Weltec Petone Campus, 23 Kensington Avenue And Buick Street, Petone Lower Hutt 5012
Constructed between 1909 and 1967, Petone Memorial Technical College (Former) forms the nucleus of the Wellington Institute of Technology’s (WelTec) Petone campus. The Buick Street brick and iron entrance gates and fencing date from this important local vocational training provider’s earliest developmental phase. The Stripped Classical 1930s Workshop and timber former Classroom (1936) buildings, as well as the later Modernist concrete Workshops (1967), have architectural significance as representative examples of multi-storeyed educational buildings from their respective eras. Petone Memorial Technical College (Former) has historic significance because the trades and applied courses taught there contributed to the area’s prominence as manufacturing centre in the middle decades of the twentieth century. The complex has on-going social significance for the WelTec community because the buildings are key learning and administration spaces important to the delivery of its programmes.
Named after Pito-one pā, Petone was also the site of several other pā and kainga, created over centuries of settlement and migration to and through the Te Whanganui-a-Tara area. Likewise, Europeans were attracted to the harbour and resources, with Petone becoming the site of the New Zealand Company’s first settlement and in the 1870s it began developing into the Wellington region’s industrial hub.
Recognising a local need, and in step with New Zealand’s developing adult education and vocational training sector, in the early twentieth century Petone community leaders banded together to create the Petone Technical School (established 1904). On Petone Borough Council (PCB) land provided for the purpose, the school found its home on the edge of the Recreation Ground, and was soon bounded by fencing and gates that signposted the PBC’s involvement. By the late 1920s demand for the institution’s courses meant it was necessary to purchase adjoining residential sections and develop the campus in the 1930s.
The Workshops, designed by the Public Works Department under Government Architect John Thomas Mair and opened in 1932, displays a robust and austere version of Stripped Classical architecture appropriate to its combined educational and industrial function. It was also Petone’s first steel framed building, reflecting the focus on seismic resilience following a quick succession of destructive earthquakes in the period. Bertie Fleming Kelly designed the sympathetic third floor Workshops addition (1935-36). Kelly’s design for the Classroom building complements the earlier Workshops in style and seismic considerations, but, given its use and prominent position in the campus, is more ornate and celebrates timber throughout. The second Workshops, designed in 1963 by Haughton and Mair (John Lindsay Mair was John Thomas Mair’s son), fronts onto Kensington Avenue and is a distinctive feature in the streetscape, especially because of its characteristically Modern and striking folded roof.
Since the 1960s, the institution has gone from being a centralised provider of trade and technical courses, back to a local institute and then became Hutt Valley Polytechnic in 1987. The 1990s shake-up of the sector eventually led to the re-amalgamation of the polytechnic and the Central Institute of Technology, to create WelTec in 2001. To mark this and recognise the contemporary needs of the institution, the three buildings were altered between 2001 and 2002 to varying degrees. Designgroup Stapleton Elliott undertook interior changes in the 1930s Workshops and former Classroom building to adapt it to administrative use, and an extra floor was incorporated into the 1967 Workshops. The buildings remain integral facilities within the campus which has been under a joint governance structure with Whitireia Community Polytechnic since 2015-16.
The information below is from the CLD assessments which accompanied the nomination form:
The Administration building known as Block A within the WelTec campus is an impressive wooden building constructed at a time of expansion for the then Hutt Valley Memorial Technical College. Set on the boundary of the Petone Recreation ground the building has historic, social and architectural significance as the administrative hub of the institution, designed in the Neo-Georgian style its symmetry and proportions, the building has served as an office and teaching space for thousands of students attending day and night classes.
The progenitor institution for WelTec was the Petone Technical College which was founded in 1904 by a number of businessmen, politicians and educators that saw the need for the continuing education of young people after leaving primary school. Schools like the one established at Petone were known as technical high schools or colleges, and were a New Zealand innovation.
Classes were offered in a number of make-shift buildings until the first building on the Buick site was erected in 1908. This two storey brick building was to serve the needs of the Technical College for a number of decades but with a burgeoning roll and the institution serving a duel function as a co-educational technical high school during the day and a technical institute by night, a new building was required.
In 1936 the brick building was demolished to make way for the new two storey wooden building designed by the architect Bertie Fleming Kelly (1888-1962) in 1935. Kelly was architect to the Board of Managers of the College in 1935. He was joined in practice by Lindsay Mair, the son of Government Architect John Mair, from the mid-1940s and the firm Kelly and Mair completed a number of alterations and additions to the buildings on the campus. On the 20 April 1936 Peter Fraser, Minister of Education, conducted a ceremony to the lay the foundation stone at the new technical college building. It was the first foundation stone that Peter Fraser laid and he was presented with an ornamental silver trowel by the builder J.H. Meyer.
