Massey House

126-132 Lambton Quay And 49-55 The Terrace, Wellington

  • Massey House, Wellington.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Rachel Connolly. Date: 10/01/2009.
  • Massey House, Lambton Quay, Wellington under construction, 1931-1940, Wellington, by Gordon Burt, Gordon H. Burt Ltd. Te Papa (B.026529).
    Copyright: No Known Copyright Restrictions.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7661 Date Entered 30th June 2006


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the building (including the 1967, 8-storey addition to the south), its fittings and fixtures, and the land comprised in certificate of title WN594/222.

City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 16589 (CT WN594/222), Wellington Land District


Massey House, situated on Wellington's Lambton Quay, was the first curtain-walled high rise office building in New Zealand; it influenced New Zealand architecture from its completion on 4 October 1957, and is the work of two important architects: Ernst Plischke and Cedric Firth. Its architectural and aesthetic qualities are held in international regard. It was built to house the producer boards of both the dairy industry and the meat industry. It commemorates William Massey, Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1912-1924, acknowledging the role he played in establishing national producer boards and thereby permitting cooperative international marketing of New Zealand primary produce. The bookshop and coffee gallery tenancies in Massey House were instrumental in establishing a cultural milieu in Wellington in the 1960s.

The building features glass cladding along the east and west facades that is independent of the building's ferro-cement structure. The use of modern materials and construction techniques allowed the architects to achieve a radical, yet well received, departure from New Zealand's architectural norms of the 1950s. On its opening in 1957 Keith Holyoake announced that: "This building has added something worth while and spectacular to Wellington's skyline and is a symbol of the economic importance and vast proportions of our primary industry".

Massey House was widely emulated in subsequent years, with Wellington's Shell House, Wool House and Manchester House following architectural trends set by Massey House. Together these buildings served to establish the architectural context of the north end of Wellington's current CBD. The extensive, published architectural critique of Massey House, both within New Zealand and internationally, has ensured that the building has had a wide influence on architectural history.

Massey House is significant for its architectural and aesthetic qualities and is recognised as an important example of Modernist architecture in New Zealand. It is an important work in the ouevre of both its architects: Ernst Plischke and Cedric Firth. Its association with the meat and dairy producer boards, and commemoration of William Massey, connect it with important twentieth century economic and political developments. The building was designed to house one of Wellington's first cafes, and Parsons bookshop, thereby contributing to the cultural life of the city.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value


Massey House is associated with the producer boards for two of New Zealand's most significant industries: the meat industry and the dairy industry. The producer boards coordinated marketing and exporting of New Zealand primary produce, allowing the industry to cooperate on a national level to expand and diversify the international market, thereby generating a high proportion of New Zealand's export earnings. Massey House was constructed at a period of affluence and expansion in these industries and the high design qualities reflect this.


When first completed in 1957 Massey House made a strong stylistic contrast with the surrounding buildings, which were standard masonry, with regular fenestration. Massey House made use of emerging technology to make a bold and radical departure from Wellington's customary architecture. This was most evident in the height and the openness of the glazed façade, and the sculptural forms of the columns and service towers adorning the roof terrace.

Structural and functional elements are used as a vehicle for aesthetic gestures. The aluminium glazing frames are used to create rhythm and relief on the Lambton Quay and Terrace facades, and the curvilinear lift machine room on the roof add aesthetic value to the form of the building. These sculptural qualities are also evident at the detail level, the organically shaped timber foyer door handles (extant at The Terrace level entrance), are a good example of this.

In spite of changes to the context of Massey House, it continues to make an elegant contribution to the Lambton Quay streetscape. The adjacent sites now host equally tall buildings, and the building is enlarged by an early addition to the south.


Massey House is architecturally important as a sculptural presence on Lambton Quay, for its luxurious and occupant oriented planning and interior design, and as the first (partially) curtain walled building in New Zealand. The building was an early and influential study in what came to be known as International Modernism. It reflects key concepts of International Modernism including: function driven planning; the elimination of redundancy and adornment; the use of technologically advanced construction materials and details; and a strong emphasis on sculptural forms and surfaces.

