Building Yesterday's Schools: An Analysis of Educational Architectural Design as Practised by the Building Department of the Canterbury Education Board from 1916-1989

Type of content
Theses / Dissertations
Publisher's DOI/URI
Thesis discipline
Art History
Degree name
Doctor of Philosophy
University of Canterbury. Humanities
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Williams, Murray Noel

This thesis considers the nature of primary, intermediate and district high school buildings designed by the Building Department of the Canterbury Education Board from its consolidation in 1916 until its termination in 1989. Before 1916, the influence of British models on the CEB’s predecessors had been dominant, while after that date, Board architects were more likely to attempt vernacular solutions that were relevant to the geographic situation of the Canterbury district, the secular nature of New Zealand education and changing ideas of the relative importance of the key architectural drivers of design i.e. function and form. One development, unique to Canterbury, was that for a short period, from 1924-29, a local pressure group, the Open Air Schools’ League became so powerful that it virtually dictated the CEB’s design policy until the Board architects George Penlington and John Alexander Bigg reassumed control by inflecting the open-air model into the much acclaimed veranda block. The extent to which Board architects had the freedom to express themselves within a framework of funding control exercised by the Department of Education was further circumscribed by successive building codes that, at their most directive, required national standardisation under the 1951 Dominion Basic Plan and to a slightly lesser extent under the1956 code and associated White Lines regime. Following World War 2, the use of prefabricated structures had prompted the recognition that better designed relocatable rooms could hold the key to a more flexible and effective allocation of resources in an environment increasingly subject to rapid demographic change. By the end of the period, the exploitation of new construction technologies and modern materials led to the dominance of the relocatable CEBUS buildings in Canterbury schoolyards. A concurrent development was the response of architects A. Frederick (Fred) McCook and John Sinclair Arthur to the Department’s call to design more flexible spaces, i.e. open planning, to facilitate a change in pedagogical method. Other issues raised in this study are the CEB’s solutions to the challenges of building on the West Coast, and the recurring need to ensure structural integrity in a region where there was a continuous risk of seismic activity.

George Penlington, John Alexander Bigg, Albert Frederick (Fred) McCook, John Sinclair Arthur, Building Codes: 1921, 1951, 1956, 1970, 1971, Open-air classrooms, Veranda Block, Dominion Basic Plan, White Lines, Open Plan Schools, Prefabs, Unit rooms, CEBUS relocatables, Canterbury Education Board, Department of Education
Ngā upoko tukutuku/Māori subject headings
ANZSRC fields of research
Copyright Murray Noel Williams