Building the dominion : government architecture in New Zealand, 1840-1922 (1997)
AuthorsRichardson, Petershow all
The evolution of the architecture of government buildings erected by the Crown's principal architectural office in New Zealand is surveyed from 1840, when New Zealand was annexed by Britain, to 1922, when its first Government Architect retired. The focus is on the emergence of a unified approach towards government architecture across the broad range of building-types erected by the office: colonial hospitals, courthouses, customs houses, departmental offices, gaols, government printing offices, lunatic asylums, native schools, police stations, post and telegraph offices, Government Houses and Parliament Buildings. Constitutional arrangements and political initiatives which shaped the evolution and work of the office are outlined throughout the survey and form the basis of chapter divisions. In chapters one and two, the mainly primitive, timber government buildings of the Crown Colony period of government (1840-52) are considered as the first efforts of British officials to assert an architectural presence in the colony, as well as the beginnings of a New Zealand tradition of timber governmental architecture. Buildings erected by the early Superintendents of Public Works, notably William Mason (1810-97) and Frederick Thatcher (1814-90), are discussed. Chapter three documents the Crown's residual involvement in design and construction of governmental buildings from 1853 to 1868 when Provincial Governments assumed responsibility for erection of their own accommodation. Both the unrealised projects and government buildings the Crown commissioned are discussed. The remaining chapters examine the General Government's efforts to link disparate settlements and to house the growing government bureaucracy after centralised control of design of government buildings was reasserted in 1869. Chapter four documents the creation of the Colonial Architect's office, headed by New Zealand's first and only Colonial Architect, William Henry Clayton (1823-77), and his work designing mainly timber government buildings. It is argued that together such buildings created a unified architectural expression of government which reflected and complemented the efforts of the Colonial Treasurer, (Sir) Julius Vogel (1835-99), to 'build a nation' by assisting immigration and linking remote settlements via construction of a comprehensive road and rail network. The long decline of the Colonial Architect's office (1878-88), following Clayton's death in 1877, is traced in chapter five. Two remaining chapters examine a renewed burst of building activity initiated by the Liberal Government (1891-1912) and directed by Premier Richard John Seddon (1845-1906) and others. The emergence of the state's architectural office, headed by John Campbell (1857-1942), as the largest architectural practice in the country is documented, as well as the creation of a new architectural image of government. The Queen Anne and Imperial Baroque government buildings erected by the office are discussed and it is argued that the increasing monumentality of buildings marked New Zealand's attainment of Dominion status in 1907. The survey concludes with the construction of a new Parliament House through which the architectural message of Crown sovereignty was conveyed more emphatically than ever before. Viewed as a whole the survey reveals that by 1922 the Government's architects had achieved what early colonial administrators envisioned as early as 1840 - the assertion through architecture of the authority of the British Crown in buildings erected in brick and stone which resembled those at 'Home', but that New Zealand government architecture had also developed a distinctive character of its own. The use of timber (in response to budgetary constraints, its ready availability and the threat of earthquakes), an additive and piecemeal approach typical of colonial New Zealand architecture as a whole and a commitment to following British architectural fashion emerge as the characteristics of New Zealand's colonial and early Dominion government buildings. Government architecture thus emerges as a powerful expression of New Zealand's loyalty to the Crown.