Old Government Building

28 Cathedral Square And Worcester Street, Christchurch

  • Old Government Building, Christchurch. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Bernard Spragg. NZ. Taken By: Bernard Spragg. NZ. Date: 21/06/2015.
  • Old Government Building, Christchurch. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Shellie Evans. Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 25/06/2016.
  • Old Government Building, Christchurch. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 15/07/2012.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 301 Date Entered 5th April 1984 Date of Effect 5th April 1984


City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Lot 3 DP 72600 (RT CB24K/2), Canterbury Land District


Christchurch's former government building was designed by J.C. Maddison, a Christchurch architect who designed many other public and industrial buildings in Christchurch and specialised in the design of freezing works. The building he designed for Cathedral Square was intended to provide a central location for government services in Christchurch. Previously, the various government departments had been housed in separate buildings scattered throughout the city. The proposal to erect the building in Cathedral Square was part of a national public works policy under Sir Joseph Ward's government, which aimed to match the growing population with sufficient government services.

The Government Buildings opened in 1913 and housed various Government departments for more than seventy years. The last Government department to occupy the building was the Ministry of Works and Development. When they moved, the building remained empty for a number of years and, in 1991, it was threatened with demolition. The Christchurch City Council then purchased the building and sold it to a group of developers planning to conserve and re-use the buildings. Meticulously restored, it is now part of the Heritage Hotel complex.

The building was designed in the style of a Italian High Renaissance palazzo. In keeping with this model, it has a massive box-like shape and a heavily rusticated stone base topped by walls with regularly placed windows, and a boldly modelled cornice. The entrance on the west facade is surmounted by a portico in antis (that is, a portico whose columns range with the front wall) while the entrance on the north side is topped by four columns which project slightly from the building. Initially the building was surmounted by a balustrade but this was removed in 1960 and replaced by a plain parapet. A replica of the original parapet was recently reinstated. Inside, the central staircase, spacious corridors and the door surrounds topped with triangular pediments are notable features.

This is a significant building because of its great architectural merit, its connection with the central government, and in particular with the early twentieth-century expansion of public works. It remains one of Maddison's most impressive creations and it forms an important part of the townscape around Cathedral Square.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Maddison, Joseph Clarkson

Joseph Maddison (1850-1923) was born in Greenwich and came to Lyttelton in 1872. He settled in Christchurch and commenced practice as an architect.

He designed a large number of public buildings, mainly in Canterbury, including The Church of the Holy Innocents, Amberley, the Anglican Church at Port Levy, Warner's Hotel (1881) and Clarendon Hotel (1902), both in Christchurch, Government Buildings, Christchurch (1913) and numerous private residences.

Maddison was well known as an industrial architect and was responsible for the warehouses of the Kaiapoi Woollen Company. His specialty, however, was in the design of freezing works. Among his designs were the Canterbury Freezing Works, Belfast (1883) and the Mataura Freezing Works, Canterbury and he is considered to have been one of the chief exponents in this field during the late nineteeenth century.

He was admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1887.

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1910 - 1913
Excavation of site began 1910. Foundation stone laid 1911.

1909 -
Design commissioned

Completion Date

11th December 2001

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Architectural Heritage of Christchurch

Architectural Heritage of Christchurch

5 Government Buildings, Christchurch, 1986

New Zealand Federation of University Women, 1995

New Zealand Federation of University Women, Canterbury Branch, Round the Square. A History of Christchurch's Cathedral Square, Christchurch, 1995

Yonge, 1996

Melanie Yonge, Government Buildings Christchurch, 1909-1996, Christchurch, 1996

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.