Naenae Post Office (Former)

27 Hillary Court, Naenae, Lower Hutt 5011

  • Naenae Post Office (Former) and Hillary Court mall, Naenae.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Kerryn Pollock. Date: 13/11/2019.
  • Naenae Post Office (Former), Naenae. This side of the building was the mailroom. The door in the centre opens onto the parcel collection area.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Kerryn Pollock. Date: 13/11/2019.
  • Naenae Post Office (Former), Naenae. Office shortly before its opening in December 1959. The clock was still to be installed. Source: Alexander Turnbull Library, EP/1959/4123-F.
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 9806 Date Entered 15th April 2020 Date of Effect 7th May 2020

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Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Sec 1 SO 24113 and Pt Lot 1 DP 15073 (RT WN33C/287) and part of the land described as Legal Road, Wellington Land District, and the building known as Naenae Post Office (Former) thereon, including the verandas. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the List entry report for further information).

City/District Council

Hutt City

Region

Wellington Region

Legal description

Sec 1 SO 24113 and Pt Lot 1 DP 15073 (RT WN33C/287) and Legal Road, Wellington Land District

Location description

It is located on the main pedestrian axis of Hillary Court - running from Naenae Olympic Pool to the Naenae railway station underpass - and is on a corner site beside the main courtyard.

Summaryopen/close

The Naenae Post Office (Former) is located in Hillary Court in the Lower Hutt suburb of Naenae and opened in December 1959. The graceful 14.3 metre tower made the post office an immediate landmark and it remains the suburb’s most arresting building. It was constructed to serve the burgeoning population of the innovative and now historically-significant state housing suburb of Naenae. The Post Office Department provided communication and financial services that New Zealanders used on a daily basis and the building’s site was the most prominent site in Hillary Court, reflecting the position of the post office in community life.

The post office was planned to be an architectural feature of Hillary Court and its designers, the Ministry of Works under Government Architect Gordon Wilson and District Architect John Blake-Kelly, succeeded in this aim. It remains the keystone building in the complex. It demonstrates a transition from Bauhaus-influenced international modernism towards the Brutalist architectural style, using high quality materials and fixtures, and is the best example of a small modernist post office from this period in New Zealand. The place’s high aesthetic value is exemplified by the dramatic contrast between the strong horizontal lines of the building and the soaring verticality of its tower. It is technically significant as the first post office tower built after the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake.

Naenae Post Office (Former) served as a business and social hub for the local community almost 60 years. The high quality of its design and construction symbolised the importance of the post office in daily life and its 2015 closure conversely represents the institution’s rapid decline since the early 2000s. With the purpose-built post office a vanishing building type in New Zealand, the historical and cultural significance of this building already increases.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The building has considerable historical significance. It was constructed at a time when the Post and Telegraph Department was experiencing rapid growth and was central to the functioning of the New Zealand economy. The department impacted directly on the daily life of New Zealand businesses and citizens and its importance was reflected in the prominence of its post office buildings along streetscapes. The landmark status of the Naenae Post Office (Former) exemplifies this point. Conversely, its 2015 closure also expresses the rapid twenty-first century demise of the post office in national life.

Other post offices built in the 1950s could convey the trajectory of the post office in New Zealand life, but Naenae Post Office (Former) stands out both for its superior architecture and its place in the development of New Zealand’s most innovative state housing suburb. Naenae is highly significant in the history of state housing in New Zealand and the post office is a leading element in the purpose-built commercial centre that served the suburb.

The building is unusual in having a clock tower and references an earlier time when post office clock towers were common. Their construction was discontinued due to their perceived seismic hazard following the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake, but was revived in Naenae’s case following successful advocacy by the MOW. Its tower was built so as to minimise risk and its presence demonstrated the influence of government architects within the public service.

The information below is from the nomination form.

The post office is near to the former Te Mako pā, home to Wi Tako for 30 years until 1880. It is also the site a market garden from 1920s until the construction of Naenae as a state housing suburb from 1943. Designed by the prominent architect Ernst Plischke, the suburb is the best example of the garden city planning idea in New Zealand, especially notable for its community centre or Hillary Court. The post office was a vital commercial and social hub for Naenae life, a status reflected in its relative grandeur and landmark tower. The tower is significnat in being the first built following the lifitng of a government moratorium on their cosntruction due to seismic concerns.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

Naenae Post Office (Former) has significant aesthetic value for the visual contribution it makes as an individual building and within its surroundings. This is immediately evident by the juxtaposition between the strongly horizontal mass of the building and the soaring verticality of the slender, graceful tower. It is reinforced by the play of light and shadow created by forms like the cantilevered beams, the tower screen, slatted skylight, and fenestrations. The painted plastered frame and brick infill walls make for a pleasing contrast of materials and textures, a point reinforced by the use of stone aggregate panelling within the smooth metal window frames.