The building is designed in the neo-Georgian style with a central portico entrance and symmetrical wings and window arrangements on either side of the entry. Constructed in timber with wooden joinery the materials chosen reflected the College Board’s concern over earthquake safely in the wake of the Murchinson and Hawkesbay earthquakes. The building has a low pitched hipped roofline and originally has ceramic roofing tiles that were replaced with a lighter material in 2010.
The building has retained a high level of authenticity in its exterior and interior. A comparable building is the Horowhenua College Main Building in Levin. Designed by Kelly and built in 1938, the building is recorded in the New Zealand Heritage List (List no.4078) and is an authentic example of the Neo-Georgian style; an illustrative example of education architecture on the eve of World War Two and a fine example of Kelly’s work.
Over time the institution developed its curriculum and its functions. These changes have been documented through various name changes that Susan Butterworth describes as an ‘educational chameleon’. These changes have also seen a number of buildings added to the campus and some internal changes to level 1 by the architecture firm Designgroup Stapleton Elliot. The Administration building continues to be used by WelTec for admin and teaching purposes.
Workshops, B Block
The distinctive modernist building that is B Block was designed in 1963 but was completed in 1967. Set between Kensington Avenue and the Petone Recreation ground the workshops building has historic, architectural and social values for its construction at a time of change for the institution, its design that is representative of the Modern Movement and its continued use as a teaching space for WelTec.
The new building was proposed at a time when the institution was going through a major restructure with the movement of some classes and courses to the proposed Heretaunga site and the apprenticeship, trade and local technical classes staying at the Petone. The workshops building was symbolic of this event and “was the first stage in creating a new regional institute.”
The new workshops (B Block) for building and engineering training were designed in 1963 by the firm Haughton and Mair (Robert Haughton and Lindsay Mair). Mair had formally been in practice with Bertie Fleming, who had been architect to the Board of Managers for the College from the 1930s to the 1950s. However, the building was not completed until 1967 due to changes for the school and the establishment of the Central Institute of Technology campus at Heretaunga.
The eye catching zigzag roof line has a series of clerestory windows facing south that emit natural light into the building. The roofline is an “archetypal” design of the Modern Movement and is an interesting blend of the institutional and the industrial. The building is constructed of reinforced concrete slabs and concrete blocks, metal joinery and steel beams. The exterior and interior have designs etched into the concrete to create interest and adds to its playfulness. The exterior the building remains authentic in its design and materials and is representative of the Modern Movement style.
Internal structural changes were made by the architecture firm Designgroup Stapleton Elliot in 2001. The changes involved creating connectivity between the workshop buildings, converting the workshops into classrooms and the insertion of a new floor. Change to the exterior walls was required for the new floor and the incorporation of lower level windows for the ground floor classrooms. This change is in keeping with the “architectural language of the original building by adhering to the set out of the original steel windows.” The work by the architects was awarded the New Zealand Institute of Architects Resene Local Award (Education) in 2002. The adaptive reuse of the building and its setting next to the former workshop building creates a strong presence on the Kensington Avenue site.
Workshops, C Block
The Workshops (Former) building is located on Kensington Avenue and stands as the oldest institutional building on the WelTec campus site in Petone. The building has historic, architectural and social values relating to its construction as purpose-built workshops that would train generations of young people in trade apprenticeships and continue its role in education into the twenty-first century.
The progenitor institution for WelTec was the Petone Technical College which was founded in 1904 by a number of businessmen, politicians and educators that saw the need for the continuing education of young people after leaving primary school. Schools like the one established as Petone were known as technical high schools or colleges, and were a New Zealand innovation. Classes were offered in a number of make-shift buildings until the first building on the Buick site was erected in 1908.
As the curriculum developed and the institution grew, plans for a new workshops building on Kensington Street for the Petone Technical High School were made public in 1930. The new workshop building was badly needed due to an expanding role and the number of technical courses that were being offered, especially those of motor mechanics and cabinet making, which the director of the college at the time described as a “necessity in a community like Petone.” Tenders for the erection of the building were called for in April 1931 and construction began in June of that year. The building was completed at the beginning of 1932 and officially opened on 20 April 1932 by the Governor-General Lord Bledisloe.
The first two storeys of the Workshop Block that fronts Kensington Street were completed in 1932. Designed by the Government Architect’s office under the leadership of John Thomas Mair (1876-1959), the workshops were built by the local firm J.H. Meyer and Co. The building was designed using the more modern construction methods of the time, that of concrete and structural steel rather than brick and timber. Designed in an industrial art-deco style the building makes use of symmetry and a large amount of glazing to make the most of natural light. At the time of its construction on the Kensington Street site is must have been a striking building with its surrounding one storey bungalow neighbours.