Widely regarded as an important early example of International Modernism, this building is recognised as marking a pivotal moment in New Zealand's architectural history. It is included in all major surveys on New Zealand's twentieth century architecture including New Zealand Architecture, Looking at the Architecture of New Zealand; and Zeal and Crusade, The Modern Movement in Wellington. Its radical presence on Lambton Quay influenced the quality and character of subsequent urban architecture in Wellington, and New Zealand, with Shell House (Stephenson and Turner 1960), and Wool House (Bernard John, 1955) promptly emulating architectural qualities of the building.


Massey House is known as the first curtain walled building in New Zealand. It made use of new technology and advances in structural engineering that allowed the structure of the building to be liberated from the cladding, thus allowing both elements to take on new expressive qualities.

By 1957 curtain wall construction had been used elsewhere in the World. Linda Tyler traces the development of the technology:

[Glass curtain walls were] approximated as early as Beman's Studebaker Building (1895) and Holabird and Roche's McClurg Building (1899) in Chicago, and in Behrens' Fagus Factory (1911) in Germany, the curtain wall was first definitively expressed by Willis Polk's Hallidie Building (1918) in San Francisco, where the panes of glass on the exterior are continuous horizontally.

Contemporaneous celebrated examples of curtain glass construction included the UNO Building in New York (Le Corbusier and WK Harrison, 1947-53). Anvil House, Wellington, designed by Haughton and Mair in 1951, provides a strong contrast to Massey House, in its reliance on its masonry shell to support gravity loads. Shell House on the Terrace, Wellington (designed by Stephenson and Turner, opened in 1960) followed the architectural precedent established by Massey House, and came to be the first building to be clad with only curtain glass walls.

Curtain wall construction frees the cladding system from the structural system, permitting the extensive use of non-load bearing materials, such as glass. Lateral loads must be resisted by alternative structural components, and in Massey House this function is met by the aluminium window joinery.

The new technologies also permitted the building to reach its full eight storey height (Lambton Quay façade). The north and south facades of Massey House make use of more conventional load-bearing reinforced concrete walls, anticipating the construction of tall neighbours. The structural design of these walls was carefully considered to manage earthquake risk. Linda Tyler notes that the architects faced new challenges in designing a curtain glass walled building for the windy and earthquake prone capital. She notes that the building was expected to sway with an amplitude of up to 450mm on the top level. All components of the building were designed to withstand this level of lateral movement.

The technological qualities of the building were thus generators of architectural and aesthetic qualities, in keeping with the principles of International Modernism.


In addition to serving the meat and dairy producer boards, Massey House was designed to provide an informal meeting place for workers in the nearby seat of government and the judiciary. The inclusion of an independent bookshop and European style café at the Lambton Quay entrance drew a strong community to the building, including a number of post war European immigrants.


The building came to be associated with the birth of café culture in Wellington, particularly through the involvement of Harry Seresin, who managed the Coffee Gallery. Harry Seresin went on to establish the Settlement restaurant, and played a significant role in establishing Downstage Theatre. The design of the building, and its relationship to the street, facilitate and emphasise the cultural function of the building by creating a sheltered place for pedestrians to stop and look at the shop displays, and through the use of floor-to-ceiling shop windows, which permit a visual link between the inhabitants and the pedestrians.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

Massey House was constructed to house the producer boards for the meat industry and the dairy industry, at a period of international expansion of primary produce markets. Massey House is an early example of International Modernism in New Zealand architectural history and the first curtain wall office building in New Zealand.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

Massey House was designed by two important New Zealand architects: Cedric Firth and Ernst Plischke. Ernst Plischke was a celebrated architect, both in his homeland of Austria, and in New Zealand, where he and his family sheltered from the Second World War. Cedric Firth was an influential architect and writer at the time that the Department of Building and Construction was established, and large-scale state housing programmes were being undertaken. He worked on post war housing construction projects for the UN. Plischke, an architect with an international reputation, considered Massey House to be worthy of extensive documentation in retrospectives of his work. Notably a chapter is devoted to it in "On the Human Aspect In Modern Architecture". Cedric Firth's obituary in Architecture New Zealand identifies his work on Massey House as one of the highlights of his career. The building is also associated with Nan and Roy Parsons, the original proprietors of Parsons Bookshop. The Parsons made significant contributions to the publishing industry in New Zealand.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place

