Post and Telegraph Building

Herd Street, Wellington

  • Post and Telegraph Building.
    Copyright: Wellington Waterfront Limited.
  • www.flickr.com/photos/34671167@N07/3680121593.
    Copyright: Geoff Goddard. Taken By: Geoff Goddard. Date: 2/07/2009.
  • www.flickr.com/photos/34671167@N07/3680121043.
    Copyright: Geoff Goddard. Taken By: Geoff Goddard. Date: 2/07/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7419 Date Entered 20th February 1998

Locationopen/close

City/District Council

Wellington City

Region

Wellington Region

Legal description

part of Lot 1 DP 42352

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Historical:

The Herd St P&T Building was built to the design of Edmund Anscombe for the Post & Telegraph Department between 1938 and 1940 on reclaimed land on the Wellington waterfront between 1901 and 1914. The building, a substantial one for the time, initially housed technical and accounting staff associated with the Department's growing telecommunications services. During the war a sixth storey was added at the expense of the staff tennis courts which had been part of the original roof. The building's subsequent history is poorly recorded. In 1997, however, it was still being used by Telecom, one of the successors to the old P&T Department, while the building's fate was being debated.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Aesthetic:

The Herd Street P & T (post and Telegraph) Building has two major outstanding architectural features which distinguish it - the treatment of the comer on the main facade facing herd Street, and the interior main foyer and staircase (see below under Design significance). Both features emphasise the "streamlined" aesthetic of the 1930s and summon up in a very direct way the sense of, or feeling for, the age in which the building was erected. This sense of time and place has been described most appropriately as "The expression of the spirit of an epoch".

Particular note should be taken of the fact that within the Chaffers Bay, Barnett Street to Oriental Parade area, The Herd Street P & T Building has an outstanding landmark presence. Although this is partly accidental, since there are no other large buildings in the vicinity except the Museum of New Zealand, and also historical, in respect of the fact that the building was originally isolated on reclaimed land at the south-eastern end of the harbour front, and continues to be isolated to the present time, the quality of this presence would not otherwise be noted were it not for the extraordinarily powerful and monumental design of the corner of the building. Resting on a granite clad main entrance, the corner rises up six storeys in the form of a gigantic concrete Art Moderne roll-top with vertical mouldings, spliced in the middle with a five-storey Art Deco oriel-styled fenestration shaft in contrasting copper. This combination design feature is the first that strikes the eye from surrounding streets, and it constitutes a very powerful architectural statement of the Art Deco/Art Moderne aesthetic of the 1930s.

Architectural:

The Herd Street Post and Telegraph Building was designed in the Inter-War Streamlined Art Deco/Art Moderne style of architecture of the period 1930-1940.

Style indicators are:

- Emphatic vertical piers (see treatment of the main comer).

- Monumental entrance (compares favourably with contemporary buildings in Sydney, NSW).

- Granite, or imitation stone base to the ground floor of the building (in this case both).

- Stylised low-relief ornament (see stylised telegraph poles grouped in horizontal banding on the base of the building).

- Chromium plated trim (see main staircase).

- Polished terrazzo trim (see main staircase).

- Parallel and vertical line motifs (see exterior banding).

- Streamlined rolled or rounded edges on structural and decorative elements and fittings, expressing the 'Moderne' image of speed and efficiency in the 1930s.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

DATE: 1939

ARCIDTECT: Edmund Anscombe

STYLE CODE: 67: Inter-War Streamlined Art Deco/Art Moderne, 1930-1940

DESIGN:

The Herd Street Post and Telegraph Building appears to be nominally constructed of reinforced concrete arranged in a post and beam (trabeated) structural form. However David Kernohan asserts that the building is constructed of 'OK' dry-wall cellular concrete blocks with reinforcing.

The OK dry-wall system was first developed and patented by Edmund Anscombe in 1920 as a revolutionary building system (which it was) but it was not widely used although the product was distributed as far as Australia. It is difficult to imagine how a building of the size and weight of the Herd Street P & T Building could have used a concrete block form of construction since this system employs a lighter construction method of block walls with joists resting on sole plates rather than heavy load bearing columns and beams. Interior photographs of the building show quite substantial columns supporting floors and it would therefore be much more likely that the place is constructed of concrete poured over a trabeated steel skeleton. It should be noted that whatever the structural system used, the interior space of the building was, and is, limited by the building technology of the time which, in the 1930s, was not able to span large open spaces with the steel joist cantilever construction that characterised post war Modernist buildings. Interior spaces in the 1930s were therefore limited by having to be divided up by supporting columns.

