New Zealand Insurance Building (Former)

204 Hardy Street, Nelson

  • New Zealand Insurance Building (Former).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 3022 Date Entered 25th November 1982


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lots 2-3 AP 133 (CT NL57/98, NL39/180), Nelson Land District and the building known as New Zealand Insurance Building (Former) thereon.

City/District Council

Nelson City


Nelson Region

Legal description

Lots 2-3 AP 133 (CT NL57/98, NL39/180), Nelson Land District.


Completed in 1956, the New Zealand Insurance Building (Former) is a central Nelson commercial building of historic importance for its association with one of New Zealand’s biggest and longstanding insurance companies. The construction of the New Zealand Insurance Building (Former) was also part of a local mid-twentieth century building boom. The building has architectural heritage value because it demonstrates the development of celebrated New Zealand architectural firm Gummer and Ford, through references to their early work being incorporated into a Modern building. The building is also associated with notable local modern movement architect Alexander William Bowman (1916–2002).

Nelson was the New Zealand Company’s second settlement and Captain Arthur Wakefield (1799–1843) chose its site in 1841. As Wakefield intended, Trafalgar Street north of Church Hill was the focus of commercial activity. Hardy Street, intersecting with Trafalgar Street, was one of the first streets surveyed and named. The New Zealand Insurance Company (NZI), established in 1859, was one of a number of life insurance companies operating in New Zealand from the mid-late nineteenth century. The company first established a presence in Nelson in 1861 with an agency and had a Trafalgar Street branch by the early twentieth century.

In 1956 they constructed new offices in Hardy Street, near the Trafalgar Street intersection, on a site formerly occupied by a law firm. This was part of NZI’s building programme in provincial centres in the 1950s. It was typical for Gummer and Ford to work in association with a local architect on these projects. Gummer and Ford were New Zealand’s ‘most prominent practice’ between the two World Wars. This series of buildings for NZI was among Gummer and Ford’s later projects because William Henry Gummer (1884–1966) and Charles Reginald Ford (1880–1972) retired in 1961. Bowman was the local architect involved in the project. He went on to design important Nelson buildings, including the Trafalgar Centre, Airport Terminal and the City Council Building.

The 1950s NZI buildings share architectural features associated with the company from the early twentieth century, referencing the lower central section of their Auckland offices which Gummer and Ford also designed. However, the mid-century buildings are given a modern movement twist because the pair of substantial full-height Classical columns stand in front of a recessed glass curtain wall. Awnings have since been added to the New Zealand Insurance Building (Former), partially obscuring the curtain wall.

The construction of NZI’s Nelson offices coincided with what seems to have been a period of local economic growth, with new buildings ‘popping up all over town’. For example, plans for Christ Church Cathedral were approved in 1957 and other buildings on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero were built, such as the nearby Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Building. In particular, insurance companies appear to have been prospering at the time, because South Island Motor Union Mutual Insurance Association also built new Nelson premises.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Gummer & Ford

The architectural partnership of Gummer and Ford was established in 1923, and became one of national importance.

William Henry Gummer (1884-1966) was articled to W.A. Holman, an Auckland architect, and was elected as an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1910. In the period 1908-1913 he travelled in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States. During this time he worked for Sir Edwin Lutyens, 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. In 1914 he was elected a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, was president of the Institute from 1933-34 and was later elected a life member.

Charles Reginald Ford (1880- 1972) was born in England and served in the Royal Navy. He was later with Captain Scott's 1901-1904 expedition to Antarctica. He trained as an architect working in Wanganui as an engineer. In 1926 he wrote the first treatise on earthquake and

building construction in the English language. Ford was president of the New Zealand Institute of Architects from 1921-22.

Buildings designed by the partnership include the State Insurance Building Wellington, (1940) the Dilworth Building (1926), the Guardian Trust Building and the Domain Wintergardens (1921 and 1928), all in Auckland, and the Dominion Museum (1936) in Wellington. Gummer and Ford were awarded Gold Medals from the New Zealand Institute of Architects for the designs of Auckland Railway Station and Remuera Library.

Gummer was one of the most outstanding architects working in New Zealand in the first half of this century and was responsible for the stylistically and structurally advanced Tauroa (1916), Craggy Range (1919), Arden (1926), and Te Mata (1935) homesteads at Havelock North.

Alexander William Bowman

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1956 -

Completion Date

27th April 2016

Report Written By

Karen Astwood

Information Sources

Gatley, 2008

Julia Gatley (ed.), Long Live the Modern: New Zealand's New Architecture 1904-1984, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2008

Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Henderson, Alan, ‘Insurance - Early life insurance’, Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand,, 13 Jul 2012 update.

Palmerston North City Council

Palmerston North City Council

‘38–42 Rangitikei Street – Innes Dean House’, Palmerston North City Council,, 27 August update.

Architectural Archive

Barrie, Andrew & Julia Gatley, ‘Gummer & Ford 1 – Public Buildings’, Architectural Archive,, accessed 20 Mar 2016.

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.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Central Region Office of Heritage New Zealand