Dilworth Building

22-32 Queen Street And 5 Customs Street East, Auckland

  • Dilworth Building.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Robin Byron. Date: 17/08/2009.
  • .
    Copyright: www.cepolina.com.
  • Dilworth Building.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4600 Date Entered 18th May 1989 Date of Effect 18th May 1989


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 2 DP 18673 SRS DP 156889 (RT NA94B/285), North Auckland Land District and the building known as Dilworth Building thereon, and its fittings and fixtures.

City/District Council

Auckland Council


Auckland Council

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 18673 SRS DP 156889 (RT NA94B/285), North Auckland Land District


The Dilworth Building is an elegant office building at the seaward end of Queen Street in central Auckland. It was designed by the renowned local firm of Gummer and Ford, and was intended to be one of two similar structures on either side of the road, creating a gateway or 'Urbis Porta' (City Gate) to the commercial district. The building was erected as a high-quality, Portland stone and concrete structure by the Dilworth Trust in 1925-1927 to provide regular rental income for a school for disadvantaged boys. The school was originally known as the Dilworth Ulster Institute and had been founded at the bequest of James Dilworth (1815-1894), an early Irish settler, to educate boys from Auckland, and Ulster in Ireland.

The structure was built with a distinctive corner turret that made it one of the most prominent buildings in the city. The Dilworth Trust office and boardroom occupied the top and most prestigious floor of its nine storeys (including mezzanine), while the remainder was rented out to tenants. The building was partly occupied by the American consulate for many years, and used as US Army headquarters during the Second World War. Its use continues to include mixed offices and shops, and although sold by the Dilworth Trust in the 1980s it retains some original interiors.

A fine example of early twentieth-century commercial architecture, the Dilworth Building is extremely unusual in having been built by an educational trust. It is a reminder of the role played by philanthropy in the development of New Zealand education and of the colonial links between this country and Ireland. It commemorates a prominent early settler and member of the Provincial Council, and makes a significant contribution to the urban streetscape of central Auckland. It is one of a group of high-rise commercial buildings in the area that demonstrate Auckland's prosperity in the early twentieth century.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

James Dilworth was born at Donaghmore in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland in 1815 and was educated at the Royal School, Dungannon. He was employed in a bank before emigrating in 1831 to New South Wales. Dilworth came on to New Zealand in 1841 and soon purchased land in Auckland including circa 1845 the land around Mt Hobson where Dilworth school is located today.

A prominent citizen, he was involved in the founding of the Auckland Savings Bank and was also a member of the Auckland Provincial Council and later the University College Council. Dilworth acquired large tracts of land in Northland, Auckland and the Waikato. James Dilworth died in 1894. The terms of his will established the management of his estate and detailed his plans for the foundation of a school, the Dilworth Ulster Institute. However, according to the terms of his will the school could not be established until the Trust had sufficient capital and a steady annual income.

The Dilworth Building was erected as an investment to provide money for the Dilworth School and it serves as a memorial to the work of James Dilworth.

The Dilworth Trust Board sold the building in 1984 but many of the longstanding tenants remained. The Dilworth Building has been part of the commercial heart of Auckland for over sixty years and the changing occupancies reflect the social and economic history of the city.


The Dilworth Building is an important example of the work of Gummer and Ford, a firm who had a major influence on the development of architecture in New Zealand.

The combined influence of the work of Daniel Burnham and Co, whose Flat-iron Building of 1902 was one of the world's first steel frame buildings, with the inventive Neo-classicism of Sir Edwin Lutyens has resulted in the unique designs of Gummer and Ford. Many other New Zealand architects were influenced by their work.

The use of new technology such as the steel frame and electric rather than hydraulic lifts enabled taller buildings to be constructed. Initially America was the only country to build such buildings. Buildings of seven storeys and upwards were not widely constructed elsewhere until after World War I. It was in the major commercial centres such as London, Manchester and Glasgow that these 'Chicago style' office buildings were first constructed outside the United States of America. Motifs such as the splayed corner and spandrel details were incorporated. When compared to other designs of the period the massing and in particular the corner tower of the Dilworth Building make it a very unusual example of the style.