The facts of construction, however, are not clear and the question as to which form was used for the Herd Street P & T Building is not examined by two commentators on the building. If the place was constructed using the OK cellular concrete block system, then this would definitely be a special and outstanding feature of the place since the OK dry-wall system was ahead of its time, but was hardly used by the building industry. If, on the other hand, the herd Street P & T Building was constructed of reinforced concrete, its construction was not an innovation but rather was the norm for the 1930s.

Aside from the question of construction, the Herd Street P & T Building used up to date design concepts and materials for the time which conformed to the Art Deco/Art Moderne design aesthetic of the 1930s. Special and outstanding features in this respect are, first and foremost, the overall architectural style of the place which is commonly associated with a streamlined 'Moderne' image. There are obvious style indicators of this design aesthetic in the two main facades of the building and on the main corner. Architectural elements here are characterised by strong verticals and horizontals emphasised by parallel and vertical line motifs, rounded comers to the horizontal string courses defining each floor, large areas of glass, and contrasting patterns between the flowing lines of the Moderne aesthetic embodied in the six storeyed roll-top corner and the angularity of the Art Deco aesthetic visible in the smaller oriel shaft also on the corner.

The innovative use of materials such as polished chromium for the handrails and trim of the main staircase inside, was a characteristic Art Deco feature of the time, as was the use of terrazzo for the steps and dados, entrance floor and lift door facings. However it is not the materials alone which establish a special quality in relation to these features. Although, by 1939, the use of such materials as chromium plating had been around for about twenty years since the Bauhaus era, the quality of the architectural features which employed this medium lay in the "exuberant jazzy streamlined forms created in terrazzo, chromium and plaster". Perhaps the one other notable innovation in terms of materials which could be seen in 1939 at the Herd Street P & T building, was the use of zinc coated rolled steel window frames, but these, unfortunately, were replaced with aluminium window frames in the 1970s.

In summary, it is pertinent to identify the following aspects of the design:

- The chief Art Deco/Art Moderne style characteristic of the place is visible only on the two main facades and comer of the Herd Street P & T Building. The rear and side sections of the building, i.e., facing east and directly north, at first sight seem to have little or no architectural quality at all having exposed plumbing, a chimney running through six storeys, and no Art Moderne line motifs on the northern facade. A second look at these facades, however, suggests a different interpretation as noted below.

- The interior Art Deco/Art Moderne style features are confined to the main staircase and lift door facings, but are not particularly evident elsewhere in the building. They are, however, features of high quality.

- The constructional form of the building would not appear to be innovative but, simply, conventional for the time.

- The main stylistic features of the building which have been indicated above represent a transitional point in the history of Art Deco design, a point where the geometric emphasis of Art deco was entering into a new streamlined phase called Art Moderne. This has been documented internationally as constituting a significant fifth element in the repertoire of Art Deco and one which favoured much of the starkness and severity of the machine age. The period for this transitional phase was quite late in the 1930s and took place roughly from 1937 to 1940. The deficiencies of the design of the place are in this respect indicative of the requirements of form and function for a combination industrial/commercial building in what was, for the period in which this particular building was designed, a transitional period between Art Deco/Art Moderne (itself a transitional style as explained above) and Modernism.

- In at least one important respect, buildings of the same age as the Herd Street P & T Building, i.e., built between 1935 and 1940, were the last of their style to be seen in New Zealand. The Second World War put a halt to further commercial and domestic building in New Zealand. When the war finished in 1945, and normal building was resumed, Modernism - albeit thirty to forty years late - arrived on the architectural scene here and became the dominant architectural style for twenty-five years.

(m) Such additional criteria not inconsistent with those in paragraphs (a) to (k):

There is clear evidence in the research carried out by Virginia Jamieson that in comparison with contemporary overseas examples of buildings in the Art Deco/Art Moderne style, the Herd Street P & T Building holds its own as an example of the style. She identifies nine buildings located in the United States and in Britain which have the same design elements as are found on the Herd Street building, and comments that although there are no direct comparisons to be found between the New Zealand building and overseas examples, Anscombe was most certainly influenced in this building by his professional associations with the United States.

