Otago Therapeutic Pool

140 Hanover Street, Dunedin

  • Otago Therapeutic Pool, Dunedin. CC Licence 3.0 Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
    Copyright: Benchill - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ben Hill. Date: 24/09/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7581 Date Entered 10th December 2004 Date of Effect 10th December 2004


City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 4635, Lot 2 DP 4635, Pt Sec 59 Blk XXIII, Pt Sec 58 Blk XXII, Town of Dunedin (RT OT17C/604), Otago Land District

Location description

Corner Hanover and Castle Streets.


The Otago Therapeutic Pool is a modern-style building designed by prominent Dunedin architectural partnership Mason and Wales. It is cast in-situ concrete of portal truss construction with large steel-frame windows, a very early example of this type of construction. It can be considered a hallmark in New Zealand's technology history. It was built in 1946 and is the first of its type as a large purpose-built therapeutic pool. It has an important association with the School of Physiotherapy, the first established in the country. The Pool has served an important function in rehabilitative services for many patients, but is of particular note for its pioneering use in the physical activity-based rehabilitation of cardiac patients as noted by Professor Edwin Nye.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Otago Therapeutic Pool has historical significance. It was the first purpose-built pool for the rehabilitative treatment of patients in the New Zealand. It has a strong association with the first School of Physiotherapy in New Zealand, and has played an important part in the training of physiotherapists. It also has an important relationship with the development of rehabilitative medicine, particularly its association with Professor Edwin Nye and his pioneering cardiac rehabilitation exercise programme.

Architecturally it represents pre-eminently a utilitarian design suited for its function. It is part of a complex of buildings designed at the same time, representing mid-century modern design, and it is an important element in this group.

The Otago Therapeutic Pool has technological significance as one of the earliest examples of portal frame reinforced concrete construction. Its structural engineering can be considered as an important technological innovation.

The Otago Therapeutic Pool has social significance. As the centre for physical recovery for a significant sector of the population, including victims of poliomyelitis and other crippling conditions as well as cardiac patients, it had an important role for its community of use. As its use has widened, and the general public has had access, it has become a valued community asset, and is widely used for lap-swimming and other exercise, as well as other recreational activities.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

The Otago Therapeutic Pool reflects the developments in rehabilitative medicine in the mid-twentieth century, a representative aspect of New Zealand history. There was a move from passive massage-based therapies to those with a more active exercise-based methodology. These developments grew out the development of orthopaedics in the wake of the First World War, and later for the management of polio victims in the post-war epidemic.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

It has an important association with the first School of Physiotherapy in the country, and as noted above reflected developments in rehabilitative medicine. In particular its pioneering use by Professor Edwin Nye as part of an exercise-based cardiac rehabilitative programme in the 1970s, a then new, but now standard component in medical practice, is significant.

(d) The importance of the place to the tangata whenua:

Edward Ellison from Te Runanga o Otakou states that the general area of Hanover Street is noted as having an old nohoanga and possibly a burial, although the location of the settlement is not known. He asked that the possibility of cultural values associated with the nohoanga be noted.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place:

The Otago Therapeutic Pool is held in high esteem by the local community. It has a wide range of users both within the medical system and outside. It is valued as a recreational facility. Discussions regarding the future of the Pool resulted in widespread public support for its retention.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

In its design it represents mid-century modern utilitarian architecture suited for its purpose as a Pool. It is one of the earliest examples of portal frame reinforced concrete construction and can be considered a hallmark in technical innovation in New Zealand architecture.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Mason & Wales Architects Ltd

Mason and Wales Architects Ltd is the oldest architectural practice in New Zealand, having been founded by William Mason (1810-1897) in 1862 Dunedin. Mason was born in England, studied under Peter Nicholson and worked under Thomas Telford and Edward Blore. In 1838 he immigrated to New South Wales, and came to New Zealand in 1840. Having spent 22 years in Auckland he went to Dunedin at the time of the gold discoveries and was elected the first mayor of Dunedin in 1865. He was active in politics as well as in architecture.

Mason was in partnership firstly with David Ross (1827-1908) and William Henry Clayton (1823-1877) and he took in N.Y.A. Wales (1832-1903) when Clayton left the firm to become Colonial Architect in Wellington. Wales had worked as a clerk of works and was very competent in all aspects of construction.

The firm was responsible for many of Dunedin's early important buildings such as the Post Office (later known as the Exchange Building), Princes Street (1864-68), the Exhibition Building (later the Dunedin Hospital), Great King Street (1864), St Matthew's Church, Stafford Street (1873), and the Wains Hotel, Princes Street (1878).