Initially Gummer and Ford had proposed a symmetrical pair of buildings, one on each corner of Queen and Customs Streets. This use of paired buildings, one the mirror image of the other is a powerful, though rare architectural device. Sir Edwin Lutyens had earlier used a similar device in planning New Delhi and Gummer (one of Lutyens' former employees) would have been aware of his work. In contrast with the designs of Lutyens (and also the layout of the Mall at Washington with which Daniel Burnham was associated), Gummer's scheme was overlaid on the existing city fabric. His design used the existing axis created by Queen Street and the cross axis created by Customs Street.

Both Gummer and Ford were familiar with elaborate city layouts such as London. Their schemes show a highly developed understanding of Neo-classicism applied on a grand scale which was not merely concerned with individual buildings but with townscape.

Dilworth had stated his intention of erecting buildings of a worthy character. The view up Queen Street after the Dilworth Building was completed was described as striking. Gummer & Ford's buildings were the tallest in Auckland until the early 1960s and are particularly fine examples of the 'new' type of commercial architecture which began in America at the end of the nineteenth century.


Queen Street is marked by a number of major corner buildings, each with a highly individual character. Not only is the Dilworth Building part of Queen Street, but it is also one of the four major buildings creating the character of the downtown area and Queen Elizabeth Square. The approach to Auckland City by water is also enhanced by a view of the Dilworth Building.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Gummer & Ford

The architectural partnership of Gummer and Ford was established in 1923, and became one of national importance.

William Henry Gummer (1884-1966) was articled to W.A. Holman, an Auckland architect, and was elected as an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1910. In the period 1908-1913 he travelled in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States. During this time he worked for Sir Edwin Lutyens, leading English architect of the time, and for Daniel Burnham in Chicago. Burnham was a major American architect and one of the founders of the influential Chicago School of Architecture. Gummer joined the firm of Hoggard and Prouse of Auckland and Wellington in 1913. In 1914 he was elected a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, was president of the Institute from 1933-34 and was later elected a life member.

Charles Reginald Ford (1880- 1972) was born in England and served in the Royal Navy. He was later with Captain Scott's 1901-1904 expedition to Antarctica. He trained as an architect working in Wanganui as an engineer. In 1926 he wrote the first treatise on earthquake and

building construction in the English language. Ford was president of the New Zealand Institute of Architects from 1921-22.

Buildings designed by the partnership include the State Insurance Building Wellington, (1940) the Dilworth Building (1926), the Guardian Trust Building and the Domain Wintergardens (1921 and 1928), all in Auckland, and the Dominion Museum (1936) in Wellington. Gummer and Ford were awarded Gold Medals from the New Zealand Institute of Architects for the designs of Auckland Railway Station and Remuera Library.

Gummer was one of the most outstanding architects working in New Zealand in the first half of this century and was responsible for the stylistically and structurally advanced Tauroa (1916), Craggy Range (1919), Arden (1926), and Te Mata (1935) homesteads at Havelock North.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


The Dilworth building is Stripped Classical in style. There are two major facades. One which is eight bays wide faces Custom Street. The other, which faces Queen Street, is five bays wide.

The ground floor consisted almost entirely of glazed shop fronts, separated by slim piers. A continuous verandah runs above the first floor bays which are separated by piers with glazing between. The first and second floors are separated by string courses and the central bays have balconies the baluster rails of which correspond to the line of the top string course. These balconies are supported on consoles.

The central bays, (six of the Customs Street facade and three of the Queen Street facade) are surrounded by a vertical series of mouldings including one enriched with a bead and reel motif.

Between the fifth and sixth floors this moulding turns to become a horizontal entablature. It also turns at its base (the second floor) but only continues horizontally for the width of the pier.