The design lent itself to additions and in 1935-1936 a top storey consisting of timber and plastered to match the existing building was erected in. A pitched roof was added to make room for the addition and a single storey building was erected to the rear of the existing building as a workshop for motor engineering. The drawings were by Bertie Fleming Kelly (1888-1962) who was architect to the Board of Managers of the College at the time. He was joined in practice by Lindsay Mair, the son of Government Architect John Mair, from the mid-1940s and the firm Kelly and Mair completed a number of alterations and additions to the buildings on the campus. Another workshop block in the same proportions and style to the Kensington Avenue block as added to the rear and backs onto Petone Recreation ground. It is assumed that this block was designed by Kelly and Mair and was added in the late 1940s or early 50s.
The building has undergone a major structural and seismic upgrade which took place circa 2010. Internal changes have been made to upgrade and modernise the building for teaching purposes and create better access and connectivity with the adjacent building. The original steel framed windows were replaced and a chimney removed. The external appearance of the building remains intact and is a vivid reminder of inter-war institutional architecture and the adaptive reuse of a building for educational purposes.
The name Petone is derived from Pito-one and refers to that pā’s location at ‘the end of the sand beach’, at the north of Te Whanganui-a-Tara (the great harbour of Tara, later named Wellington Harbour). Tara, the descendant of important explorers Kupe and Whātonga, along with his brother Tautoki, moved to the area, settled and named the harbour. As noted by Mary O’Keeffe, ‘Māori have lived in the Hutt Valley for several hundred years, which is attested by the presence of archaeological sites, places of cultural significance and named places through the Hutt Valley’. This was a resource rich area and pā and kainga were primarily located near the waterways and harbour. Among the various hapū and iwi with connections to the area, due to ‘consecutive waves of migration’, are Rangitāne, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Māmoe and Ngāi Tahu, who occupied lands around Te Whanganui-a-Tara at various times.
Indeed, in the 1820s Ngāti Ira living at Pito-one were displaced by Ngāti Mutunga, who were among other Taranaki iwi migrating south. Te Āti Awa people from Ngāmotu, who had family ties with Ngāti Mutunga, were invited to settle at Pito-one in the 1830s and some also lived at Paetutu kainga, at the western side of the Heretaunga River mouth. In September 1839 Te Āti Awa leaders, Te Puni (d.1870) and Te Wharepōuri (d.1842), are said to have welcomed the New Zealand Company and its plans for settlement. This stance has been attributed to Te Āti Awa’s position in the area being ‘precarious’ in the face of conflict with Ngāti Raukawa. Soon after, there was a meeting at Pito-one with William Wakefield (1801-1848) to negotiate the Port Nicholson purchase. The purchase was signed on 27 September 1939.
The New Zealand Company’s first settlement, Britannia, was located near the Heretaunga River mouth – a river which Wakefield soon renamed for one of the company’s directors, Sir William Hutt (1801-1882). Te Puni’s people traded with the newcomers and helped to build their houses. However, it quickly became apparent that the settlement area was prone to flooding so most of the immigrants relocated around the harbour to Thorndon. Some settlers stayed put, but it was only in the late 1870s that Petone began developing into a satellite suburb of Wellington and an industrial hub.
The creation of the railway and associated workshops at Petone are credited with prompting Petone’s industrial development. Construction began on the New Zealand Railways (NZR) main line from Wellington in 1872 and it reached Petone two years later. Initially, a private workshop built at Wellington’s Pipitea Point was used by NZR. However, the government was mindful it would eventually need to build its own workshops and Petone was assessed as offering the best location. The Petone railway workshops opened in 1877. The railway workshops marked the beginning of Petone’s industrial, and corresponding economic development, and were quickly followed by a freezing works and woollen mill. In 1897 Petone, by then a borough, was described as being ‘destined to be the workshop for Wellington. Already the bulk of its population is engaged in the various industries there’.
Petone Memorial Technical College and its legacy
Petone Memorial Technical College (Former) was founded in 1904, as Petone Technical School. Its creation was part of a nationwide trend in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to provide school leavers and adults with additional educational opportunities in work-related areas, for example in trades and clerical skills. Soon there were over 50 technical institutions around the country with 14,000 students enrolled, mostly in evening classes. There was an existing technical school in Wellington, but Petone’s school was established by a number of businessmen, politicians and educators, because they saw a need for this type of education closer to home. Given the importance of manufacturing and other industries in Petone, it was in the interest of local businesses to support a vocational training facility and several demonstrated this through on-going donations. The Petone Borough Council (PBC) also consistently donated funds and, after an approach by the school committee, agreed to provide the school use of their land adjoining the Recreation Ground.
In its first few years Petone Technical School’s classes were held in a number of make-shift and rented buildings, and then a large house on Campbell Terrace called Price’s Folly. It was not until the very persistent school board, through Education Board channels, succeeded in securing government funding that a purpose-built school was constructed. The result was a two-storey brick building with timber workshops at the rear, constructed in 1908 at the northern end of Buick Street. As well as carpentry and plumbing workshops, the building, designed by Frederick de Jersey Clere, also included spaces for teaching ‘engineering, domestic science and commercial work’.