The aesthetic attributes of Naenae Post Office (Former) are recognised by the Naenae community, who have long valued the building’s landmark status, particularly the tower as an important vertical marker of the suburb’s commercial hub. It remains an emblem of both Hillary Court and Naenae and its visual qualities have lent themselves to use in branding material and other visual representations of the suburb.

Architectural Significance or Value

The building has major architectural significance. The initial tower concept was the work of architect Ernst Pliscke, whose international modernist approach was highly influential. The building is an example of the transition to the Brutalist style of architectural modernism in New Zealand, which was pioneered locally by architects like Gordon Wilson and Ted McCoy and came to dominate public building architecture. In line with this general architectural evolution, Naenae Post Office (Former) demonstrates a stylistic shift in post office design from Bauhausian-influenced international modernism (as evolved in post-war New Zealand) to Brutalism. Post offices thereafter were generally built in this style, which continued to evolve through to the 1970s. A formative early Brutalist building was McCoy’s Aquinas Hall (significantly altered in 2017) and the Naenae Post Office (Former) clearly references this building’s architectural principles and materials.

Naenae Post Office (Former) is one of the most important and architecturally accomplished mid-twentieth century suburban or small town post offices in New Zealand. Other post offices were built in this style – notably at Stratford – but none sported clock towers. It is this traditional feature that places the Naenae building above its post office peers. Its importance is enhanced in being part of ensemble of modernist buildings that comprise the wider landscape of Hillary Court. The exterior of the building has changed little since its opening and internal changes were largely confined to modernising fixtures and chattels.

Technological Significance or Value

The Naenae Post Office (Former) represents the application of technology and design to the aesthetic problem presented by the departmental prohibition on clock towers, made acute in a place dominated by low-rise, uniform buildings. The use of reinforced concrete and a layout which separated the tower from the rest of the building reduced the seismic risk. While Naenae Post Office (Former) did not set a precedent, it nevertheless has technological significance as the first post office tower built after the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake.

The information below is from the nomination form.

Aesthetic

The post office was the ‘final piece in the mosaic’ of Naenae’s Hillary Court, a community centre first envisaged in Ernst Plischke’s 1943 spatial plan for the suburb. It was carefully designed in sympathy with the other buildings in the complex. Until the late 20th century post offices and banks did not have to have verandas, but the government decided to include them to ensure aesthetic harmony within the complex. At the same time the building rises above its neighbours, literally in case of its landmark tower, and aesthetically in terms of its superior design. Without the post office and its tower the aesthetic significance of Hillary Court is diminished.

Architectural

The post office was designed by the Ministry of Works in modernist architectural style. This was in keeping with the modernist architecture of the rest of Hillary Court. But in its elegant design, employment of different materials, mix of interior and exterior spaces (including an elegant courtyard) and use of striking vertical and horizontal forms, it is clearly the most architecturally accomplished building in the complex. This also makes it the most significant.

Social Significance or Value

Naenae Post Office (Former) has social significance as a landmark building in Naenae. Local residents campaigned for the reinstatement of the clock in the early 2000s and participated in the heritage scheduling of the building in the Hutt City district plan in 2019. It has been the site of community events and its distinctive form is included in branding for local groups.

The information below is from the nomination form.

Scientific

The post office tower was a result in adances in building science that allowed such structures to better withstand seismic events.

It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category 1 historic place. It was assessed against, and found to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, e, g and k.

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

The place has outstanding significance in representing the substantial growth of the post office system in the mid-twentieth century and the importance of the institution in daily New Zealand life at a local or suburban level. This is reflected in the excellent standard of design, building materials, and public amenity in the building, which largely retains its original form, layout and design. Its closure marks the institution’s decline due to rapid technological change. There are other buildings that can reflect the rise and fall of the post office in New Zealand communities, but this building’s association with Naenae’s development as a major state mid-twentieth century housing suburb provides an extra dimension that comparable buildings cannot.

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

The place has an outstanding association with New Zealand’s two leading mid-twentieth century modernist architects: Ernst Plischke and Gordon Wilson. Plischke planned and designed Naenae and it was his idea to include a tower in its commercial centre. As the Government Architect, Wilson had oversight of the Naenae Post Office design. By the mid-1950s he had embraced Brutalism and it is very likely that it was his decision to use elements of this for the Naenae building. The post office is also strongly associated with Walter Nash, the local Member of Parliament and Labour Prime Minister (1957-60). He was a driving force in Naenae’s post-1945 development and spoke at the building’s opening.