Mason and Wales designed the Abbotsford Farm Steading (1871) at Outram, Otago (NZHPT Reg. No. 7579). This farm steading was designed for James Shand, a prominent land owner, politician and businessman in the area. Mason and Wales designed another farm steading for Shand at his property Berkeley in 1881 (demolished 1981). In 1881, Mason and Wales also designed a plain concrete Chicory Kiln (NZHPT Reg. No. 3359, Cat II) at Inch Clutha, South Otago for Gregg and Coy.

Mason and Wales continues today. N.Y.A. Wales (b.1927) is a fourth generation director of the firm.

WALES, Nathaniel Young Armstrong (1832-1903)

Wales was born in Northumberland, England, and educated at Jedburgh, Scotland. He immigrated to Australia in 1854 and found employment as a carpenter working on the buildings for the first exhibition held in Melbourne.

He arrived in Dunedin about 1863, and was a clerk of works for William Mason on the old Bank of New Zealand Building (1862-64), the Post Office Building (1864-68) and the Port Chalmers Graving Dock (1868-72).

Wales entered partnership with William Mason in 1871. The firm of Mason and Wales was responsible for many fine buildings in Dunedin including Bishopscourt (1873), St Matthew's Church (1873), Government Life Insurance Building (1897) and Wains Hotel (1878).

Wales had military and political interests and was a Member of Parliament for some years. He occupied a seat on the Dunedin Harbour Board and was a Dunedin City Councillor. In 1895 he was elected Mayor of Dunedin. In 1900 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Mitchell & Sons.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The use of water in medicine dates back at least to Roman times. The Romans built pools and spas in places where natural hot water springs existed, such as Bath in Britain. There was a particular movement towards Hydrotherapy in the nineteenth century, focused on tepid baths and the restorative qualities of such facilities. Rehabilitative medicine developed in the twentieth century, particularly in response to the war casualties resulting from World War I. Along with the frequency of poliomyelitis epidemics this demonstrated the need for a multi-purpose rehabilitation pool, beyond the small traditional hospital baths, Hubbard tanks and other adjuncts to physiotherapists' apparatus. Later developments in orthopaedic and prosthetic surgery, the increase in motor vehicle and industrial accidents, and the improvement in coronary care replaced these earlier water therapies.

The Otago Therapeutic Pool is situated on the site of what was the School of Physiotherapy. The advancement of physiotherapy as a profession was associated with medical reforms. Training schemes for masseuses developed in both Australia and New Zealand at the turn of the century.

The Physiotherapy School was established as the 'Massage School' in 1913, under the auspices of the Dunedin Hospital. The profession had a particular boost in the aftermath of World War I and the associated rehabilitative needs of soldiers, and the development of orthopaedic medicine. By the 1920s most hospitals had a masseuse associated with their rehabilitative treatment.

The School proved popular and by 1929 entry had to be limited to 20 students. It was the only one in the country and remained so until recently. The course became two years long in 1929 and was extended to two and a half years in 1939. By 1940 the intake had increased to over 30 students and the school, housed in the old Nurses Home, was overcrowded.

In 1943 the Otago Hospital Board applied to the Education Department for a grant to erect a new Massage building, which was to include a therapeutic pool and in September the Board approved the demolition of the existing buildings on the site of the current building. Plans were drawn up for a two-storey block to be built on Hanover Street between Cumberland and Castle Streets. This was to contain two lecture theatres, a library, administration offices, and gymnasiums as well as the pool, and would accommodate up to 80 students.

The Otago Therapeutic Pool, opening at the same time as the adjoining new New Zealand Physiotherapy School, and had a strong association with the School. The Physiotherapy School housed teaching facilities, and patient rehabilitation services. The idea of having a pool large enough for people to do exercises in, thus retaining muscle strength while being supported in water, developed mid-century. The length and breadth of the Pool were such that patients in the earliest stages of rehabilitation, such as stretcher cases, cerebral palsied children, poliomyelitis sufferers, and post surgical patients, could be managed with absolute safety at the shallow end of the pool. The depth at the deep end enabled advanced rehabilitation programmes to be completed prior to full recovery or discharge of the patients.

By September 1946 the Board had resolved to invite applications for the role of caretaker and instructor at the pool. Five applications were received and Charles Durant was appointed. By 26 September 1946 the Otago Daily Times reported that the new pool was completed and tests on the filtration plant would be carried out over the following fortnight. At this time it was stated that the pool would be used by orthopaedic and other patients as well as members of the male and female staff.

The Evening Star was also full of praise for the new facility, "one of the finest of the structures of its kind in the southern hemisphere" writing:

with its gleaming white tiled bath, white concerte dome and walls, the building is a symbol of the importance which is attached to hygiene in the construction of swimming pools in this era...