The following year, at the school board’s request, the PBC constructed a Buick Street boundary fence and gateway to the school and, correspondingly, the Recreation Ground. Each appears to have different expectations of what that might look like, because in August 1909 construction had started on a nine foot high fence, which the board complained was tantamount to a prison wall. The project appears to have been subsequently scaled down and ‘a less substantial barrier having claim to artistic pretension’, was built. Despite being an entrance to the school, the PBC left no doubt about who owned the land the school occupied, and who had paid for the structure, by making sure its initials were on the gates.
In line with national trends, demand for the school’s broadening evening classes steadily grew over the next two decades. Petone Technical School was unusual because day classes were not offered in the early period, instead the school eventually partnered with local high schools which used its facilities. However, there seems to have been sufficient local demand for the school to begin offering its own technical high school classes in 1930.
Expansion of the institution’s facilities was necessary to keep up with demand. In 1929 some Kensington Avenue residential sections were acquired by the Crown and the school constructed a workshops building there. The building was designed by the Public Works Department’s (PWD), under Government Architect John Thomas Mair, and is reminiscent of the Stripped Classical architectural work which characterised the department’s work in this period. Indeed, it was described as being ‘severely plain yet ruggedly handsome because of its well-balanced design’. The building was opened by Governor General Lord Bledisloe (1867-1958) on 20 April 1932 in front of a large crowd and with due pomp and ceremony.
The building, with its workshops for cabinetmaking, carpentry and joinery, electric wiring classes, metalwork, plumbing and wool-classing, was dedicated to ‘the pioneers who landed on the Petone beach in 1840’. The opening provided a platform to go a step further and announce that the institution was now the Petone Memorial Technical College. In the lead-up to the Treaty of Waitangi’s centenary many communities were turning their thoughts to suitable celebrations and memorials, resulting in over 250 memorials in many different forms being created around the country. The dedication of the campus as Petone Memorial Technical College was an early example of the awareness of the impending centenary. This was felt to be appropriate because at the time it was said that ‘no monument exists to commemorate the landing of the first settlers on the beach of what was then intended to call “Britannia”’. The naming seems opportunistic because it was not a main reason for the extension of the campus, but the rhetoric around the naming fitted a major theme of the memorials - a ‘focus on the heroic work of New Zealand pioneers’. Petone’s better known, and purpose-built, memorial is the Petone Settlers Museum, which opened several years later in 1939.
During this period local Member of Parliament and Minister of Finance Walter Nash (1882-1968) spoke about the college’s importance. He noted its general worth as an educational facility and emphasised how the college contributed to the Petone area’s progress because ‘it also gives that type of specialised training which is suited to the district’. Statistics from 1936 confirm this on-going relevance, because almost half of the college’s students were enrolled in industrial courses. The most popular courses were engineering and metallurgy. By the end of the 1930s the college had 333 full-time students, 609 people enrolled in part-time manual training and nearly 850 attending evening classes. The technical education sector and the population of the Hutt Valley grew in the 1930s and into the post-Second World War period and at the college this justified creating an extra storey on top of workshops building and a side addition.
In the meantime, the 1908 building’s accommodations were judged inadequate and the local PWD District Engineer inspected it in the wake of the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake. It was found to have seismic deficiencies considered too expensive to rectify. Therefore, demolition was recommended and in late 1935 tenders were called for the work, as well as constructing a new two storey timber building designed by architect Bertie Fleming Kelly (1888-1962), who had recently designed an addition to the workshops building. Kelly was architect to the college’s Board of Managers at the time. Later he was joined in practice by John Lindsay Mair (b.1915) and the firm of Kelly and Mair completed a number of alterations and additions to the campus buildings. Mair was the son of Government Architect John Thomas Mair (1876-1959) who had overseen the design of the workshops building.
On 20 April 1936 Peter Fraser (1884-1950), who was Minister of Education at the time, conducted the foundation stone ceremony for new main building at the newly renamed Hutt Valley Memorial Technical College. It was the first foundation stone that Fraser laid and to commemorate this event he was presented with an ornamental silver trowel by the contractor J H Meyer. At the ceremony, the expansion of the school was described as ‘another milestone in the progress of the Hutt Valley’. The school Board’s Chairman, William Nicholson (1877-1957), also emphasised the point that technical education facilities were especially important to the Hutt Valley because the industrial/manufacturing basis of its economy.
By August 1936 the exterior and ground level rooms were finished and the new classroom building was officially opened in mid-December. The substantially larger building afforded the technical college greater capacity to deliver its programmes. The building’s teaching spaces included a cookery room, laboratory and dressmaking room on the ground floor, as well as the Principal’s and Clerk’s offices and cloakrooms. The first level had a typewriting room, classroom, library, and separate art, crafts and teacher’s rooms, a girls’ rest room and further cloakrooms.
