Municipal Chambers

38 The Octagon, Dunedin

  • Municipal Chambers.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Chris Horwell. Date: 4/02/2014.
  • Municipal Chambers.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Chris Horwell. Date: 4/02/2014.
  • Municipal Chambers. Building detail.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Chris Horwell. Date: 4/02/2014.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1
List Number 2197 Date Entered 2nd July 1987


City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 17134 Secs 52/54 Blk XVII Town of Dunedin

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Municipal Chambers upon its completion in 1880 was the most impressive town hall in New Zealand reflecting Dunedin's economic prosperity at the time. It is of historical significance as the seat of local government in Dunedin for over one hundred years.


Municipal Chambers is a major work by an architect of national importance. It is the only substantial town hall of the Victorian period remaining in New Zealand. It is a very well proportioned building incorporating crisp classical detailing and high quality craftwork. The latter is evident in the exterior stonework and the timber carved furniture and scrollwork of the main council chamber. Much of this craftwork is of a standard that would be very difficult and too expensive to produce today. Located in the heart of Dunedin in the Octagon, the building is an irreplaceable element in Dunedin's unique townscape of historic buildings.


With St Paul's Cathedral, Municipal Chambers is visually the most impressive structure in the Octagon. The original landmark qualities of the building have been reduced by the decapitation of the tall clock tower and the construction of high rise buildings nearby. Nevertheless the building remains an important and irreplaceable component in the central city townscape.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Lawson, Robert Arthur

Born in Scotland, Lawson (1833-1902) began his professional career in Perth. At the age of 25 he moved to Melbourne and was engaged in goldmining and journalism before resuming architectural practice. In 1862 Lawson sailed for Dunedin, where his sketch plans had won the competition for the design of First Church. This was built 1867-73. Lawson went on to become one of the most important architects in New Zealand. First Church is regarded as his masterpiece and one of the finest nineteenth century churches in New Zealand.

He was also responsible for the design of the Trinity Church (now Fortune Theatre), Dunedin (1869-70), the East Taieri Presbyterian Church (1870), and Knox Church, Dunedin (1874). He designed Park's School (1864) and the ANZ Bank (originally Union Bank, 1874). In Oamaru he designed the Bank of Otago (later National Bank building, 1870) and the adjoining Bank of New South Wales (now Forrester Gallery, 1881).

See also: Ledgerwood, Norman, 2013. 'R.A. Lawson: Victorian Architect of Dunedin'. Historic Cemeteries Conservation NZ.

Additional informationopen/close

Notable Features

Exterior ornamentation.

Clock made by Gillet and Bland of Croydon.

Furniture and scrollwork in the Council Chamber.

Construction Details

Oamaru stone on a base of Port Chalmers stone.

Physical Description


A three storeyed Victorian Italianate building with a heavily rusticated ground floor and giant Corinthian pilasters extending through the first and second storeys. There are small dormered pavilion towers at the corners of the building, and in the centre of the façade, a high clock tower. The first storey windows are square-headed and aedicular and the second storey, round-arched . The general outline of the building, with its pavilion towers and very high clock tower, recalls 15th and 16th century town halls in the Netherlands and Belgium. Inside the Municipal Chambers there is a very elaborate council chamber with concave figured ceiling and ornate baldacchino made of various woods.


The main external modification is the removal of the upper part of the clock tower and its replacement by a rather crude aluminium cap. Other original details have also been removed from the main façade. Additions including a concert chamber and main hall were made to the rear of the building in 1929. Many interior spaces have been modernised.

Galer, 1982

L. Galer, Bricks and Mortar, Allied Press Ltd, Dunedin, 1982.

Otago Daily Times

Otago Daily Times

24 May 1980

NZIA National Award Winner 1991

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.