Finally, the place is directly connected with mid-twentieth century state housing schemes and the provision of purpose-built community centres. Naenae is the best realised expression of the garden city idea in New Zealand and the post office is a highly-significant part of the community centre at its heart. As the most prominent and architecturally noteworthy element within the carefully-arranged Hillary Court, it represents the presence of planned civic buildings and spaces in state housing schemes.

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

The place’s soaring tower is a valued feature of the local landscape, not only for its utilitarian value as a clock, but as a distinctive landmark. The public esteem for the place is demonstrated by community involvement in and support for the reinstatement and refurbishment of the clock, and public expressions of concern for the building’s future. Use of the clock tower in community branding highlights the important role this building plays in the communal identity of Naenae.

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

The place demonstrates outstanding excellence in design in a small public building. Its design strength lies in the dramatic contrast between the strong horizontal planes of the building itself and soaring verticality of the slender tower, features which set it apart from other post office buildings of the era. It is a poetic combination that is enhanced by the use of cantilevered veranda beams, a geometric metal screen, and carefully placed fenestrations. It is a building that both surprises and satisfies the senses. The tower also demonstrates technical accomplishment in being the first post office clock tower to be built following the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake, achieved by a synthesis of technological and design responses. It was not until the 1970s that further post office towers were built. The building was acclaimed at the time of its opening as representing modern post office design.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural area

The place forms part of an ensemble of largely original modernist buildings that comprise Hillary Court, New Zealand’s first comprehensively planned commercial centre and pedestrian mall. The post office is the landmark structure within this complex, which includes the modernist Naenae Community Centre and Naenae Olympic Pool, both of which were designed as recreational and associational centres for the burgeoning population of Naenae in the early 1950s. Furthermore, it is an important element in the state housing suburb of Naenae, a place of major importance in the history of government and housing in New Zealand. While other major state housing schemes had purpose-built shops or shopping centres, the scale of Hillary Court and the intactness of the mall and the surrounding state housing area elevate its importance.

Summary of Significance or Values

Naenae Post Office (Former) has outstanding significance as the keystone building in Hillary Court, New Zealand’s first comprehensively planned commercial centre and pedestrian mall, and for its location within a historically significant state housing suburb. It represents the importance of the post office in the daily life of twentieth-century New Zealanders and is closely associated with three exceptional individuals in the fields of architecture and politics. The place demonstrates design excellence as an architecturally and aesthetically accomplished post office building that represents the early stages of a transition from Bauhaus-influenced international modernist principles to Brutalism, a style that became fully-fledged the following decade, and its landmark qualities are readily appreciated by the local community.

The information below is from the nomination form and relates to the Listing category.

I'm uncertain that the case can be made for Category 1 for the post office alone. The heritage values of the building are significantly enhanced by it being part of collection of buildings and outdoor spaces that comprise Hillary Court, New Zealand's first pedestrian mall and an exemplar of mid-20th century urban design or planning. The case can be made that the whole complex is worthy of Category 1 listing, but I'm not sure the post office on its own reaches that threshold, although it is certainly worthy of Category 2 listing. I would advise Heritage New Zealand to contact an architectural historian to access whether the building alone reaches the threshold on architectural grounds. I think it possibly can be. It's certainly very elegant.

How does your place or area compare with other similar cases: I'm uncertain whether there are direct comparisons that can be made. The state housing suburb of Glen Innes in Auckland was built at the same time but did have such a prominent post office. Pedestrian-orientated (hydro-construction) towns like Turangi and Twizel were inheritors of Naenae's urban design, but their post offices were also less prominent than Naenae's and didn't feature towers. The Naenae post office and tower is best example I'm aware of in New Zealand of its type and period. It may in fact be unique.

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Blake-Kelly, John Robert

John Blake-Kelly was Government Architect from December 1971 until his retirement in June 1973. Prior to this he had had a long career as an architect in the Public Works Department, (later known as the Ministry of Works).

Blake-Kelly was born in Auckland in 1913. Upon graduating Bachelor of Architecture from the Auckland University in 1937, he joined the Public Works Department as a draughtsman in the Auckland office. It was in this capacity that he designed the Mount Albert Telephone Exchange, New North Road (1941) and the Musick Memorial Radio Station at Howick, (1941). At about this time also, his designs were awarded third place in competitions for Auckland's Anglican Cathedral and the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial.