At its opening in 1957, Massey House was held in high public regard, with coverage in newspapers across New Zealand. Its Modernist architectural qualities were used to disseminate the architectural values of Modernism. Its aesthetic qualities continue to be widely regarded. The building has been widely published, both within New Zealand, and internationally. It features in publications such as:

Looking at the Architecture of New Zealand, Terence Hodgson, Grantham House, 1990;

The Elegant Shed: New Zealand Architecture since 1945; David Mitchell and Gillian Chaplin, Oxford University Press, Auckland, 1984;

The Modern Movement in Architecture: Selections from the Docomomo Registers, eds Dennis Sharp & Catherine Cooke, 010 Publishers, Rotterdam, 2000;

New Zealand Architecture, Martin Hill; Department of Education, 1976;

New Zealand Architecture from Polynesian Beginnings to 1990, Peter Shaw, Auckland, Hodder and Stoughton, 1991;

New Zealand Art; Architecture 1820-1970, John Stacpoole and Peter Beaven, A.H and A.W. Reed; Wellington; 1972;

Zeal and Crusade, The Modern Movement in Wellington, ed John Wilson, Te Waihora Press, 1996

The building is included among 19 buildings selected by DocomomoNZ to represent Modernism in New Zealand. The building is listed by the Wellington City Council in its District Plan.

Massey House accommodated Parsons bookshop and Harry Seresin's Coffee Gallery, which were instrumental in establishing an informal community of bureaucrats, the judiciary and a European émigré community. This community influenced Wellington culture, notably establishing a European style café culture. The bookshop and café (now managed by Parsons' staff) continue to operate as a meeting place in Wellington's government and judicial precinct.

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

Massey House was the first curtain wall building in New Zealand.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place:

Massey House commemorates William Fergusson Massey, a significant person in New Zealand's twentieth century history. Massey was prime minister from 1912-1924, leading New Zealand through a period of turbulent industrial relations and the First World War. He was also instrumental in establishing the producer boards. Keith Holyoake suggested that the building was an apt tribute to Massey:

"Mr Massey has, I know, an enduring memorial at Point Halswell, but I cannot help thinking that this building and all it represents would have been closer to his heart".

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

Massey House was constructed for the producer boards of the dairy and meat industries, which played an important economic role in shaping twentieth century New Zealand. Massey House represents post-war, high-rise office developments in Wellington's CBD, and is an important example of International Modernism. It is included in a list of nineteen Modernist buildings considered to represent Modernist architecture in New Zealand.

The social function of the café and bookshop supported the development of an urban cultural milieu, including the development of Wellington's coffee houses and the independent book industry in New Zealand.


Massey House was constructed for the producer boards for two of New Zealand's most significant industries: the meat industry and the dairy industry, and commemorates William Fergusson Massey, who was instrumental in establishing these boards. As such it has both historical and commemorative value. The building also has social and cultural importance. It was associated with the birth of café culture in Wellington through the inclusion of an independent bookshop and European style café in the building and continues to serve as an informal meeting place for workers. It also makes an elegant contribution to the Lambton Quay streetscape and, as such, has aesthetic importance. The building has outstanding technological significance. It is the first building to make use of a curtain wall in New Zealand and is an early and highly influential study by two important architects, Firth and Plischke, in what came to be known as International Modernism.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Ernst Plischke and Cedric Firth

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Wells, A G

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Edwards and Clendon

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Vamos, George

Mechanical Services Engineer

Russell, Drysdale and Thomas

Quantity Surveyors

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Massey House is named after William Ferguson Massey (1856-1925). Massey was Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1912-1924, leading Reform party governments. His background as a farmer, and World War I experience of state regulated export of produce to the United Kingdom, led him to support legislation to establish producer boards for both the dairy industry (Dairy Produce Export Control Act 1923) and the meat industry (Meat Export Control Act 1922). Post war decline in the European produce market ensured that the instigation of the Meat Producers Board was welcomed in New Zealand. Some dairy producer resistance to state regulation of the market prevented a smooth transition to cooperative dairy marketing and exporting. It was not until 1961 that the New Zealand Dairy Produce Marketing Board was amalgamated with the New Zealand Dairy Board to become the New Zealand Dairy Production and Marketing Board.

