Auckland Town Hall
301-303 Queen Street, Auckland
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Private/No Public Access
27th July 1988
Date of Effect
27th July 1988
Lots 1-13 Allot 1/5 Allot 57 Sec 29 City of Auckland
The Town Hall is a prominent civic landmark in the heart of commercial Auckland. It was constructed in 1909-1911 to a design by J. J. and E. J. Clark of Melbourne, who were responsible for numerous public buildings in Australia. Its grand architectural style is Imperial Baroque, the exterior combining stone and early reinforced concrete. The building has a distinctive clock tower, and is unusual in that it occupies a triangular site.
Before the construction of the Town Hall, council business in Auckland was carried out in a succession of other buildings, including the city library. Monumental town halls as an emblem of local government were common in nineteenth-century Europe, and were adopted in colonial New Zealand. The Auckland Town Hall was partly modelled on overseas examples, including Lambeth Town Hall in London and, like them, combined council administration and public entertainment. It was divided internally between offices - including the council debating chamber - at the front of the building, and two large public halls at the rear. Although council offices were moved into a separate building in the 1960s, the Town Hall has remained at the heart of political developments in the city with its ongoing use for debates. It is also still used as a public meeting place, having been the venue for a variety of gatherings from the reception of Gallipoli survivors in 1915 to boxing matches and classical music recitals in more recent times.
The Auckland Town Hall has national significance as one of the major town halls in the country, and is the most intact of those built in the early twentieth century. It demonstrates the raised profile of civic government during New Zealand's progress from colony to Dominion, being the first purpose-built town hall erected in Auckland. The building has been at the centre of the city's political and cultural life since its construction and has hosted events and figures of national importance. Its well-preserved interior includes a number of unusual features, such as a semi-circular council chamber and an organ, notable for being the largest in the country when installed. The building was - and remains - an important symbol of civic pride, having recently been restored to ensure its continued use. Its value is enhanced by its proximity to other historic buildings of early twentieth-century date, including the St James Theatre.
Historical Significance or Value
The Auckland Town Hall has been the focus and centre of civic life and politics in Auckland since its opening in 1911.
In 1880 the Auckland City Council decided on the site for the Town Hall, Legislative authority was obtained to erect a Town Hall under 'The Auckland Reserves Exchange and Change of Trust Act 1818' clause 5. In 1883 more property was purchased, but still no building appeared.In 1901 a proposal to build a Town Hall was put to the ratepayers but was rejected by them.
Finally in 1905 the Council resolved that the time had come and purchased further necessary land and advertised a competition for the design. With the design settled upon tenders were called for. This resulted in a controversy as all tenders exceeded the 60,000 pounds sterling limit and the Council had to borrow an additional 30,000 pounds sterling. Eventually the tender of Messrs Ferguson and Malcolm was accepted. In 1911 the Town Hall was opened by the Governor-General Baron Islington during a week of festivities. The organ was donated by Mr Henry Brett and the Tower clock by Mr (Later Sir) Arthur Myers.
The Town Hall has since acted as the Civic Centre, a focus of council business and a venue for various entertainments and meetings. The Town Hall has hosted a wide variety of events from Handel's Messiah to Germaine Greer's Introduction of Feminism to New Zealand. In 1932 it was taken over by unemployed workers during a protest march led by Jim Edwards the Labour militant. In 1965 its function was changed by the removal of Council administration to the Greys Avenue administration building, but it remains an important building in civic affairs.
The Auckland Town Hall is the only building of its type in the Auckland region. It occupies an extremely prominent city site emphasising its civic importance.
All three prize-winning designs in the competition for its design were classical as this style was seen as being appropriate for Civic buildings. The form of the winning design and also that of the runner up closely resembled the Brixton Town Hall in the London Borough of Lambeth which was designed by S Warwick and H A Hall and was completed in 1908. This town hall was also designed for a narrow triangular site and had a similar elliptical apex and tower.
Town halls were a building type which reached their zenith in the Victorian and Edwardian period. One of their important features was their tower. The shaft was generally undercoated and was capped with an appropriately styled cupola. The clock was incorporated into the decoration, just below the cupola. The tower played an important symbolic function.
The council chamber continues the English tradition of the great hall which has continued from the medieval castle, through the colleges, law courts and parliament. The lower portions are panelled with openings above. These rooms are internalised. The semicircular council chamber is unusual. The form stems from Roman basilica and theatre forms and was revived in such buildings as the Gheldonian Theatre (Oxford). In town hall design the special arrangement of the seating, usually semicircular, was hardly ever made the basis for the formal expression of the room as part of the whole conception.
The design included two halls for functions and performances. The larger is almost a circus in plan with what described as 'chaste' decoration. Theatres at the time were seen as having slightly disreputable associations so were not used as a model. The 'great hall' has no proscenium.