After the Second World War, in which he served in the Royal Navy, Blake-Kelly was posted to the new position of sectional architect in Wellington. Here he was involved in the development of post-primary schools (built as Taita and Mana College). These came to be used as a national standard. In 1952 Blake-Kelly was appointed District Architect, Wellington, where he was involved in Government projects from Gisborne to Nelson and Marlborough. During this period he was involved in the development of fair-faced concrete. Seven years later he was appointed Assistant Government Architect, responsible to the Government Architect for design and construction of Government works including projects of considerable magnitude such as the science schools for Canterbury, Massey and Auckland Universities. He was also closely associated with the design of Auckland's Paremoremo Maximum Security Prison (1969) and, as chairman of the Planning Executive Committee, was responsible for design direction of the Auckland International Airport Terminal Buildings (1971).

J. M. Construction

Lower Hutt building firm J.M. Construction was in business from 1949 to 1989. In addition to the Naenae Post Office (Former), the firm is known to have been associated with the Lower Hutt Central Fire Station (1955), state housing in Petone and a Department of Agriculture and Fisheries building on Matiu Somes Island.

Wilson, Gordon

Gordon Wilson (Architect)

Francis Gordon Wilson (1900-59) was born in Perth, Australia, and emigrated to New Zealand with his family in 1903. His father Frank was also an architect. Wilson the younger, who was known as Gordon, served articles with Wellington architect William Page and then studied at the School of Architecture in Auckland. Wilson spent fourteen years in the office of leading inter-war architectural practice Gummer and Ford, in which stripped classicism moderated the emerging influence of European Modernism and seismic-resistant construction methods were devised using reinforced concrete. In 1936 Wilson left the firm to take up the role of chief architect within the DHC, where he had ultimate responsibility for the design of the Berhampore, Dixon Street, and McLean Flats. Wilson was a founding member of the Architectural Centre in 1946 and contributed to the development of New Zealand architectural and town planning discourse through his publications and talks. Wilson became assistant government architect in 1948 and then held the position of government architect from 1952, in which role he had oversight of major projects including the Gordon Wilson Flats and Upper Greys Avenue Flats; departmental buildings the Bledisloe State Building, and Bowen State Building; and the Otago University School of Dentistry and the School of Engineering Building at the University of Canterbury, until his untimely death on 23 February 1959

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Early History

Before 1840 Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington) was heavily forested. The region was named for Tara, the first person to settle there. During the 17th century his descendants were joined by Ngāti Ira; other iwi also settled for different lengths of time. From the 1820s people from Taranaki (Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Tama, and Te Āti Awa) migrated to the region. In the early 1830s Patukawenga of Ngāti Mutunga gifted the area east of the Heretaunga (Hutt) River to the recently-arrived Te Āti Awa leader Wīremu Tako Ngātata (Wī Tako). It may have been at this time that Te Mako pā at Naenae was founded. It was located at the corner present-day Daysh Street and Park Avenue and might have been used as a base for Te Āti Awa cultivations and food gathering sites in the district. In the early 1850s Wī Tako moved from Wellington to the (unoccupied) Te Mako pā site, where he built a large European-styled house. In 1856 he commissioned Horonuku of Tūwharetoa to build a pātaka (storehouse) to show his support for a Māori King. In 1861 Wī Tako leased Te Mako to settler William Beetham, who lived there until his death in 1888. The house was subsequently consumed by fire.

Following the First World War, the Reform government established a poultry and market garden settlement for partially disabled servicemen in Naenae and the area became Wellington’s main market garden. In the late 1930s the Labour government proclaimed the land as the site for its new state housing scheme. Market gardeners relocated to Ōtaki, and Naenae and its neighbouring communities of Epuni and Taitā were built as state housing suburbs.

The spatial and social planning of these suburbs was strongly informed by garden city ideology. Naenae is the best realisation of this planning idea in New Zealand and its most innovative social housing suburb. The scheme’s lead planner was the prominent architect Ernst Plischke, ‘one of the foremost early exponents of modernism in New Zealand architecture’. Streets, services and amenities were designed to encourage social interaction and the development of a community spirit. This was especially evident in Naenae. Its 1943 plan featured a substantial community centre designed in the modernist style. This was based on St Mark’s Square in Venice and included pedestrian squares, shops, offices, public amenities, and a tower (akin to a campanile) to relieve the horizontal line of the buildings.

Due to the pressure to build houses first, the community centre was delayed until 1951. By then Plischke had left government service and other Ministry of Works (MOW) architects finalised the plan. Most of the space would be given over to shops, but it would also include a cinema, hotel and professional offices. It was to be New Zealand’s biggest and most costly pre-planned centre and its first comprehensively planned commercial centre and purpose-built pedestrian mall. The form owed much to Plischke’s original plan of pedestrian courts with car parking assigned to the centre’s edges. The centre’s main axis ran from the railway station, through the shopping court, to the Olympic swimming pool. In 1953 the government invited applications for sites in the complex. All buildings had to be constructed in a modernist style and have common parapet and veranda heights. These restrictions increased both architectural unity and streetscape appeal of the complex. The centre was built in a piecemeal fashion in the following years and named Hillary Court after the national hero Edmund Hillary, who had recently been the first person to summit Mt Everest.