The Boards' functions were to utilise producer levies (and later capital funds obtained through World War II bulk purchase agreements with the United Kingdom) to manage marketing, sale, quality control, and shipping and handling of the produce. The Meat Producers Board, in particular, took a strong lead in setting export standards and investing in research and development to pioneer improved shipping techniques.

In 1948 the producer boards commissioned Cedric Firth and Ernst Plischke to design a new headquarters. This was a period of affluence and expansion for both industries. In 1958 meat became the major source of overseas earning for the first time, with exports of meat to markets outside the United Kingdom exceeding 100,000 tons. By 1972 record exchange earnings by the dairy industry reached NZ $360 million, and for the first time more than half the earnings from dairy products came from markets outside the United Kingdom.

The 1948 commission for Massey House enabled Plischke and Firth to form an architectural partnership. They had previously worked together at the Department of Housing Construction, and shared a commitment to the social and design ideals of Modernism. Firth had previously designed a house for Arthur Ward, who went on to become the general manager of The New Zealand Dairy Board.

Cedric Firth (1908-1994) was born and trained as an architect in New Zealand. By 1939 when he began working for the newly formed Department of Housing Construction, Firth was already well recognised as an architect, an architectural writer and champion for low cost housing. After WWII, Firth was engaged by the United Nations (UN) to work on housing schemes for Brazil and Africa. His work for the UN, and subsequent time spent practicing and seeking accreditation in America and the United Kingdom, delayed his involvement in the design of Massey House, though records show that a cordial and fruitful correspondence was maintained with Plischke over this time. He returned to New Zealand in 1952 to work full time on Massey House. The nature of the collaborative relationship between the two architects, and their respective roles is a matter of some discussion, but it appears that early design work was carried out by Plischke, as a promotional montage of the proposed design appeared in the Evening Post in July 1952.

Ernst Plischke (1903-1992) was a Viennese architect trained and employed by Peter Behrens of the Deutsche Werkbund. His early work had led to the award of the Austrian Grand State prize for Architecture in 1935. By 1939 the political situation in Vienna had forced Plischke (an architect connected with the socialist tendencies of the Werkbund), his Jewish wife Anna, and her two children to flee to New Zealand.

In spite of their position as refugees, the Plischkes were classified as enemy aliens in war-time New Zealand. Plischke was unwilling to re-sit professional examinations to permit his registration as an architect in this country, and was therefore unable to practice independently. His first job in New Zealand was as a draftsman with the Department of Housing and Construction. His international reputation worked both for and against him in New Zealand. Conservative architects in New Zealand rejected his influence, notably Gordon Wilson, head of the Department of Housing Construction who announced himself "uninterested" in Plischke's work. Others were more willing to embrace Plischke's contribution. Then Prime Minister Peter Fraser commissioned Plischke to write Design and Living, to be published by the Department of Internal Affairs, and widely distributed in New Zealand. Plischke was strongly involved with the Architecture Centre in Wellington. Established in 1946 (both Plischke and Firth were founding members), this incorporated society sought to improve the quality of architecture and town planning in New Zealand, with the first Chair announcing:

Till there is a full integration of all the senses, and a full understanding of cultural values and relations, our everyday life will continue to be set in a background of 'misshapen mediocrity'

Douglas Lloyd Jenkins has suggested that, "Plischke was key among a small but crucial group of architects including Cedric Firth, Humphrey Hall, Imi Porsolt, and Robin Simpson, who, working in towns and cities throughout New Zealand introduced Modernist thinking before World War II". There is no doubt that Plischke was widely influential during his time in New Zealand. He returned to Vienna in 1963 to take up a position as the head of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.

As émigrés, Ernst and Anna Plischke were welcomed into a vibrant European immigrant community in Wellington. Including notable figures such as the Kahns, the Seresins, and Nan and Roy Parsons, this group sought to establish European cultural practices in Wellington. This extended from arts and architecture, to theatre and cuisine.

Julian Parsons, current proprietor of Parsons Books and Music, recollects that Plischke rejected the original proposal to establish a car showroom on the ground floor of Massey House, and instead courted Harry Seresin and Nan and Roy Parsons to establish a Viennese style coffee house and bookshop (respectively) in the ground floor and mezzanine tenancies. This was also in keeping with Plischke's and the Architecture Centre's goals of achieving architecture that was welcoming and engaged pedestrians.

