Cenotaph Road, Auckland Domain, Auckland
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Able to Visit
16th November 1989
Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)
Pt Auckland Domain (CT NA75C/138), North Auckland Land District
The Auckland Cenotaph is a memorial to soldiers from Auckland Province who died in both World Wars, and provides a focal point for remembrance ceremonies held on Anzac Day (25 April). Originally commemorating those who fell in the First World War (1914-1918), its meaning has been expanded to encompass those from the province who died in the Second World War (1939-1945) too. The memorial overlooks the city from the Auckland Domain, on a rise previously known as Pukekawa. It was erected in 1929 in front of the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which was completed in the same year. Construction was funded by public and government subscription as part of a relief project to help the unemployed. Its architects - Grierson, Aimer and Draffin - had served in the war, and conceived the cenotaph and museum as part of the same scheme.
The memorial is surrounded by a Court of Honour, and consists of rectangular pylon surmounted by a sarcophagus and bronze wreath. Its simple, Stripped Classical design is modelled on the 1920 Empire Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, designed by Edwin Lutyens. The Auckland cenotaph was considered to be the most faithful replica of the Whitehall memorial in the empire, reflecting New Zealand's role as a major British partner during the First World War. Imperial ties are also demonstrated through its use of imported Portland stone, which was used in structures of public importance in Britain, and which was also used to face the adjacent museum. Consecrated by the Archbishop of New Zealand in November 1929, the cenotaph has been little modified beyond the engraving of dates on its east and west faces, marking the duration of the Second World War.
The Auckland Cenotaph has considerable spiritual significance as the focus of Anzac Day commemorations in the city, when those who died in war are remembered. It is important for its connections with the two world wars, when so many Maori and Pakeha died. Its construction was an expression of New Zealanders' feeling about the Great War, being funded and built by people with a direct experience of that conflict. Architecturally, it demonstrates the strength of Imperial ties in the 1920s, while taking on broader meanings as a focus for national remembrance. The monument is prominently located in its immediate landscape, and also visible from afar. It has strong associations with other places in the Auckland Domain including the Auckland War Memorial Museum, with conceptual links to Pukekaroa pa - where a peace-making ceremony was held between Tainui and Ngapuhi in 1828 - and the Maori battle site of Toki Whatinui.
Historical Significance or Value
The Cenotaph, which originally symbolised selfless sacrifice to Empire and honour, now provides an additional focus of national maturity. The architects consciously strove to replicate the Whitehall Cenotaph to cement imperial bonds.
The architects carefully copied the Empire Cenotaph in Whitehall, London. Sir Edwin Lutyens' design was obviously regarded as the embodiment of the concept of a 'cenotaph' and it was he who revived the usage of the word.
Authentic measured drawings not being available, they made use of photographs and recorded dimensions, together with sketches made on the spot by Aimer during a visit to London. They believed that the finished monument would be the most faithful copy in the Empire.
The cenotaph was even constructed from imported Portland stone, the same material used for the original design. Originally a memorial to the New Zealand dead of World War I, it now commemorates the dead of all wars in which New Zealanders have participated. Lutyens' achievement was to translate his pure abstract design into a timeless memorial.
Its superb siting on rising ground gives it a prominence enabling it to be seen from many parts of the city. It has outstanding landscape qualities and its relation to the museum is masterly.
Grierson, Aimer & Draffin
Hugh Cresswell Grierson (1886-1953) was practising as an architect prior to the First World War. He served in the New Zealand Army and remained overseas to continue his studies at the Architectural Association in London. He became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He returned to New Zealand and went into partnership with Kenneth Walter Aimer (1891-1960), a fellow student in London.
Aimer was educated at Auckland Teachers' Training College and Auckland University College. He became a registered architect in 1918, and later travelled to England to continue his studies. He became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1925.
Malcolm Keith Draffin (1890-1964) was in partnership with Edward Bartley and his son Alva when the First World War began. Draffin served in the army and was awarded the Military Cross. He remained in London after the war to study at the Architectural Association, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Following Edward Bartley's death in 1919, Alva Bartley and Draffin dissolved the partnership.
The Auckland Institute and Museum complex was the major work of the firm, for which they were awarded a Gold Medal by the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1929. The firm's other work includes the South British Insurance Company, Shortland Street and a number of cinema's including the Capitol, Dominion Rd (1922), the Rialto, Newmarket (1923), the Collosseum/Majestic, Queen Street (1924) and the Edendale cinema (1926). They were one of the first Auckland firms to adopt the Art Deco style popular in America, as can be seen in the Gifford's Building (1929), and they also designed in the Stripped Neo-Classical style as seen in the Northcote War Memorial Pavilion (1922) and the Parnell Library (1923).
The Depression halted most building activity and as a result the partnership was disbanded. Draffin and Aimer practised separately while Grierson took up farming.
The Cenotaph is Stripped Classical in style and is a replica of the 1920 Whitehall Cenotaph in London by Sir Edwin Lutyens. In form the cenotaph is a pylon, surmounted by a sarcophagus and bronze wreath. There are few if any embellishments.
Registration covers the structure, its fixtures and finishes. The structure is considered to lie on the site of Pukekawa, which may have been used for horticultural activity in the pre-colonial period.
Construction of Cenotaph
Engraving of Second World War dates on east and west faces
Reinforced concrete, faced with Portland stone. This same stone was used for the museum building. The wreaths and flagstaffs are bronze.
21st August 2001
Report Written By
27 November 1929
G .W. A. Bush, 'Decently and In Order: The Government of the City of Auckland 1840-1971', Auckland, 1971
New Zealand Building Progress
New Zealand Building Progress
New Zealand Herald
New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.
3 August 1929
New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)
New Zealand Historic Places Trust
'Cenotaph, Auckland Domain, Auckland', NZHPT Buildings Classification Committee Report, Wellington, 1989 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)
University of Auckland
University of Auckland
Files: Aimer K.W. - File A14
Draffin M.K. - File D4
Grierson H. - File G19
All in the Sheppard Collection
Gradidge, R 1981
R Gradidge, Edwin Lutyens, Architect Laureate, London 1981
A S Gray. Edwardian Architecture, London 1985
Salmond Architects, 'Auckland War Memorial Museum Building, Auckland: A Conservation Plan', Auckland, 1993
This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.