Student numbers and, correspondingly, the campus facilities continued to grow in the post-Second World War period. Indeed, the Lower Hutt area experienced substantial population growth in the 1940s and 1950s, and ‘consequently new housing and commercial developments rose up alongside a suite of new civic buildings in the modernist style’. National policies also had an effect on the Petone campus, including apprenticeship programmes which required attendance during working hours or the more traditional evening classes. Gradually other trainees doing national certificate programmes and professionals wanting to up-skill increasingly undertook part-time study at college. All this put the facilities under pressure and probably made the government’s strategy for institutions around the country seem like a good way forward.
Under this 1956 plan institutions in main centres had their technical high school courses split away and the college at Petone was earmarked to become a centralised technical institute. It would become the national provider of highly specialised courses where student numbers or a shortage of appropriately experience teachers made it unfeasible to offer them at multiple locations. Therefore, in 1960 the tertiary institution at Petone became the Central Technical College which was quickly followed by yet another name change to the Central Institute of Technology (CIT) in 1961. A new boys’ technical high school kept the name Hutt Valley Memorial Technical College and moved to another site in 1963, effectively taking with it the commemorative aspect of the Petone campus. Other similar institutions in the main centres and provinces followed suit in the 1960s and 1970s respectively. Until this period, most tutors were hired because of their specialist and practical knowledge, not teaching experience. Therefore, from 1967 the institute also had a teacher training unit, tasked with providing training for its own tutors, and this developed into a national unit.
Similar to what happened in the 1930s, this restructuring in the early 1960s prompted new facilities. An additional workshop for construction and engineering training was designed in 1963 by the firm Haughton and Mair (Robert Haughton and John Lindsay Mair). Kelly had been architect to the College’s Board of Managers from the 1930s and after ceasing practice in the 1950s it made sense, from a continuity perspective, to engage Mair in his subsequent architectural practice. Haughton and Mair represented the next phase of a longstanding and prominent Wellington architectural practice established in 1923; Crichton, McKay and Haughton. The completion of their building at the Petone campus was delayed until 1967, which seems to have been because of uncertainty around how the campus would operate if and when CIT moved to Heretaunga.
Without the technical high school, the institute was able to embed its vocational training and tertiary education roles in the 1960s and early 1970s. In the 1970s the main classroom building featured the library in its top floor, as well as teaching spaces and laboratories. An idea of the breadth of the courses taught in the two workshop buildings during this period is indicated by the apprentice block-courses provided for: automotive electricians, machinists and motorcycle mechanics, boilermakers, bricklayers, carpenters, diesel mechanics, general plasterers, meat retailers, moulders, pattern makers, plumbing, refrigeration apprentices and watch makers. Of course, the proximity of the institute to important Hutt Valley motor vehicle assembly factories, including ‘General Motors, Ford, Todd and Austin’, continued to be an important drawcard for the institute and be mutually beneficial relationships. Health sector courses were also briefly available at Petone, such as pharmacology, podiatry and occupational therapy, but these soon moved to the Heretaunga campus.
Many national courses were gradually removed from the Petone campus as CIT’s Heretaunga campus took shape from 1972. The 1967 workshop at Petone is said to be symbolic of ‘the first stage in creating a new regional institute’ because its design and construction was completed after the split was earnestly put in motion. The institution based at Petone became the Petone Technical Institute in 1976 and its Heretaunga counterpart took on the CIT name. The technical institute, which was still recognised as a significant contributor to the local economy, ‘set out to capitalise on its inheritance and build a reputation as a highly respected trade training institution’.
The institute retained some New Zealand certificate trades courses, but did not solely focus on them. For example, in the late 1970s and 1980s the institute also ran part-time courses on behalf of national accounting, management, secretarial, law and real estate professional bodies. As a sign of the times, in 1983 the institute also began offering a full-time course in computer technology. These courses were held in the eight storey building, opened in 1979, which housed the relocated library, additional office and teaching spaces, as well as lecture theatres. The diversification in courses was also driven by economic policy of the time, which saw de-regularisation and the shrinking of New Zealand’s manufacturing sector. In Hutt Valley this resulted in the closure of ‘Gear Meatworks, the New Zealand Motor Corporation assembly plant, the Ford Motor Company assembly plant, and General Motors: the list could go on to include many smaller firms that have closed or shifted’. This was also a period when the government sought consistency within the tertiary education sector by advocating for technical institutes to become polytechnics. In 1987 the Petone Technical Institute acquiesced, and also acknowledged the wider catchment it catered for, by becoming Hutt Valley Polytechnic.