Nan and Roy Parsons immigrated to New Zealand from England, in the summer of 1938/39. Initially Roy was employed to operate a bookshop (Modern Books) for the Wellington Cooperative Book Society. After the war, the Parsons gave up the Cooperative to establish an independent bookshop in Woodward St, engaging Plischke to assist with the shop fit-out. Bridgit Williams notes that the design qualities of the shop display were a key character of the business, with swathes of monochrome Penguins (orange for fiction, green for crime).

Plischke and the Parsons worked together to design the purpose built bookshop that is still operating on the ground floor of Massey House. Design consideration was applied to all aspects of the shop, from the space itself with its sweeping staircase, and extensive mirrors (to admit daylight to the deep recesses of the space), to the bookshelves and tables. The bookshop has undergone some alterations: a dividing wall was added when rent increases reduced Parsons to a shop-front in Massey House, for example, but this space is one of the most intact in the building. Original features include the stair, the mezzanine, and several items of shop-fitting furniture.

As a progressive and independent bookshop, linked with one of Wellington's first coffee houses, Parsons became an important meeting place in the Wellington CBD, attracting patrons from the nearby judiciary, the seat of government, and the arts world fostered by the émigré community.

Harry Seresin subleased the mezzanine space for his coffee gallery from Parsons. Seresin had arrived in New Zealand in 1939. His Jewish family had fled persecution in Lithuania, and then Hamburg. The coffee gallery drew on the culinary talents of the women of Seresin's European émigré community and developed a strong clientele. Seresin went on to establish The Settlement, another early model for café culture in Wellington. Seresin was also instrumental in the establishment of Downstage Theatre, Wellington.

The bookshop and café (now managed by Parsons' staff) continue to operate as a meeting place in Wellington's government and judicial precinct. This pattern of office buildings providing pedestrian friendly ground floor space established an important precedent for Wellington's (and New Zealand's) urban development.

As an early essay in International Modernism, Massey House was a startling contrast to its Wellington CBD context when completed in 1957. Its use of up-to-the-minute construction technology, functional planning principles, and the elimination of any redundancy aligned it with Modernist architecture's premise of rational design. Its opening on October 4, 1957, was "reported in daily newspapers from Invercargill to Whangarei" . During the ceremony, Sir Keith Holyoake (then Prime Minister) enthusiastically described the building:

The building has added something worthwhile and spectacular to Wellington's skyline and is a symbol of the economic importance and the vast proportions of our primary industry.

Plischke himself considered it to be worthy of extensive documentation in retrospectives of his work. Cedric Firth's obituary in Architecture New Zealand identifies his work on Massey House as one of the highlights of his career.

The interior of the building set new architectural standards in New Zealand. The interior was praised for its provision of occupant/worker friendly environments. Shortly after the building was occupied in August 1957, the Dominion published a photograph of workers at smoko, captioned "Plenty of Light in these Offices"... In a 1961 Landfall article Massey House is identified as a rare building that will successfully "[give] better working conditions for the occupants and less congestion on the narrow streets". Plischke himself published comments on the occupant friendly fit-out of the building, in 1969 he wrote (in regard to a Massey House office space):

I need the stimulus of the various temperaments of the clients and the different conditions and suppositions to arrive at an individual design, fitting the personality of the client. The flower window - nearly a greenhouse - for the plants which are actually flourishing, in contrast to the usual greenery, which has to be renewed when ruined, was the proposal of the client and became an essential feature of the design of the room.

