Old Arts Building, University of Auckland

22 Princes Street, Auckland

  • Old Arts Building, University of Auckland. CC Licence 2.0 Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org .
    Copyright: Matt Boulton - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Matt Boulton. Date: 1/02/2012.
  • Old Arts Building, University of Auckland. CC Licence 2.0 Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org .
    Copyright: Colin Rose - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Colin Rose. Date: 21/04/2007.
  • Old Arts Building, University of Auckland. Public Domain Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org .
    Copyright: No Known Copyright Restrictions. Taken By: Richard001- Wikimedia Commons. Date: 20/01/2008.
  • Old Arts Building, University of Auckland. c.1930 Ref: 1/1-002884-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
    Copyright: No Known Copyright Restrictions. Taken By: An Auckland Star staff photographer.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 25 Date Entered 1st September 1983 Date of Effect 1st September 1983


City/District Council

Auckland Council


Auckland Council

Legal description

Lot 1 and 2 DP 16122, and Pt Allot 2 Sec 6 City of Auckland


The former Arts Building is a highly original landmark, designed by American-born Roy Lippincott and his partner Edward Billson. It was built in 1923-1926 after the Auckland University College (now the University of Auckland) held a competition to design a structure to house its Arts and Commerce Faculties. Its construction marked the success of a campaign to maintain the university on a central site in the city, on the premise that education should be accessible to workers employed in the town. The work was largely funded by a central government grant, with additional support from public subscription.

The building consists of a main block - with its highly distinctive clock tower - and a connecting student wing to the rear. Supervised by Lippincott, both were carried out in the same style, which is an elegant Arts and Crafts interpretation of Perpendicular Gothic. Lippincott had previously been connected with the 'Prairie School' in Chicago and had worked in the Australian practice of Walter Griffin, who designed Canberra. The structure was a radical departure in New Zealand architecture, and much criticised for being insufficiently 'English'. Although modelled in part on British academic structures, it contains native flora and fauna in the detailing - including keas and ponga fronds - and Art Nouveau motifs in its tower. It also employed New Zealand stone cladding from Mt Somers and Oamaru, concealing its poured concrete walls. Its imaginative appearance contrasts with the more formal classical design of the earlier university science building (see 'Old Choral Hall') reflecting the increasingly progressive perspective of the university and the building's use for the arts. The interior of the main building was partly modified after other accommodation was created in the 1960s but it remains a centrepiece of the university campus.

The building is nationally significant as an architectural milestone of great aesthetic appeal, which has a distinctive New Zealand identity. It is important for its connections with the expansion of higher education during the prosperous 1920s and the improved access to learning by a broader spectrum of society. Its design embodies ideas of academic and civic progress and it was the first major freestanding structure erected by the Auckland University College. The building is an important icon and landmark for Auckland as a whole, looking out towards the city centre. It is of value as an acknowledged major building by the prominent architect Roy Lippincott, who gained further commissions for educational structures in New Zealand. The structure is significant for its contribution to the historic Princes Street streetscape, with close connections to other educational buildings in the vicinity, such as Old Choral Hall. It reflects an important stage in the development of the Princes Street area, which has been employed as a colonial army barracks, as a residential neighbourhood and then as a university precinct.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Fletcher Construction Company

Fletcher Construction Company was founded by Scottish-born James Fletcher (1886 - 1974), the son of a builder. Six months after his arrival in Dunedin in 1908, Fletcher formed a house-building partnership with Bert Morris. They soon moved into larger-scale construction work, building the St Kilda Town Hall (1911), and the main dormitory block and Ross Chapel at Knox College (1912). Fletcher's brothers, William, Andrew and John joined the business in 1911, which then became known as Fletcher Brothers. A branch was opened in Invercargill.

While holidaying in Auckland in 1916, James tendered for the construction of the the Auckland City Markets. By 1919 the company, then known as Fletcher Construction, was firmly established in Auckland and Wellington. Notable landmarks constructed by the company during the Depression included the Auckland University College Arts Building (completed 1926); Landmark House (the former Auckland Electric Power Board Building, 1927); Auckland Civic Theatre (1929); the Chateau Tongariro (1929); and the Dominion Museum, Wellington (1934).

Prior to the election of the first Labour Government, Fletcher (a Reform supporter) had advised the Labour Party on housing policy as hbe believed in large-scale planning and in the inter-dependence of government and business. However, he declined an approach by Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage in December 1935 to sell the company to the government, when the latter wanted to ensure the large-scale production of rental state housing. Although Fletchers ultimately went on to build many of New Zealand's state houses, for several years Residential Construction Ltd (the subsidiary established to undertake their construction) sustained heavy financial losses.

Fletcher Construction became a public company, Fletcher Holdings, in 1940. Already Fletchers' interests were wide ranging: brickyards, engineering shops, joinery factories, marble quarries, structural steel plants and other enterprises had been added the original construction firm. Further expansion could only be undertaken with outside capital.