The Petone campus has gone through a number of names, triggered by major changes to the institution. The 2001 creation of the Wellington Institute of Technology (WelTec) was no different. This change signified the re-amalgamation of Hutt Valley Polytechnic and CIT; an idea which had been floated by the Ministry of Education since the late 1980s. This also completed a period of restructuring and administrative change for the institution and its counterparts around the country in the 1990s. Particularly challenging was coming to terms with bulk funding in an atmosphere of increasing student numbers, as well as a shake-up of qualifications systems and added competition from private providers. CIT did not weather this period or adapt to it as well as the polytechnic and was in financial trouble by the end of the decade. The polytechnic was doing well in comparison, boasting to be the ‘largest polytechnic in the Wellington region’. In December 2000 the two institutions announced a plan to roll CIT’s operations into the polytechnic’s, with the main campus being the traditional home at Petone.
This was followed by a redevelopment of the campus, which upon completion in 2002 saw Prime Minister Helen Clark reopen the WelTec campus. This project was described as involving ‘extensive revamps’ of the mid-1930s former classroom building and both workshop buildings, as well other campus facilities. Work was done in the former classroom building, to remedy its ‘tatty and unwelcoming’ state and enhance this administration space. The internal spaces were also reorganised in each of the workshop buildings to better utilise them in-line with the institution’s contemporary needs.
In the lead-up to subsuming CIT, the polytechnic had described its focus as ‘achieving excellence in vocational, technical and para-professional areas, including engineering, IT, hospitality, visual arts, construction, health and wellbeing and business management’. The institution seems to have been successful in delivering on that from the students’ perspective too, having high course accomplishment and satisfaction ratings. WelTec joined forces with Whitireia Community Polytechnic in 2015-2016 by merging at governance level. True to tradition, a reasonable percentage of students (38.5 per cent) were enrolled in trades courses and WelTec was also the ‘lead provider’ for the Wellington Trades Academy. Reminiscent of the original goal of Petone Technical School, in 2017 WelTec and Whitireia Council Chair Greg Campbell noted the on-going importance of WelTec because of ‘the broader economic and social contribution [it makes] to the Wellington region and New Zealand’.
Petone Memorial Technical College (Former) consists of entrance fences and gates at the north end of Buick Street and three buildings within WelTec’s Petone campus, located in central Petone. Skirting the south-eastern side of the Petone Recreation Ground, the campus is otherwise surrounded by predominantly single level modest residential buildings on Buick Street and Kensington Avenue. Therefore, the compact concentration of multi-storey campus buildings is highly visible from every direction for some distance, making the campus a landmark within the relatively flat topography of Petone.
The traditional front entrance to the campus is through the Buick Street gates and the former main Classroom building (A Block). From this entrance the expanse of the Recreation Ground can be appreciated and the building, facing towards the open space, is the main built focal point from the gateway. The alternative main entrance to the campus is from Kensington Avenue, alongside the 1967 Workshops building (B Block). The 1930s Workshops building (C Block) is north of these, and like its neighbours is constructed right to the parcel edge, with their backs to the former Classroom building and the Recreation Grounds.
Aside from these buildings, another prominent structure at the campus is the eight-storey Tower Block (T Block), also located on Kensington Avenue, at the junction between the former Classroom building and 1967 Workshops. This building was completed in 1977, soon after the split of CIT into the Petone Technical Institute (on the same site) and the establishment of CIT’s purpose-built Heretaunga campus. Other buildings included in the Petone campus are on the fringes of this core group of historic buildings and include a teaching block (O Block) and the Childcare Centre/ Te Whare Ako to the west (both constructed between 1997 and 2002), R Block just south of T Block (in present form by 2002), and Te Whare Awhina and N Block on the opposite side of Kensington Avenue (a converted pre-1939 bungalow and 1960s set of industrial buildings, respectively). While N, O, R and T Blocks and Te Whare Awhina and the Childcare Centre/Te Whare Ako are interesting parts of the campus’ and institution’s development, based on available evidence they do not contribute to the heritage values of the campus to the same extent as the entrance boundary structure, former Classroom and the 1930s and 1967 Workshops buildings.
Entrance gates and fencing (circa 1909)
Spanning approximately 30 metres at the northern end of Buick Street, the entrance gates and fencing appear to be the only structure remaining on the campus from its foundation period in the early twentieth century. Evidence suggests the fencing was constructed in late 1909. However, newspaper reports do not mention the gates and in October 1909 the technical school’s request for the Council to erect iron gates was deferred. However, the gates were constructed by 1935.
On either side of Buick Street are footpaths leading into the campus and Recreation Ground, with an associated ironwork gate. Between these and the central/driveway gates are low areas of brick work, capped with concrete rendered brick, and then ironwork railings above. Each of the six gate posts is brick with a concrete rendered base and moulded concrete cornicing and capping at the top.