In spite of the elegant simplicity of the design, the building was by no means spartan. Plischke and Firth shared an enthusiasm for carpentry and furniture making, and this fine-scaled attention to detail and materiality is evident throughout the building. The luxurious use of materials and the importance of the quality of the surfaces aligns the building with the work of International Modernists such as Le Corbusier and Mies van Der Rohe. Extant original features where this is evident are the timber veneer linings in the corridors, the stairwell treads and handrails, and the rose marble in the entrance lobbies and bookshop. Linda Tyler describes the luxurious materiality and detailing of the producer boardrooms in lavish detail in 'Modernity Arrives':

Along with the bookshop on the ground floor, the showpiece rooms were the Meat Producers' seventh floor headquarters where the general manager's office opened onto a terrace paved with black and white ceramic tiles laid in a chequer-board pattern. His office was panelled with rimu veneer and had twelve inset ceiling lights, a leather covered door and liquor cabinet. In keeping with the Modernist spirit of flexible internal space, the office was initially designed to be separated from the adjacent Meat Board Room by a wall of folding doors. The boardroom gave on to the light well at the western end, with these windows hung with velvet curtains for privacy, and an "egg crate" gridded metal ceiling feature, which diffused the overhead light into a circular oculus. At the southern end of this room a pergola was cantilevered over plant boxes with concealed lighting. For this room, Plischke designed built-in cabinets and seating, an ovoid table and bucket-seated chairs upholstered in wool with metal legs. Carpeting throughout was a subtle stippled pattern.

The use of functional objects as vehicles for architectural expression is also a feature of Modernism, as demonstrated through the work of the Constructivists, or Le Corbusier. A number of such features have been retained in Massey House, including the much photographed curvilinear lift house, with its cantilevered open stair; the kidney shaped lighting mounts in the lift foyers, and the Terrace level foyer door handles.

Other than features retained in the bookshop, the stairwells and the toilets, and the items listed above, few original interior features remain intact. The main alteration to the building has been the addition to the south, completed in 1967 to Cedric Firth's design. The addition is respectfully similar in style to the original portion of the building. The addition has altered the layout of the floor spaces, and few original partitions remain. To some extent this is in keeping with the functionalist ideals of Modernism, in that the planning/partitioning has proved to be adaptable to changing occupancy requirements. Alterations to the Firth additions to the south include the shop fronts on both the Terrace and Lambton Quay façades. The mock Victorian pub, with its glazed, protruding balcony on the Lambton Quay front is an intrusive alteration to the building as it diminishes the effect of the curtained glass wall 'floating' above the street level and delicating supported by the free standing columns. This effect was notably pioneered by Le Corbusier in such buildings as Unite d'Habitation, Marseilles (1947-1952) and the Villa Savoye at Poissy (1929-1931). The Terrace façade of the south addition was designed to include an aluminium roller shutter, giving it the appearance of a 'back door'. It was modified most recently in 2002 and the shop front is now in line with the curtain wall above, again diminishing the 'floating' effect.

The interior spaces have been refurbished over the last thirty years to accommodate new tenants. The Dairy Board sold their share of the building to the Meat Board in 1977, who then sold the entire building to property investors in 1985. Neither of the producer boards retain any space in the building, with the primary tenants being the Royal New Zealand Plunket Society and Whitireia Polytech at this point in time. Commercial tenancies line the Lambton Quay and Terrace street frontages, notably including Parsons Books and Music.

The building is still held in high regard. It has featured in recent exhibitions: at the 2004 Wellington City Gallery exhibition of Plischke's work; and a model of the building was displayed at the 2005 Museum of City and Sea exhibition on twentieth century Wellington history.

Physical Description

The building fronts to Lambton Quay, and at a higher level, to the Terrace. Eight floors and a roof-top terrace rise above Lambton Quay, in a roughly "C"shaped plan around a light-well at the north side of the building. This original plan form can no longer be read from the street, as the light-well has been enclosed by the neighbouring Manchester Unity Building, and a 1967 addition to the south end. The 1967 addition gently angles to follow the curve of Lambton Quay and was designed by Cedric Firth. With the exception of the mock Victorian pub on the ground and first floors, the addition follows the style and architectural language of the original building.

The key features of the street façades are:

·the curtain glass wall, with its subtly modulated, articulated aluminium alloy frames;

·the structure of the columns which are expressed independently of the curtain wall and the plan of the building (note the use of verandahs to celebrate the independence of the façade from the columns), and link the building with a simple, classical platonic tradition;

·the rooftop terrace with its sculpted concrete forms;

·the shop-fronts designed originally to house a car show room, but redesigned by Plischke and Firth to house: a jewellers, Parson's Bookshop and Harry Seresin's Coffee Gallery; and

·a cantilevered verandah sheltering the shop-fronts on the Lambton Quay façade. The underside of the verandah is studded with recessed light fittings, and an ovoid sculpted ceiling panel straddles the glazed façade, hosting a further array of recessed lights. This feature was celebrated in the Evening Post at the official opening of the building, with the Prime Minister and the chairman of the Meat Producers Board admiring the "Polka Dot Foyer".

