse, and the Spanish mission Criterion Hotel (1932), by E. A. Williams, well illustrate the two styles. Prouse also designed Wellington’s Hotel St George (1930), which featured rhythmical lines and abstract art deco detailing.

Other impressive art deco buildings were Wellington’s pink-toned Prudential Building (1933), by the Australian firm Hennessy and Hennessy, and Dunedin’s curvaceous Road Services Passenger Station (1936), by Miller and White.

For the most part public buildings continued to be built in classical revival styles, including:

  • Auckland War Memorial Museum (1929), a Greek revival building by Grierson, Aimer and Draffin.
  • Auckland railway station (1929). The beaux arts classical design, by Gummer and Ford, was inspired by the monumental Pennsylvania railway station in New York city.
  • Dominion Museum and National Art Gallery, Wellington (1936), another Gummer and Ford commission in the stripped classical style.
  • Wellington railway station (1937). Designed by Gray Young, Morton and Young in the beaux arts classical style, it included an impressive Doric colonnaded portico.
Kupu tāpiri
  1. Quoted in Peter Shaw, A history of New Zealand architecture. Auckland: Hodder Moa Beckett, 2003, pp. 110–111. Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Ben Schrader, 'Public, commercial and church architecture - New takes on old styles, 1900 to 1930s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/public-commercial-and-church-architecture/page-3 (accessed 20 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Ben Schrader, i tāngia i te 22 Oct 2014