The central gate posts are taller than the flanking ones, to cater for the larger gates. Each gate has similar scrolled ironwork at its centre, and the driveway gates also have shields with ‘PBC’ on them, indicating the Petone Borough Council’s ownership of the school’s location at the time they were constructed. The shields from the pedestrian gates appear to have been removed at some stage after 1935. Both sets of fence railings also feature central areas of decorative ironwork. These appear in a photograph of the site from 1935, indicating they could be original or early railings, however, the photographed railings contain more instances of the patterning. Therefore, it seems that sections of the fencing have been replaced to simple rails or the fence ironwork has been completely replaced but manufactured to reference the original/early fencing.
The campus’ first purpose-built Workshops building, located on Kensington Avenue, is also the oldest institutional building at WelTec’s Petone campus. The building’s first two storeys were completed in 1932, when the institution was known as Petone Memorial Technical College. The building was designed by the Government Architect’s office, under the leadership of John Thomas Mair and constructed by Fletcher Construction. It was pointed out that the Workshops were ‘the first steel-frame building in Petone’, because at a time seismic resilience was foremost in the minds of the PWD following the devastating Murchison (1929) and Hawke’s Bay Earthquakes (1931). Indeed, the former Minister of Education Harry Atmore (1870-1946), remarked it:
‘…was not only built to the best designs as regards lighting, ventilation, and convenience, but it was a safe building, and parents whose children attended it could be rest assured that no danger would come from the building in the event of an earthquake’.
The restrained Stripped Classical style of the building is delineated through a strongly symmetrical front façade. The central entrance way is announced on the exterior through a bay, which also provides vertical emphasis through its three stylised pilasters. On either side of the entrance the façade features stylised Classical pilaster and cornice elements, and large glazing units to make the most of natural light and ventilation required for its original workshop purpose. This treatment could be considered a middle-ground between the popular approach to both important industrial buildings of the period and educational buildings. For example, the Ford Motor Company Workshop (completed 1936), nearby at Seaview, has very subtle Classical references, whereas Bertie Fleming Kelly’s Wellington Education Building (1939-40) has a similarly pronounced central entrance, but the pilasters between gazing units are clearly articulated rather than subtly implied.
The design of the original building lent itself to additions and in 1935-1936 a timber upper level was constructed and plastered to match the existing building. It was in this period the institution became the Hutt Valley Memorial Technical College. A single storey building was erected to the rear of the existing building as a workshop for motor engineering. These additions were designed by Bertie Fleming Kelly, architect to the Board of Managers of the College. At the time of its completion the Workshops must have been a striking building because it dwarfed the surrounding one storey residential bungalows.
There was another addition to the workshop block in the mid-twentieth century. The extension, closest to the Recreation Ground, was constructed to the same proportions and style as the 1930s Kensington Avenue section. Kelly and Mair probably designed this section of the building, added in the 1950s.
The building underwent a major structural and seismic upgrade circa 2001. Original steel framed windows have been replaced and a chimney removed. Internal changes have been made to upgrade and modernise the building for teaching purposes and create better access, including installing an elevator, as well as connectivity with the adjacent building. The interior remains reasonably austere, as would be expected in a workshop/industrial building from the 1930s, with little relief except for touches like curved plastered corners. Alongside the recently installed timber or glazed partition walls and doors with glazed portal windows are period features including some internal windows, stairway banisters and panelled doors. The building has classroom and computer labs, as well as staff office, spaces.
Classroom building (1936)
The former main Classroom building was constructed in 1935-36 at a time of expansion for Petone Memorial Technical College (Former). The use of timber for the two-storey building reflected the College Board’s concern over earthquake safely in the wake of the recent earthquakes. Set close to the boundary of the Petone Recreation ground, the building was designed by Bertie Fleming Kelly in his favoured Stripped Classical style and constructed by J H Meyer. A south-eastern addition was created in the late 1940s or early 1950s.
Like the contemporary Workshops building, the Classroom building’s entranceway projects slightly forward of the main façade, and is the focus of attention for the decorative scheme. The Classically-derived ornamentation is heighted here, in comparison with the earlier workshops and elsewhere in the building, and consists of full-height pilasters and a simplified entablature that has a row of dentils. A similar decorative treatment was later used by Kelly at the Horowhenua College Main Building (1940).
Opposite and in-line with the entrance is a central eastern section, also projecting from the main body of the building, housing the building’s central stairs beneath a pair of hipped roofs. Flanking this central section are weatherboard-clad wings with pairings of double-hung sashes divided horizontally into two panes on the front façade. The northern end has a gabled roof, while hipped roofs are above the entranceway and at the southern and eastern ends of the building. A single level addition along the eastern side appears to have been built, at least in part, by the 1950s. The original ceramic roof tiles were replaced with a lighter equivalent in 2010. Aside from these changes, the building appears to have retained a high level of authenticity in its exterior and interior.