In New Zealand terms there are fourteen registered examples of the Art Deco/Art Moderne style which can be used for favourable comparison. The most relevant, or directly comparable examples are the Avon Cinema, Christchurch, 1934, Cat II; the Civic Offices (former Millers Department Store) Christchurch, 1935, Cat II; the Stout Street Departmental Building, Wellington, 1938, Cat.II. All of these buildings

exhibit the Art Moderne quality of streamlining. Against these examples the Herd Street P & T Building appears to be equal in class and quality. If one is looking for the special and outstanding features which would set the place in the next class above, it would have to produce features comparable to those found on the State Insurance Building, Wellington, 1940, Cat I, which has a corrugated facade directly comparable with Shell House in Berlin, 1931, and extensive Art Deco detailing to the level found inside the NZR Road Services Building in Dunedin, 1936, Cat.I. In the balance, the features of the Herd Street building which make it worthy of registration, are the decorative treatment of the main corner of the building and the main foyer staircase - a feature which has been noted in the past by architectural historians. If the construction of the place turned out to be unique as indicated above, this would constitute a special and outstanding feature of the design, but this cannot be established on the basis of the information supplied with the nomination.

Careful consideration of the relative merits of Herd Street P & T Building brings forth the following points:

- Unlike the other comparative registered examples of this type of building in New Zealand, the Herd Street P & T Building is a significant example of the style and type applied to a specifically industrial/commercial building. This is not a type of building in New Zealand for which such an outstanding application of Art Deco/Art Moderne features is commonly found.

- The Herd Street P & T Building is of special architectural interest in exhibiting two transitional styles which could have only occurred at the end of an era - in this case further stylistic development was halted by the Second World War. The styles in question are the Art Deco/Art Moderne transitional style, and the Art Moderne/Modernist style.

- It has been demonstrated in recent research that the place compares very well with outstanding overseas examples of the Art Deco/Art Moderne style of architecture.

- Despite the removal of the original window frames and the addition of new metal flues to the rear of the building, overall the place has retained a high degree of authenticity in terms of its original design integrity.

- At a regional level of comparison, there are no other comparable examples of an industrial/commercial building that have been designed in the Art Deco/Art Moderne style with such a degree of refinement as can be seen on the Herd Street P & T Building. There are certainly no registered examples of a place like this at all.

- The building has a significant landmark quality in the Chaffers Bay/Oriental Parade area of Wellington.

On balance, registration of the Herd Street P & T Building would extend our knowledge of the work of Edmund Anscombe, the architect, while providing an example of particular transitional styles of architecture which have relevance not only for New Zealand architectural history but also for international architectural history. The place is therefore worthy of being recommended for registration as a very good Category II building.

Linksopen/close

Construction Professionalsopen/close

Anscombe, Edmund

Anscombe (1874-1948) was born in Sussex and came to New Zealand as a child. He began work as a builder's apprentice in Dunedin and in 1901 went to America to study architecture. He returned to Dunedin in 1907 and designed the School of Mines building for the University of Otago. The success of this design gained him the position of architect to the University. Five of the main University buildings were designed by Anscombe, as well as Otago Girls' High School and several of Dunedin's finest commercial buildings including the Lindo Ferguson Building (1927) and the Haynes building.

Anscombe moved to Wellington about 1928 and was known for his work as the designer of the Centennial Exhibition (1939-1940). Anscombe had travelled extensively and had visited major exhibitions in Australia, Germany and America. The practice of Edmund Anscombe and Associates, Architects, had offices in the Dunedin, Wellington and Hawkes Bay districts, and Anscombe's buildings include the Vocational Centre for Disabled Servicemen, Wellington (1943), Sargent Art Gallery, Wanganui, and several blocks of flats including Anscombe Flats, 212 Oriental Parade (1937) and Franconia, 136 The Terrace (1938), both in Wellington. As well as being interested in the housing problem, Anscombe held strong views concerning the industrial advancement of New Zealand.

(See also http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/dnzb/ )

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1939 -

Completion Date

1st October 1997

Report Written By

Wayne Nelson

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Central region office

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.