Wellington Woollen Manufacturing Company Building (Former)
96 Lichfield Street, Christchurch
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Private/No Public Access
15th February 1990
Pt Sec 991 Town of Christchurch (CT CB22F/432), Canterbury Land District
The Wellington Woollen Manufacturing Company began in Petone, near Wellington, in 1886, one of a number of manufacturers of woollen goods established in New Zealand during the late nineteenth century. The company manufactured knitted and woven goods for the New Zealand market. Around 1906-1907 its success enabled it to open a branch in Christchurch, and twelve years later it built a new warehouse and clothing factory in the centre of the city. This was designed by William Henry Gummer (1884-1966), one of the outstanding architects working in New Zealand in the first half of the twentieth century. His firm, first known as Gummer and Ford, was responsible for many significant buildings around New Zealand, including the Auckland Railway Station and the former National Art Gallery and Museum in Wellington. In addition, Gummer was responsible for a number of significant First World War memorials, such as the Bridge of Remembrance in Cashel Street, Christchurch.
For the Wellington Woollen Manufacturing Company, Gummer produced a four-storeyed building supported by a grid of 40 reinforced concrete columns. Because the weight of the building was supported by these columns, rather than the external walls, Gummer was able to sheath the first and second floors in glass. Unglazed areas of the main facade of the building were clad in Nelson marble and decorated in a pared-down classical style, favoured by Gummer, reflecting the influence of American architects of the period. A significant feature of the building was the lightwell through the first, second and third floors, which provided natural light to the building from skylights set in the saw-toothed roof. Regrettably the light-well was filled in during the 1980s. Currently there are plans to reinstate it.
A significant example of Gummer's commercial architecture, this building gave the Wellington Woollen Manufacturing Company a progressive and distinctive image, as well as a facility that met practical requirements. Its use of large glazed areas and the paring back of decoration foreshadows the introduction of architecture of the Modern Movement to New Zealand. The building forms an important part of the commercial townscape of Lichfield Street.
Historical Significance or Value
The Wellington Woollen Manufacturing Company's expansion to Canterbury and the subsequent erection of this building were indicative of the very considerable growth in the woollen industry.
Gummer's innovative approach to commercial architecture is exemplified by the former Wellington Woollen Manufacturing Company building. The internal grid system of reinforced concrete columns and beams is honestly expressed in the plan and facade, despite the use of some stripped classical decoration and traditional building materials such as marble and bronze. The architect's use of bands of glass curtain walling, bold semi-classical forms arranged in a symmetrical composition and a high quality New Zealand marble cladding created a progressive corporate image for the woollen company. Designed to meet the specific needs of one company the building has nevertheless proved to be ideally suited to the needs of subsequent owners.
The construction of a building which is so uncompromisingly modern in 1919 is a remarkable achievement. There is possibly no earlier example in New Zealand commercial architecture.
Standing within a fine precinct of Victorian and Edwardian commercial buildings, Gummer's building for the Wellington Woollen Company is a striking example of post World War I commercial architecture and, as such, is a valuable asset to the inner-city streetscape.
Gummer, William Henry
Gummer (1884-1966) was articled to W.A. Holman, an Auckland architect, and qualified as an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1910. From 1908 to 1913 he travelled in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States. During this time he worked for Edwin Lutyens, a leading English architect of the time, and for Daniel Burnham in Chicago. Burnham was a major American architect and one of the founders of the influential Chicago School of Architecture.
Gummer joined the firm of Hoggard and Prouse of Auckland and Wellington in 1913. Significant commissions undertaken during this period included the New Zealand Insurance (later known as the Guardian Trust) Building, Auckland (1914-18).
In 1923 Gummer, one of the most outstanding architects working in New Zealand in the first half of the twentieth century, joined with Charles Reginald Ford (1880-1972) to create an architectural partnership of national significance. The practice was responsible for the design of the Dilworth Building (1926), Auckland, the Dominion Museum (1936) and the State Insurance Building (1940), both Wellington. Gummer and Ford were awarded Gold Medals by the New Zealand Institute of Architects for their designs of the Auckland Railway Station and Remuera Library.
