Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind Main Building

545‐547A Parnell Road, Parnell, Auckland

  • Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind Main Building.
    Copyright: Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind.
  • Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind Main Building.
    Copyright: Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind.
  • Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind Main Building.
    Copyright: Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4579 Date Entered 24th November 1988


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 3 DP 362696 (CT 255816) and part of the land described as Lot 2 DP 362696 (CT 255815), North Auckland Land District, and the building known as Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind Main Building thereon. Refer to the extent map tabled at the Heritage New Zealand Board meeting on 25 June 2015.

City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)


Auckland Council

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 362696 (CT 255815), Lot 3 DP 362696 (CT 255816), North Auckland Land District


The Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind Main Building (also known as the Jubilee Building) fronting Parnell Road was designed by notable Auckland architect Edward Bartley, and opened in 1909 as the first purpose-built facility and residential school for the blind in New Zealand. Founded in 1890, The Jubilee Institute for the Blind (later the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind) was the national body for the blind in New Zealand. The body was founded and run by a number of notable individuals that later included Sir Clutha Mackenzie (1895-1966) who had been blinded at Gallipoli and became a pivotal figure in the development of a universal Braille system. While the building is notable for its associations with these people, its deep historical and social significance also derives from the people from all over the country who chose to live there, for whom it was home, school, workplace and the centre of leisure activities. In addition to its aesthetic and architectural significance, the building is important for reflecting what were seen as progressive approaches to care of the blind at the time New Zealand gained Dominion status (1907). The Jubilee Building forms a central part of a larger complex of which the remaining former workshops and purpose-built men’s accommodation were part, and is a very public symbol of change throughout the twentieth century in the lives of the people it served as they moved from being ‘inmates’ to agents of their own lives. The national historical and social significance of the place is also reflected by the massive nationwide fundraising efforts undertaken to fund its construction.

The first school for blind children and adults anywhere in New Zealand was established on the Parnell site in 1892. A major fundraising drive throughout the country enabled the erection of the building in 1907-8, opened the following year by the Governor-General, Sir William Lee (Lord) Plunket. The building of impressive design is architecturally significant as an important example of the red brick Gothic Revival style of architecture associated with educational buildings at that time. The main form of the building with Oamaru stone dressed arches, window surrounds and banded gables, has largely been retained, although the double height verandah, wrapped around all sides, has since been mostly enclosed. This building contained classrooms downstairs and dormitory bedrooms upstairs. At the rear was a dining hall wing and toilet block. The dining hall was later extended to house an organ.

In 1926, the prominent architectural partnership of Gummer and Ford designed a one-storey brick shop to sell products through an outlet attached to the southwest side of the building a facility which became a well-known feature of the Institute. A year later a new storey was added to this addition, to provide a women’s dormitory. This work occurred during a period when other major buildings in the associated complex were erected, including workshops (1926; List No. 4579) and men’s accommodation (also 1926; List No. 4580).

In 1964, when children were no longer educated in the building following changes in attitudes towards the schooling of children with disabilities, major changes were carried out on the ground floor to convert it into offices for the Foundation. Further internal changes were made in the 1980s and 1990s, and the toilet block was demolished in 1990. The building currently (2015) houses the Parnell library and community facilities.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Jubilee Institute for the Blind has been associated with this site for nearly 100 years and in 1896 a fund was begun to enable a larger more permanent brick residential school to be constructed. The Institute was founded in 1890 and by 1892 had acquired a two storey wooden house in Parnell. This became the first school for the care, education and training of blind children and adults.

The plans for the new building were drawn up in 1904 after the Institute had received a munificent gift from the estate of William Mason. This money which was received in several large sums, amounted to £14,650 by 1911. The whole of this sum was devoted to the building fund, making erection a reality far sooner than mould have been possible by ordinary fundraising. The government added £2500 subsidy and the design was subject to the approval of the education board.

Prominent citizens associated with the Blind Institute included John Logan Campbell who was one of the original trustees and Alfred Nathan who was the chairman. Lord Plunkett the Governor and President of the Institute opened the new building in May 1909 while the main building was under construction.

The pupils were taught Braille, Shorthand and typing as well as several handcrafts, music, gymnastics and drill. Some students went on to attain university degrees.

As well as the residential school there were workshops where technical and trades training was available.

The Institute gradually acquired the remainder of the Parnell block. Additional buildings constructed include Pearson House designed by Gummer and Ford to house those blinded during World War I.

In 1965 a college was completed at Manurewa and the main block was converted to offices. The institute became the New Zealand Institute for the Blind in 1926 in recognition of its assumed nationwide responsibility. The title was amended in 1955 to the New Zealand Foundation for the Blind under the Act of Parliament. The Foundation is now under Royal Patronage.

In the 1970s a change in the philosophy of the foundation meant that the blind were to remain in the community rather than be cared for in an institutional setting.

The foundation has, for nearly one hundred years, provided excellent care for the blind in New Zealand.

Architectural Significance:

This is an important example of the red brick Gothic Revival style of architecture which has become associated with educational buildings.

The design of the Blind Institute was influenced by those of the English schools of the 1890s, some of which were published in the Builder. In contrast with the 'Collegiate' Gothic Revival Style the school buildings were designed without decorative crockets, finials or the lancet windows commonly associated with the style. These decorative elements carried ecclesiastical connotations and the school boards were determined to express the secular nature of education.

Hygiene was an important design consideration and much of the Gothic detailing commonly used in designing schools was omitted from modern schools designs because medieval interiors were considered dark, poorly lit and consequently unsuitable for studying.