The designers were aware of the English trend towards searching for 'free' versions of particular historical style for large buildings. The Baroque revival became the style adopted by the British Government for large public buildings in London and was consequently used throughout the commonwealth.
Conceptually the plan is not classical but a romantic linkage of parts. The original design consisted on the Queen Street façade, of two wings linked by a glazed portico. The grey Street façade appeared as a series of classical facades as in the European cities. The narrow triangular site with a change in level was a difficult site for a classical design.
The original design also featured an unusual half rusticated column detail similar to R Norman Shaws design for the Piccadilly Hotel and Regent Street quadrant. The architects obviously looked to England as the source for Civic building design. Despite the distance and difficulty of communications the influence was still very strong.
The free adaptation of the classical is rarer in New Zealand than the more rigid examples of the style. The Brixton Town Hall design, which has been referred to as the counterpart of the Auckland Town Hall is, both in plan and elevation, a far more orthodox classical building.
Since its construction the building and in particular the clock tower has formed an extremely significant Auckland landmark, sitting as it does at the top of the straight part of Queen Street, Auckland's principal street, before it veers left.
Clark, J. J. and E. J.
J J & E J Clark, architects of Melbourne. The design for the Auckland Town Hall was selected by competition. There were a total of 46 entries and the first prize was 400 pounds sterling. By coincidence the three major prize-winners were Australian firms. The judges were aware of the designers identity while making their choice. There was some comment afterwards about the predominance of Australian prize-winners.
Mr J J Clark had designed several major Australian public buildings including the Brisbane Town Hall, the Melbourne City Baths and the Newcastle Hospital, NSW. While in partnership with his son, the Clarks had several competition successes.
ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION (Style):
The style of the Town Hall may be described as a free treatment of the classic. The design combines a variety of classical motifs with symmetrical facades. The internal arrangement is not based on axiality and symmetry.
The facades are predominantly based on the revival of the English Baroque works of Wren, Gibbs, Vanburgh and Hawksmoor. The elliptical apex has unusual window details which are an inversion of the customary layering of windows on a classical façade.
There have been no major structural changes to the building fabric. A penthouse was added to provide additional office space and the position of the lifts was changed in the 1920s. Some of the internal partitions have been altered. A Carved wooden sound reflector was added to the main auditorium in 1960 to improve the acoustics.
Registration covers the building, its fixtures and finishes. It also includes recent modifications. Archaeological deposits beneath the building include some of Maori and/or early colonial origin, and remnants of the subsequent Army and Navy Hotel.
The Town hall still contains most of the original art noveau decorative work - the stained glass, tiled dados pressed metal ceilings and cast iron balustrades. The wooden panelling in the council chamber is Kauri. The 'great hall' contains a large pipe organ. Some fine floors of patterned encaustic tiles are included.
1909 - 1911
1957 - 1960
Alterations to auditorium and offices
1994 - 1997
Conservation of building
The material used for the facades is Oamaru Limestone with a base in Melbourne Bluestone.
The solid bed rock is buried deeply at this point. Accordingly concrete piers have been carried down at intervals to the rock and the spaces spanned by concrete beams carrying the walls. All these beams are reinforced with 'Kohn' steel bars. This is an early usage of reinforced concrete in New Zealand. All walls other than the stone facings are of brick or cement concrete, and slate and galvanised iron are used for roofing. Internal partitions are of timber studding, lathed with steel and plastered.
New Zealand Kauri and Australian Jarrah are the principal timbers employed, the large hall roof trusses, balcony and gallery cantilevers and the principal floor girders being of steel. The balcony is supported by steel columns.
The three public staircases are constructed of reinforced concrete.
15th August 2001
Report Written By
Auckland Institute & Museum
Auckland Institute & Museum
Auckland Public Libraries
Auckland Public Libraries
25 October 1966
Sheppard Collection, Offical Programme of Town Hall Opening.
Simon Best, 'Auckland Town Hall: Archaeological Salvage Excavation and Construction Trench Recording, Progress Report', Auckland, 1996 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)
Simon Best, 'The Myers' Park Excavation Dam Wall Site (R11/2017): Final Report on the Archaeology', Auckland, 1998 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)
G .W. A. Bush, 'Decently and In Order: The Government of the City of Auckland 1840-1971', Auckland, 1971
John Hoysted and Laura Kellaway, 'Auckland Town Hall: Cultural Significance', Auckland, 1988 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)
New Zealand Herald
New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.
24 April 1909
Alastair Service, Edwardian Architecture. A Handbook to Building Design in Britain 1890 - 1914, London, 1977
John Hoysted, Ian Bowman and Thyra Nelson, 'Auckland Town Hall: Conservation Plan', Auckland, 1993
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.