Gummer was also responsible for the Bridge of Remembrance, Christchurch and the Cenotaph in Dunedin (1927), and the stylistically and structurally advanced Tauroa (1916), Craggy Range (1919), Arden (1926) and Te Mata (1935) homesteads at Havelock North. Elected a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1914, he was president of the Institute from 1933-4 and was later elected a life member.
DESCRIPTION20 Jan 2009
The Wellington Woollen Manufacturing Company was incorporated in June 1883 and began manufacturing operations three years later when its Petone mill was completed to a design by Thomas Turnbull. The Petone mill produced woven and knitted goods for the local market. The company's Christchurch branch appears to have begun trading about 1906/7 and several years after its new premises were completed it merged with the local Kaiapoi Woollen Manufacturing Company. Owned by the clothing manufacturing company Lichfield New Zealand between 1972 and 1986, the building was refurbished two years ago.
The inner city building is four storeys high with a raised basement and partial attic level. The basement is built of concrete and in plan it is dominated by a grid of forty reinforced concrete columns which rise through the entire structure; with the exception of three which were discontinued to accommodate a light well in the centre of the building. Above the basement the building is extended by another bay at the rear, and on the ground floor this bay was originally fitted with steel roller doors. Elevators and their associated stairwells are situated in the north-west and south-west corners of the building and the lavatories are also confined to these areas. Access to the ground floor is also provided by a short staircase in the north-east corner and, like the facade, the two public stairways are lined with marble. In plan the four floors are primarily large open spaces, with few internal walls even after the recent refurbishment. A major feature of the first, second and third floors was the light well, lit by skylights in the sawtooth roof with south facing lights, but this has been 'removed' to increase the total floor space. The refurbishment, and in particular the addition of the verandah on the principal elevation, is an unfortunate compromise of the integrity of the building.
As the external walls are not load-bearing the architect has been able to open up the wall surface, providing the north and south walls with generous areas of fenestration. Most importantly, the first and second floors of the principal elevation are entirely sheathed in glass, and behind this glass curtain it is possible to see the structural columns of the interior. The facade is symmetrical and reveals the construction of the building. It is designed in a stripped classical style favoured by Gummer which suggests a debt to American commercial architecture and European modernism. The tripartite composition in particular, is reminiscent of that developed by commercial architects in the United States during the 1880s and 1890s.
1986-7 Verandah added, basement converted to carpark, light well filled in, new suspended ceilings, general alterations. Ground floor divided in two longitudinally to provide two retail spaces.
The marble cladding, glass curtain walls and bronze spandrel.
1986 - 1987
Verandah added, basement converted to car park, light well filled in, new suspended ceilings, general alterations. Ground floor divided in two longitudinally to provide two retail spaces.
Reinforced concrete floors, beams and columns. The principal facade is clad in Nelson marble from the old Kairuru Quarry and the spandrels between the first and second floors are bronze.
17th October 2001
Report Written By
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1897
Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol.1, Wellington, 1897
Bruce W. Hayward, 'Granite and Marble: a guide to building stones in New Zealand', Geological Society of New Zealand Guidebook, No.8
New Zealand Institute of Architects Journal
New Zealand Institute of Architects Journal (NZIA)
'William Henry Gummer', XX (March 1967), pp86-90
Plans: Held by Don Donnithorne, Architect, 24 Oxford Terrace, Christchurch. Drawings of elevations, sections and floor plans on linen.
John Stacpoole and Peter Beaven, 'Architecture 1820-1970', Wellington, 1972
September 4 1986, p9
March 6 1919, p9
University of Canterbury
University of Canterbury
'W.H. Gummer', Dr I. Lochhead, School of Fine Arts
J. Cattell, Historic Buildings of Wellington - N.Z.H.P.T. Register of Classified Buildings, Government Printing Office, Wellington, 1986.
pp37 & 46
Stone's Canterbury, Nelson, Marlborough and Westland Directory, April 1906 - 1907, ed. J. Stone, Stone, Son & Co. Ltd., Dunedin,
J. Cattell, Historic Buildings of Canterbury and South Canterbury - A Register of Classified Buildings, Publishing Division of Government Printing Office, Wellington, 1985
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.