Municipal Chambers (Former)

119 Palmerston Street And 8 Lyndhurst Street, Westport

  • Municipal Chambers (Former).
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Mike Vincent. Date: 19/06/2012.
  • Municipal Chambers (Former).
    Copyright: Buller District Council.
  • Municipal Chambers (Former). Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 19/03/2005.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 5000 Date Entered 30th August 1990 Date of Effect 30th August 1990


Extent of List Entry

Extent of registration includes part of the land described as Lot 1 DP 442862 (RT 552950), Nelson Land District, and the building known as Municipal Chambers thereon.

City/District Council

Buller District


West Coast Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 442862 (RT 552950), Nelson Land District


Built for the Westport Borough Council, the Municipal Chambers are the most distinctive architectural feature in Westport today. The Westport Borough Council was established in 1873, twelve years after Pakeha settlement at the mouth of the Buller River began. The oldest Pakeha settlement on the West Coast, it was established to ship coal out. The Buller County Council, which had its headquarters in Westport was inaugurated in 1877.

It was housed in an 1880 timber and iron building on the same site, until the current building was erected in 1940.

In 1936 the Mayor, Kilkenny, first proposed a new building in 1936. Architect Archibald Macdonald, of whom little is known, except that he resided in Westport from 1939 to c. 1943, designed the new chambers in a moderne style. Once his design was accepted by the council, and ratepayers' support gained, tenders were called for the building in July 1938 and construction began by the end of that year. In December the former town hall was demolished, and the site was being cleared to enable the foundations of the new building to be laid. Built of concrete and 50 tons of reinforcing steel, it featured rimu in the interior and terrazzo floors. Progress on the building was hindered in part by the rising cost of materials due to the outbreak of the Second World War. In December 1940, the Town Clerk suggested that the back of the building be left unplastered until the rest was complete, as a cost saving measure. The bulk of the work, apart from the upper part of the clock tower had been completed by April 1940, although finishing touches such as the terrazzo floors and the plastering of all of the exterior were not completed until 1941.

It was to have a town hall built behind the council offices. However, this was never started.

The council was temporarily housed in a house on the corner of Russell and Brougham Streets, owned by MacDonald.

The building is a striking one and the Moderne elements in the principle facades reflect the impact this interpretation of the International Style had upon New Zealand architecture in the late 1930s. Its distinctive mustard yellow colouring is because it was coated in Motueka sand.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Having been established in 1861, Westport is the oldest European settlement on the West Coast. The town's Municipal Chambers reflect the pre-eminent position of Westport in the Buller district and the local borough council's contribution to the government of the region.


The Municipal Chambers is a striking building with a dramatic appearance which makes it one of Westport's most prominent public buildings. The clock, which was donated by Harry Morgan, the owner/operator of a local cinema, serves as a functional landmark and the Moderne elements in the building's principal facades reflect the impact this popular interpretation of the International Style had upon New Zealand architecture in the late 1930s.


The clock tower of the Municipal Chambers is Westport's most prominent landmark and has a considerable impact on the town's main thoroughfare, Palmerston Street.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Macdonald, Archibald

Archibald MacDonald resided in Westport between c.1938 and 1943 during which time he designed both the Municipal Chambers and the Buller County Chambers (c.1940). Further information about his training, personal life and professional achievements has yet to come to light. It seems likely, however, that MacDonald was in Westport solely on account of his work for the borough and county councils, and that after the completion of their new premises he left the town to work elsewhere, either in New Zealand or overseas.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative


The Westport Borough Council was founded in 1873, twelve years after the settlement at the mouth of the Buller River had been established. The present Municipal Chambers, which replaced a building erected for the council on the same site in 1880, were first proposed in 1936 by Mayor Kilkenny. After Archibald MacDonald's design for the building had been accepted Kilkenny polled the town's ratepayers to gauge their support for the new council offices. Tenders were subsequently called in July 1938 and construction began at the end of the same year with MacDonald acting as his own clerk of works. Built at a cost of £18,423 but without the proposed town hall which was to have been built behind the council offices, the Municipal Chambers were never officially opened. The building is soon to be vacated by Buller District Council.

Physical Description


The Municipal Chambers is a reinforced concrete building with a golden sand plaster finish which has been lined out. Combining Moderne features with a stripped classical style, the building stands on a corner site with its main elevations facing north and west. The latter is the principal facade and is symmetrical about a central clock tower and prostyle portico which opens into a large entrance foyer. Flanking the foyer are two spacious corridors which communicate with enclosed porticos through pairs of glazed doors. The council chambers and mayor's office are situated at the end of the southern corridor whilst the northern corridor provides access to the administration offices and staff facilities.

The northern elevation of the building is also symmetrical and features bands of steel casement windows beneath horizontal slabs of concrete. The end bays of this facade are curved and clearly derived from contemporary Moderne architecture; as are the building's flat roofs, simple cornices, and varying wall heights. Ornament is concentrated within the central bays of the two principal elevations and in the public corridors, council chambers and entrance foyer of the building's interior. The foyer features a boldly coffered ceiling and four large octagonal columns with stylised capitals which support the tower. By contrast, the rear walls of the Municipal Chambers are devoid of any ornamentation and a recent office addition behind the foyer has been treated in a similar way to harmonise with the rest of the building.


c.1985 - Building refurbished, single storey addition made to the rear and a kitchen unit built into the entrance foyer.

Notable Features

The interior ornament and prominent clock tower.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1938 - 1941
Site cleared December 1938. Work on building began January 1939. Foundations and steel work almost complete by April 1939.

1985 -
Building refurbished, single storey addition made to the rear and a kitchen unit built into the entrance foyer.

Construction Details

Concrete, steel, Motueka sand, rimu.

Information Sources

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1906

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 5, Nelson, Marlborough, Westland, 1906

Department of Conservation

Department of Conservation

Research file, Hokitika

Wises Post Office Directories

Wises Post Office Directories

Dunedin: 1935, 1938, 1940, 1947

Macdonald, 1973

B. Macdonald, Westport - Struggle for Survival, Westport, 1973 [Westport Borough Council]


Architectural Drawings/Plans

Ground floor plan, including addition, Building Inspector's Office, Buller District Council, Westport

Stone's Post Office Directory

Stone's Canterbury, Nelson, Marlborough and Westland Post Office Directory, Christchurch.

1936, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1945

Buller District Council

Buller District Council

Building Inspector's Files, Buller District Council, Westport

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.