Massey University Main Building

Riverbank Rd (S.H.57), Massey University, Fitzherbert

  • Massey University Main Building.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Helen McCracken. Date: 25/01/2002.
  • Massey University Main Building.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Helen McCracken. Date: 25/01/2002.
  • Massey University Main Building. 'Massey Agricultural College', photo taken around 1927. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image. Ref no.1/2-090561.
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library. Taken By: B J Howard.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 184 Date Entered 28th June 1990


City/District Council

Palmerston North City


Horizons (Manawatu-Wanganui) Region

Legal description

Lot1 DP13616 Lot1 DP12969 Lot2DP8981 Secs 441 442 Pt Sec 203


From its completion in 1931, the Massey University Main Building was to be the principal structure of Massey College, a modern educational and research facility committed to the advancement of New Zealand agriculture. Massey was the second agricultural college in New Zealand, after Lincoln, which was established in 1879. Early attempts to establish a college at Palmerston North failed, but following the election of the Reform government in 1912 the proposal was revived. The First World War, however, delayed proceedings again. By 1921 agriculture's growing importance led to its recognition as an academic subject by the University of New Zealand. In 1924 the Chair of Agriculture was established at Victoria University under Professor Geoffrey Peren, and the following year Professor William Riddet took up the inaugural Chair of Agriculture at Auckland University. At the instigation of Peren, it was decided to combine both Auckland and Victoria Universities' resources in one agricultural college in the North Island. The Government gave their approval, and a site at Palmerston North was agreed to by July 1926. By making use of the existing houses on the site Massey College accepted its first students in 1928. In the meantime the task of designing the new teaching facilities had been given to an American architect, Roy Lippincott.

Lippincott had designed a number of buildings for Auckland University including the famous Arts Building (1921). In 1927 Lippincott visited universities in Canada and the United States to gather information for the project. Lippincott's first building on the Massey Campus was the Dairy Research Building (1928). Work began on the main teaching block and Refectory in the following year. The foundation stone for what was known as the 'Main Science Building' was laid in December 1929 by the Governor General, Sir Charles Fergusson, and construction was undertaken by Fletcher Construction. Lippincott's design was essentially an American Collegiate building adapted for New Zealand conditions, utilising indigenous motifs for decorative effect. In designing a block around a central core Lippincott also took account of the building's setting and institutional requirements, particularly evident inside. The building was opened by Governor General Lord Bledisloe on 30 April 1931. The development of the college slowed during the years of the Depression, but after World War II the agricultural college rapidly expanded as New Zealand sought new ways to improve its agricultural industry. In 1964 an act of Parliament incorporated the college into the University of Manawatu, now known as Massey University. Today the university is an internationally recognised institution attracting students from both New Zealand and overseas. Its presence in the Manawatu region has been an important influence on the development and growth of Palmerston North City.

Massey University Main Building is arguably the finest of a trio of founding buildings, all designed by Roy Lippincott. Its historical significance lies in its association with the development of agriculture and the key role that industry has played in New Zealand's economy, its association with important academics such as Peren and Riddet, and its 70 years of continuous use as a tertiary teaching facility; first as science block, and now the home of humanities. The building has been considerably altered - including a new storey above the east and west wings - but retains its essential integrity. It is much admired for its elegance and refinement, and represents an important step in the move away from the more traditional styles then still popular in New Zealand. The building has technological value for the design and construction of the concrete frame.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Lippincott, Roy Alstan

Roy Alstan Lippincott (1885-1969) was born in Pennsylvania and graduated Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University, New York, in 1909. He became involved with the "Chicago School" of architects including H.V. Von Holst, Marion Mahoney and Walter Burley Griffin who were in turn greatly influenced by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.

In 1912 Griffin won the competition for the design of Australia's Federal Capital, Canberra, and offered Lippincott a junior partnership shortly afterwards. They moved to Sydney in 1914 and to Melbourne about a year later.

Lippincott entered several design competitions with draughtsman Edward F. Billson and in June 1921 they won the competition for the design of the Auckland University College Arts Building. Lippincott and Billson established a partnership and Lippincott moved to Auckland later that year.

The Arts building with clock tower is the best known of the buildings designed by Lippincott for Auckland's University campus. The Students' Association building (1921-1926), Caretaker's Cottage (1928-31) and Biology building (1938) were also to his design, as was the north-west wing of Choral Hall added in 1925. Other buildings designed by Lippincott during his time in Auckland were Smith and Caughey's Department Store building (1927-29), Massey University Science building, Palmerston North (1929-31), Farmers Trading Company Tearooms (1934-36) and St Peter's Preparatory School, Cambridge (1936-37).

He was elected Associate of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1922 and a Fellow in 1924. He was actively involved in both Auckland Branch and National Council Affairs, particularly in the field of architectural education. Lippincott remained in New Zealand until 1939 when he returned to the United States and practised in Los Angeles. He became a partner in the firm of Kaufmann, Lippincott and Eggers, Los Angeles, and retired in 1958 when he moved to Santa Barbara.

Roy Alstan Lippincott (1885-1969) was born in Pennsylvania, USA. Lippincott gained a Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University, New York, in 1909. Subsequently, he became influenced by the Chicago School of architects, who were a group of architects active in Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century. The group had parallels with the European Modernism movement and was amongst the first to promote the new technologies of steel-frame construction in commercial buildings.

In circa 1912, Lippincott was offered a junior partnership with Chicago School architect Walter Burley Griffin, who had won a competition for the design of Australia's Federal Capital, Canberra. He moved to Sydney with Griffin in 1914 and to Melbourne the following year.

In 1921, Lippincott and draughtsman Edward F. Billson won a competition for the design of the Auckland University College Arts Building - now known as the Old Arts Building, University of Auckland (NZHPT Registration # 25, Category I historic place). Lippincott moved to Auckland later that year and remained in New Zealand until 1939. In addition to designing the Old Arts Building, Lippincott designed several other buildings for Auckland University, including the Students' Association building (1921-1926), the northwest wing of Choral Hall (NZHPT Registration # 4474, Category I historic place) added in 1925, the Caretaker's Cottage constructed (1928-1931) and the Biology Building (1938). He also designed an addition circa 1927-1929 to Smith and Caughey's Department Store Building (NZHPT Registration # 656, Category I historic place), the Massey University Science Building in Palmerston North (1929-1931), the Berlei Factory in Auckland (1930-1931), the Farmers Trading Company Tea Rooms in Auckland (1934-1936) and St Peter's Preparatory School in Cambridge (1936-1937).

Lippincott was elected Associate of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1922 and a Fellow in 1924. He was actively involved in the Auckland Branch and National Council Affairs, particularly in the area of architectural education.

In 1939, Lippincott returned to the United States, where he became a partner in the Los Angeles practice Kaufmann, Lippincott and Eggers. He retired in 1958 and moved to Santa Barbara.

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1931 -

Completion Date

2nd October 2001

Report Written By

Helen McCracken

Information Sources

Brooking, 1979

T. W. H. Brooking, 'Massey its early years: a history of the development of Massey Agricultural College to 1943', Palmerston North, 1979

Manawatu Daily Times

Manawatu Daily Times

24 April 1931

Manawatu Evening Standard

Manawatu Evening Standard

4 December 1929

Conservation Plan

Conservation Plan

Chris Cochran, Old Main Building, Massey University, Palmerston North: Conservation Plan, Report prepared for Property Management Section, Massey University Palmerston North, 1999

Other Information

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.