The bays within this outline are separated by giant order pilasters (four storeys high) which feature a stylised lotus and fret motif capital. The lowest level of windows (corresponding to the second floor) have a portico-like motif with an entablature which forms the spandrel between the second and third floors. The other spandrels in this central portion are composed of bronze panels. The area which surrounds the central blocks (i.e. the outermost bays and the sixth floor) are unornamented and comprise pairs of windows within ashlar stonework. The frieze and bronze lettering above the sixth floor forms a parapet.

The seventh floor is set back slightly from the main portion of the facade. The piers are ornamented with a panel and circle motif and this level is capped by a cornice which continues across the splay. The eighth floor, set well back from the facades, was originally the caretaker's accommodation.

The ground and first floor details of the splayed corner correspond to those of the bulk of the facade. Above the first floor is the shallow balcony detail supported on consoles. The second through to the fifth floors are composed of ashlar masonry with a group of three windows at each floor. Above the second floor windows is a coat of arms. This position of the splay culminates in a balustrade. The sixth floor is set back and continues upwards to form part of the tower. Scroll shaped consoles link the octagonal base of the tower with the cross shaped main portion. The deeply overhanging eaves and coffered soffit are also in the shape of a cross. The roof, formed by two intersecting hips, culminates in a flagpole.


Exterior: After the purchase of the Dilworth Building by Commercial Securities in 1984 a penthouse floor was added on the roof replacing the caretaker's accommodation. This addition is set back from the line of the major facades and does not detract from the exterior. A number of small air conditioning units have been inserted within the fenestration and the plant rooms on the roof have been extended.

The shop fronts were modified by successive tenants. However, in 1984/5 uniform fronts for all the shops were provided. The stonework of the two major facades is being carefully cleaned and areas of damaged stonework/plaster are being repaired. The bronze spandrels and lettering are also being cleaned.

Except for those minor modifications the facade is being returned to the appearance it would have had when first completed.

Interior: The main foyer including the staircase has been completely relined. The wrought iron grilles of the lifts have been removed and new lift machinery installed. The floor has been replaced twice and the barrel vaulted ceiling has been altered and now contains sunken spotlights. The staircase was once terrazzo and the curving dado, marble.

The first, second and third floors have been modified and now have a narrow main corridor, suspended ceilings and standard commercial partitioning within the existing column and beam structure of the building. New lift surrounds have been added.

The fourth floor through to the seventh floor still have the original stairs and balustrading, original fenestration to the lift lobby, and original stone lift surrounds. The grilles, however, have been replaced.

Notable Features

Registration covers the building, its fixtures and finishes. It also includes recent modifications. The building lies on land in Commercial Bay that was reclaimed prior to 1851, and on the site of nineteenth-century commercial buildings.

Construction Dates

1868 -
Site of Thames Hotel and Tyrone Buildings

Original Construction
1925 - 1927
Construction of Dilworth Building

1984 - 1985
Internal alterations and additional penthouse floor

Construction Details

The building has a reinforced concrete frame and floors. The exterior is faced with Portland stone. However, some of the detail work is cast plaster made with Portland stone dust to match the actual stonework. The spandrels and the lettering are bronze. The green-slated corner tower has its soffit built up in plaster over battens. The internal partitions are of brick, laid on edge and plastered. The dados are cement. The main vestibule and lift foyers are faced with stone. Black and grey marble and Belgian black granite were specified.

The building was one of a number of large buildings constructed in the 1920s by the Fletcher Construction Company.

Completion Date

15th August 2001

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Wises Post Office Directories

Wises Post Office Directories

New Zealand Architectural and Building Review

New Zealand Architectural and Building Review

3.1.27, 10.6.26, July 1926


New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

'Dilworth Building, 23-32 Queen Street', NZHPT Buildings Classification Committee Report, Wellington, 1989 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Pearce, 1986

G. L. Pearce, A Heritage in Trust, Auckland, 1986 Auckland Dilworth Trust Board

Stone, 1995

R. C. J. Stone, James Dilworth, Auckland, 1995

Weekly News

Weekly News

Mar 2nd 1927

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.