This was the first permanent building constructed for the Blind and the Institute hoped the design would reflect the high standard of care and education of the blind in New Zealand. The age was one in which numerous institutional buildings were constructed and they stand as a reminder of the Edwardian concern with education.

School buildings stood in prominent locations and the school environment was to set an important example to pupils. The Blind Institute is not planned according to British examples which include a school hall around which the classrooms were grouped. This plan would have been inappropriate for blind students and the Institute has a central corridor which enables pupils to navigate themselves around the building.

Edward Bartley was a truly Victorian architect who would design in whichever style was appropriate for the building type. His Auckland Savings Bank building is Italianate, a suitable style for commercial buildings, his Synagogue has Eastern decoration evoking associations with Judaism and the Gothic revival style of the Blind Institute was considered to be appropriate for education.

The façade detail with the banded gables bear similarity to English schools in particular Roedean in Brighton. It also shows some influence of Pugin and Pugin's design for the Gothic Revival Bishops Palace in Ponsonby.

Townscape/Landmark Significance:

The administration building for the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind is situated on the rise at the top of Parnell Road and is an important landmark in this part of Auckland.

It is in the centre of an historically important area, with the Domain and Auckland Museum on one side and St Mary's cathedral, Selwyn Court, Kinder House and Ewelme Cottage on the other.

It is one of a number of buildings owned by the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind on the block bounded by Parnell Road, George Street, Titoki Street and Maunsell Road which form a unique city block enclosing an open space.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Bartley, Edward

Edward Bartley was born in Jersey in 1839, and educated in the Channel Islands where he learned techniques of the building trade from his father, an architect and builder.

Bartley immigrated to New Zealand with his elder brother Robert, also an architect, while still in his teens. They eventually settled in Devonport, Auckland. Initially Edward was in the building trade but later he practised solely as an architect. He was at one time vice-president of the Auckland Institute of Architects and was also Diocesan Architect for the Church of England.

Amongst Bartley's most notable works were his ecclesiastical buildings including St John's Church, Ponsonby (1881), St David's Church, Symonds Street (1880), Holy Trinity Church, Devonport, and the Synagogue (1884). He was also responsible for the Opera House (1884) and Auckland Savings Bank, Queen Street (1884).

Philcox & Sons

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

Architectural Description (Style):

The school is in the Gothic Revival style favoured for education buildings. The main façade is symmetrical with three gabled pavilions which are linked by a double height verandah. At ground level these are arched but at first floor level square columns form the arcade.

The central gable features horizontal bands of Oamaru stone and a rectangular window with stone mullions and dressings which originally contained stained glass. The end pavilions have a double height bay window and similar stone banding of the brickwork and gable.

The plan is simple and consists of one main corridor per floor and a centrally located staircase. At the rear of the building is the dining hall which has a steeply pitched roof.


In 1917 the dining hall was extended to include a pipe organ donated by Sir Henry Brett. In 1927 a new wing was added by architects Gummer and Ford in a similar style which had a shop on Parnell Road and dormitories above.

The building was modified to be used as the administrative headquarters for the Royal Foundation for the Blind in the late 1960s. The stained glass windows have been removed and portions of the arcade glazed.

Notable Features

The steep gable ends, arcaded verandah treatment and Oamaru stone detailing are special features of this design.

Construction Dates

Dining hall expanded to house an organ

Additional building added to site
1926 -
Single-storey shop

1929 -
Second storey for women’s dormitory added above the shop

Verandahs progressively enclosed

1964 -
Alterations to ground floor to house offices

Internal alterations

Partial Demolition
1990 -
Toilet block demolished

Renovations and strengthening

Original Construction
1907 - 1908

Construction Details

The Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind, Main Building, is constructed of red brick with Oamaru stone dressed arches, window surrounds and banding on the gables. The brickworks had difficulty in supplying bricks resulting in delays in construction. In the end bricks had to be imported from Sydney to complete the job.

Completion Date

8th June 2015

Report Written By

Elizabeth Cox

Information Sources

Auckland Institute & Museum

Auckland Institute & Museum

Photographic Collection

Auckland Star

Auckland Star

30/0401907 & 21/05/1909

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1902

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol.2, Christchurch, 1902

Article on Architects, Civil Engineers etc

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.

01/05/1907 & 22/05/1909

Seaborne, 1971

Malcolm Seaborne, The English School: Its Architecture and Organization 1370-1870, London, 1971

Stacpoole, 1972

John Stacpoole and Peter Beaven, 'Architecture 1820-1970', Wellington, 1972

Bartley, 2006

M W Bartley, Colonial Architect, The Career of Edward Bartley 1839-1919, Wellington, 2006

Bartley, n. d.

Bartley, Edward, ‘Early Reminiscences of Auckland’, MS 1369, Auckland War Memorial Museum, transcribed at

Catran & Hansen, 1992

Catran, Ken and Penny Hansen, Pioneering a Vision: A History of the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind 1890-1990, Auckland, 1992.

Hansen, 2013

Hansen, Penelope, 'Mackenzie, Clutha Nantes', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 12-Nov-2013 URL:

Newbold, 2008

Newbold, Greg, Quest For Equity, A History of Blindness Advocacy in New Zealand, Palmerton North, 2008

Oldham, 1995

Oldham, Denys, The Jubilee Building, 545 Parnell Road, Auckland: Conservation Report, Kingston Morrison (architects), 1995 (revised version).

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 Northern Region Office of Heritage New Zealand