A main feature of the interior is the preponderance of matchlined dado panelling throughout the building (painted and non-painted), specified by Kelly to be rimu. The effect of the dadoes is especially striking in the hallways, drawing the eye down the length of the building on each level. Dadoes also line the original stairwells (opposite the main entrance and at the north end) and rooms. The panelling, along with other joinery such as doorframes, panelled and glazed doors, fanlights, and other interior windows, are elements which clearly distinguish the 1930s section of the building from the later addition. The extension does not celebrate timber to the same extent. For example, the stairwell in the addition is plastered and more akin to the treatment of the 1930s workshop building’s interior.
A light touch characterised the internal changes to level 1 as part of the wider campus upgrade project in 2001, by the architecture firm Designgroup Stapleton Elliott. This included converting some spaces into office areas for finance (ground floor) and executive staff (first floor). A covered elevated link also appears to have been built as part of this work, connecting T Block to the eastern side of the former Classroom building. While this building was originally the main teaching space at the campus others, such as T Block, have subsequently been built or upgraded to fulfil that role. This has resulted in the former Classroom building housing the institution’s administration functions, albeit with a few remaining teaching spaces on the first floor.
The campus’ distinctive Modern movement Workshops building was designed by the prominent local architectural practice of Haughton and Mair in 1963 and completed in 1967. Set between Kensington Avenue and the Petone Recreation Ground, the building was constructed by Fletcher Construction, in reinforced concrete and concrete block. The building was originally three storeys, housing workshops for the institution’s plumbing, welding, carpentry, metalwork workshops, as well as heat treatment and metrology laboratories. A link space was created between it and T Block in the early twenty-first century, in conjunction with T Block’s student hub area’s construction.
Like its 1930s neighbour, the 1967 Workshops building is an interesting blend of the institutional and the industrial, in the Modernist architectural approach which was predominant at the time. Picking up where the construction material technologies of the earlier Workshops building left off, Modern buildings like the 1967 Workshops typically feature extensive use of various forms of concrete, steel and glass. The 1967 Workshops are also indicative of the starkness of the horizontally-focused concrete boxes of International Modernism easing by the 1960s, through devises such as sculptural elements whether these were structural - embracing the full potential of construction materials and technologies - or through textural or patterned concrete finishes.
Perhaps the building’s most striking feature is its large folded steel truss roof, forming a zigzag shape. This type of roofline references the characteristic saw-tooth roofs of earlier industrial buildings, but is also considered an ‘archetypal’ Modern movement feature. Some less expansive examples of this roof form from the period include Christchurch’s International Airport (1955-60), the Whangarei Harbour Board Administration Building (1962-1963) and Wellington’s Manchester Unity building (1966).
The lower front (east) and Recreation Ground-facing façades are extensively glazed. Above this is a dimpled band of ‘decorative precast panels’, wrap around the building, reducing the severity of the concrete and even adding a little playfulness. A slightly narrower band of this panelling was also originally at the bottom of each glazing unit. More natural light is also encouraged into the building through clerestory windows, which make the roof seem more like a floating canopy, and roof skylights.
It is not surprising that hardy materials were extensively used on the interior, given the potential for damage and fire that workshops present. These took the form of fairface concrete columns and beams with concrete block walls. However, care was taken in their treatment, presumably to soften the effect of the material, with detailing such as curved corners and some stack bond areas with indented diamond shapes.
Internal structural changes were made by the architecture firm Designgroup Stapleton Elliott in 2001. The changes involved converting ground floor workshop spaces into classrooms and computer labs and the insertion of a new level. This floor can be read on the exterior of the building. The original single band of glazing has been replaced with ones of similar appearance above and below the floor level and the lower decorative panels have been reduced in height for balance. This change is in keeping with the ‘architectural language of the original building by adhering to the set out of the original steel windows’. On the interior the floor structure and central stairwell are easily decipherable as early twenty-first century additions due to the exposed steelwork. The wall treatments are also clearly distinguishable from the original concrete block-work. Some features of the former workshop spaces were also retained, such as a mechanical Morris hoist beneath the roof space. The project was awarded the New Zealand Institute of Architects Resene Local Award (Education) in 2002.
Buick Street entrance gates and fencing
Workshops building constructed
1935 - 1936
Timber third storey added to Workshops
Classroom building constructed
South-east wing added to Classroom building
Additional building added to site
Second Workshops building constructed
2001 - 2002
Internal alterations to Classroom building and 1930s Workshops; redevelopment of 1967 Workshops, including insertion of a new first floor
Original Classroom building roofing replaced
Concrete, concrete block, glass, timber and steel
16th December 2020
Report Written By
Ian Dougherty, Bricklayers and Mortarboards: A History of New Zealand Polytechnics and Institutes of Technology, Palmerston North, 1999
Mew and Humphris, 2014
Geoff Mew and Adrian Humphris, Raupo to Deco: Wellington Styles and Architects, 1840-1940, Steele Roberts Aotearoa, Wellington, 2014.
Dougherty, Ian, For Practical Purposes: A history of Hutt Valley Polytechnic and its predecessors, 1904-2001, Wellington, Wellington Institute of Technology, 2004
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