The exterior walls are of reinforced concrete to the south and north, with glazed aluminium curtain walls to both east walls and both west walls. The windows include a row of opening windows on each floor, permitting fresh air access for occupants.

The interior fit-out has been widely recognised for its lavish and considered detailing, though little of the original design remains. What does remain is essentially limited to the stairwells, parts of Parsons Bookshop, and isolated features such as toilets and the safes. Key features include the open stair in Parsons Bookshop, with its elegantly proportioned diagonal string balustrading running between the carefully detailed treads and handrail (though the strings were relocated after a baby fell through the balustrading), purpose designed bookshop furniture such as the book tables; the distinctive recessed circular light-fittings located above the Lambton Quay entrance; the strip lighting, linings, stairs, aluminium pipe handrails, and door hardware in the stairwells.

The original interior fit-out featured plasterboard and rimu ply linings, aluminium and timber joinery (rimu and totara), with glazed doors to lobbies and shops. Massey House made early use of suspended ceilings, a number of which feature distinctive lighting mounts (these are still intact in a number of lift foyers).

Plischke reported that offices and meeting rooms were designed to respond to the brief of specific occupants. This meant, for example, the installation of a flower window/greenhouse in executive offices of Massey House. The boardrooms (the interiors are no longer extant) were widely noted for their careful detailing and expressive use of materials such as native timber veneer joinery.

Notable Features

The glazed facades.

The free standing columns.

The balconies and foyer areas, including the tapering cantilevered verandah with recessed lights, and floor to ceiling glazing.

The bookshop stairway, mezzanine, remnant rose marble, shop-front windows, and original book tables and furniture purpose designed by Ernst Plischke.

Remnant rimu ply linings.

The rose marble (though this has now been generally discoloured through sandblasting).

Diagonal patterned terrazzo at the Terrace foyer entrance.

Organically shaped door handles.

Organically shaped lighting mounts, and reveals, particilarly in the main entry foyers.

Front and rear stairwell features including the "luminous walls", aluminium tube handrails with glass balustrading, concrete stairs covered with resilient flooring and foyer doors.

Lift house room with cantilevered stair.


Bookshop furniture purpose designed by Ernst Plischke. The remaining original furniture includes four free-standing book tables, in two styles.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1955 - 1957
Construction commenced and completed

1967 -
Addition to south added, designed by Cedric Firth. The addition utilizes similar materials and detailing to the original portion of the building, and reaches the same height.

Construction Details

The building is clad with aluminium framed glazing panels to the east and west, and ferro-cement to the north and south. Reinforced concrete columns support the reinforced concrete floor plates. Wall linings include plaster board and rimu ply. The building features suspended ceilings (fibrous plaster and an "egg crate" material), with recessed lights. Joinery is rimu and totara, or aluminium in the stairwells and foyer areas. Rose marble is a feature in the foyer areas.

Completion Date

17th March 2006

Report Written By

Xanthe Howes

Information Sources

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Bowron, Greg. 'Firth, Cedric Harold 1908 - 1994', updated 22 June 2007

URL:; Gustafson, Barry. 'Massey, William Ferguson 1856 - 1925', updated 22 June 2007; URL:

Hayward, 1972

D Hayward (ed), Golden Jubilee: The story of the First Fifty Years of the New Zealand Meat Producers Board, 1922-1972, Wellington, 1972 (Universal Printers Ltd)

Honey, 1993

T Honey, 'Stranger in Paradise. Massey House 1957 by EA Plischke and Cedric Firth', Glory, Glory, no.1, Wellington, May 1993

Philpott, 1937

H Philpott, A History of The New Zealand Dairy Industry 1840-1935, Wellington, 1937 (Government Printer)

Wilson, 1996 (2)

John Wilson (ed.), Zeal and Crusade: The Modern Movement in Wellington, Te Waihora Press, Christchurch, 1996

Other Information

NZIA Enduring Award Winner 2008

A fully referenced version of this 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.