During the Second World War James Fletcher, having retired as chairman of Fletcher Holdings, was seconded to the newly created position of Commissioner of State Construction which he held during 1942 and 1943. Directly responsible to Prime Minister Peter Fraser, Fletcher had almost complete control over the deployment of workers and resources. He also became the Commissioner of the Ministry of Works, set up in 1943, a position he held until December 1945.

In 1981 Fletcher Holdings; Tasman Pulp and Paper; and Challenge Corporation amalgamated to form Fletcher Challenge Ltd, at that time New Zealand's largest company.

Williamson Construction Company - main contract

Lippincott, Roy Alstan

Roy Alstan Lippincott (1885-1969) was born in Pennsylvania and graduated Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University, New York, in 1909. He became involved with the "Chicago School" of architects including H.V. Von Holst, Marion Mahoney and Walter Burley Griffin who were in turn greatly influenced by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.

In 1912 Griffin won the competition for the design of Australia's Federal Capital, Canberra, and offered Lippincott a junior partnership shortly afterwards. They moved to Sydney in 1914 and to Melbourne about a year later.

Lippincott entered several design competitions with draughtsman Edward F. Billson and in June 1921 they won the competition for the design of the Auckland University College Arts Building. Lippincott and Billson established a partnership and Lippincott moved to Auckland later that year.

The Arts building with clock tower is the best known of the buildings designed by Lippincott for Auckland's University campus. The Students' Association building (1921-1926), Caretaker's Cottage (1928-31) and Biology building (1938) were also to his design, as was the north-west wing of Choral Hall added in 1925. Other buildings designed by Lippincott during his time in Auckland were Smith and Caughey's Department Store building (1927-29), Massey University Science building, Palmerston North (1929-31), Farmers Trading Company Tearooms (1934-36) and St Peter's Preparatory School, Cambridge (1936-37).

He was elected Associate of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1922 and a Fellow in 1924. He was actively involved in both Auckland Branch and National Council Affairs, particularly in the field of architectural education. Lippincott remained in New Zealand until 1939 when he returned to the United States and practised in Los Angeles. He became a partner in the firm of Kaufmann, Lippincott and Eggers, Los Angeles, and retired in 1958 when he moved to Santa Barbara.

Roy Alstan Lippincott (1885-1969) was born in Pennsylvania, USA. Lippincott gained a Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University, New York, in 1909. Subsequently, he became influenced by the Chicago School of architects, who were a group of architects active in Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century. The group had parallels with the European Modernism movement and was amongst the first to promote the new technologies of steel-frame construction in commercial buildings.

In circa 1912, Lippincott was offered a junior partnership with Chicago School architect Walter Burley Griffin, who had won a competition for the design of Australia's Federal Capital, Canberra. He moved to Sydney with Griffin in 1914 and to Melbourne the following year.

In 1921, Lippincott and draughtsman Edward F. Billson won a competition for the design of the Auckland University College Arts Building - now known as the Old Arts Building, University of Auckland (NZHPT Registration # 25, Category I historic place). Lippincott moved to Auckland later that year and remained in New Zealand until 1939. In addition to designing the Old Arts Building, Lippincott designed several other buildings for Auckland University, including the Students' Association building (1921-1926), the northwest wing of Choral Hall (NZHPT Registration # 4474, Category I historic place) added in 1925, the Caretaker's Cottage constructed (1928-1931) and the Biology Building (1938). He also designed an addition circa 1927-1929 to Smith and Caughey's Department Store Building (NZHPT Registration # 656, Category I historic place), the Massey University Science Building in Palmerston North (1929-1931), the Berlei Factory in Auckland (1930-1931), the Farmers Trading Company Tea Rooms in Auckland (1934-1936) and St Peter's Preparatory School in Cambridge (1936-1937).

Lippincott was elected Associate of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1922 and a Fellow in 1924. He was actively involved in the Auckland Branch and National Council Affairs, particularly in the area of architectural education.

In 1939, Lippincott returned to the United States, where he became a partner in the Los Angeles practice Kaufmann, Lippincott and Eggers. He retired in 1958 and moved to Santa Barbara.

Billson, Edward

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Notable Features

Registration covers the structure, its fixtures and finishes. It also includes recent modifications. The building is on the site of the Albert Barracks Wall, the interior of the barracks, and the gardens of the former Government House. Some remains linked to these sites may survive as buried archaeological deposits around the outer sides of the structure.

Construction Dates

1852 - 1923
Site of Albert Barracks and gardens of the former Government House

Original Construction
1923 - 1926
Construction of Arts Building, with student wing

- 1968
Internal modifications

- 1986
Internal modifications

1985 - 1989
Tower strengthened

Completion Date

7th November 2001

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Leys, 1919

Thomson W Leys, Auckland University College: Its Claim to a Central Site and Adequate Buildings, Auckland, 1919

Shaw, P., 1991

Peter Shaw, New Zealand Architecture: From Polynesian Beginnings to 1990, Auckland, Hodder & Stoughton, 1991.

pp. 110-111

Sinclair, 1983

Keith Sinclair, A History of the University of Auckland, 1883-1983, Auckland, 1983

pp. 127-129 & 147

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.