According to Senior Lecturer in Sports Medicine at Otago University Dr Dave Gerrard, the prime function of the Pool was to provide a controlled heated environment for the use of patients including those with neurological dysfunction and various musculoskeletal disorders. It also enabled staff of the New Zealand School of Physiotherapy to teach undergraduate students the fundamentals of hydrotherapy in a purpose-built facility. The Pool complimented a more extensive hydrotherapy clinic which originally included hot and cold contrast baths and douches. A survey of Physiotherapy Departments around the country indicates that the Otago Therapeutic Pool was the first large purpose-built therapeutic pool in the country. The next earliest would appear to have been one in Hawkes Bay in 1952, and that has since been demolished. Others were built in the following decades, and into the 1980s. This view is supported by the medical professionals associated with the preparation of this nomination - Professor Edwin Nye and Dr Dave Gerrard.

A number of changes took place to the Massage School after the Second World War. In 1952 prominent British orthopaedic surgeon Sir Reginald Watson-Jones wrote glowingly of the physiotherapy services at Otago. He considered that Dunedin had "one of the finest physiotherapy departments in the world, included many gymnasia and treatment rooms as well as a full size swimming pool reserved for old ladies and gentleman recovering from severe fractures and major operations." Besides the new building, there was a new principal, it was 'managed' by a separate Physiotherapy Board and the course was extended to three years in 1954. The building itself was extended to the east in 1954 and to the west in 1966. Despite the new building, the School struggled to find staff and the student roll declined as a consequence.

According to Associate Professor Edwin Nye, the first academic reference to the use of swimming pool activities for cardiac patients in New Zealand, and which use was made of the pool was in 1976. He notes that in the later stages of recovery use can be made of a pool activity in rehabilitation. The Phoenix Club, a group of around 80 patients met thrice weekly for exercise, including swimming.

From the mid-1980s the Pool has also been open to members of the public at certain times of the day for a small fee. Annually around 80,000 people visit the pool. It continues to be used by patients, people with mental and/or physical disabilities and other groups, such as Muslim women students.

Physical Description

The Otago Therapeutic Pool was built on the site of the former New Zealand School of Physiotherapy. It is a modern-styled building echoing the style of its neighbour which was also built for the School of Physiotherapy. Its single-gable from is broken by a ducting system, which forms part of the architectural compositional elements, noted as two vertical elements at the northern end which carry onto the roof.

The building is constructed of reinforced concrete cast in-situ. It is of portal frame truss construction. The roof is cast in-situ concrete, with applied weather-proofing membrane. It has large 12-light infill glazed panels with pivoting top-lights. The building has been designed to let in as much outside light as possible. There are changing rooms at the south end. Entrance is through a connecting corridor from the adjoining building at the south end of the pool.

The pool is 25 yards long and 10 yards wide (22.9m by 9.1m). The pool is 9ft (2.7m) deep in the deep end, while the shallow end is 3ft (just under 1m) deep. The pool and surrounds are tiled. The pool ran at a temperature of 97 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than usual recreational purposes. It was equipped with the latest air conditioning plant.

An important technological development of the well-established column and beam construction was the rigid or portal frame. The idea originated in the nineteenth century, but was not fully developed. In twentieth century architecture rigid frames of steel reinforced concrete and laminated timber were used. In single storey frames the beam portion is often hipped to give a more arch-like roof form with reduced bending action. Structural steel achieved this when welding was introduced.

Architect and historian Geoffrey Thornton considers that the Otago Therapeutic Pool was a very example in this country and perhaps the first use of a reinforced concrete portal frame construction. The advantage of this method, according to Thornton is that it gives a clear span, is aesthetically pleasing and therefore ideal for a covered pool. In the case of heated pools, reinforced concrete was preferable as there was less risk of corrosion through the high humidity, as would be the case with steel. Portal frames allowed for uninterrupted glazing full height of the column and full width between them, while the concrete roof slab gives homogeneous construction visually and structurally. Thornton considers that the design was thoroughly conceived and executed and can be considered a hallmark in New Zealand's technological history.

The main alteration to the building since it opened was the removal of the footbaths, which once lay between the changing rooms and the side of the pool.

Notable Features

Otago Therapeutic Pool building and pool itself.

Construction Dates

1943 -

Original Construction
1945 - 1946

Foot baths removed.

Construction Details

Reinforced Concrete with steel-frame windows.

Completion Date

28th January 2005

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Angus, 1984

John Angus, A History of the Otago Hospital Board and its Predecessors, Otago Hospital Board, Dunedin, 1984

Hocken Library

Hocken Library, University of Otago, Dunedin

Taylor, Leah, 'The Dunedin School of Massage: the first decade of the Otago Polytechnic School of Physiotherapy', a dissertation submitted as partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Post Graduate Diploma in History

Nye, 1979

Nye, E.R. 'Rehabilitation after Myocardial Infarction, Patient Management', February 1979


Watson, 1952

Reginald Watson-Jones, Fractures and Joint Injuries, Edinburgh, 1952

preface, p.viii.

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the Southern Region Office.

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.