Post Office

The post office site was the last to be developed. From the late 1940s the Post and Telegraph Department experienced rapid growth, spurred by increasing demand for its communication and financial services. This made it among the largest and most widely spread businesses in New Zealand. As the Postmaster General Walter Broadfoot stated in 1954, the post office was ‘closely bound up with the economic and social life of the country. Its activities concern every business, every family unit, and every citizen.’ The importance of the post office in national life was reinforced by the fact that official distances were measured from one post office to the next.

The post office had long been a social hub in communities – a place to post letters, bank, or chat with neighbours – and was typically among the most impressive public buildings. As the Postmaster General again explained:

“The post office is often one of the architectural features of a town or suburb and because of this an effort is always made to ensure the building is aesthetically pleasing. In planning the layout of a commercial area in new suburbs, the planner usually endeavours to make the post office the focal point. This in turn calls for a high standard of design in planning the building.”

The first post office in Naenae was an ex-Army building that was located on the corner of Seddon Street and Naenae Road from 1946. With the state housing suburb growing rapidly the facility soon became inadequate. In December 1955, the Commissioner of Works sold a parcel of Crown land in Hillary Court to the Post and Telegraph Department. In line with the aforementioned policy, the corner site was the most prominent in the whole development, situated at the nexus of the precinct’s two main axes. The first design was completed in August 1956 and overseen by the Government Architect Gordon Wilson and District Architect John Blake-Kelly. As well as accommodating post office functions – mail room, public service area, staff offices – the initial design included a health clinic at the building’s northern end.

Architecture

The Naenae Post Office was part of a wider shift in modernist architecture in New Zealand that was reflected in public buildings, including post offices. Those designed in the early 1950s showed a strong Bauhausian influence (as evolved in post-war New Zealand), exemplified by the massing of forms like stairwells at post offices in Feilding (1950) and Hokitika (1953) or the austere, Le Corbusian-influenced, lines of buildings like the Taitā Post Office (1958). Naenae displayed the beginnings of a move from this international modernism to Brutalism, a change Wilson was championing with other buildings like The Terrace Flats (1959).

Wilson had been appointed chief architect of the Department of Housing Construction in 1936 and oversaw major state housing projects, including the Berhampore Flats (1939-40; List No. 7432) and the award-winning Dixon Street Flats (1941-44; List No. 7395) in Wellington, and the Greys Avenue Flats in Auckland (1945-47; List No. 583). He remained chief architect when Department of Housing Construction was folded into the MOW in 1943 and was appointed Government Architect in 1952. Wilson was a highly active and interventionist leader ‘who had a strong influence on all the work of the architectural office’, and the Naenae Post Office was no exception.

The Naenae design owes much to Aquinas Hall at Otago University (1954) designed by Ted McCoy, who was strongly influenced by the work of early British Brutalist architects like Alison and Peter Smithson. Aquinas Hall featured a white painted concrete frame with regular window bands and red brick infill walls; the Naenae Post Office bears the same white plastered concrete frame, red brick infill walls and geometric window bands.

Clock Tower

Naenae’s most prominent feature was to be a slab-like, free-standing clock tower. These had been a standard element in larger post offices from the 1860s, rising either at the middle or corner of the building and often indicating the public entrance below. They were major landmarks, expressing the importance of the post office in daily life and signalling the passage of the commercial day. The 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake highlighted the risk such towers posed to the public if they collapsed. This led to a discontinuation of post office tower building and the removal or reduction of some existing towers, such as those on Palmerston North and Wellington’s chief post offices.

The inclusion of a tower at Naenae was initially opposed by the post office management. The department’s policy at that time was not to build towers and there was concern a precedent would be set. The Commissioner of Works pointed out that the demolition of clock towers had been due to their seismic risk and not because ‘the community no longer desired them.’ He explained that the Hutt Valley was lacking in vertical features and there was nothing to visually signal Hillary Court’s location: ‘A modest feature in the new Post Office would relieve the horizontal monotony and make the building a focal point. Its function would be emphasised and anonymity replaced with distinction’. Naenae’s circumstances were unusual and it wouldn’t be regarded as precedent-setting.

The Director General was persuaded by the explanation and agreed to an exception being made, which signified the influence of the government architects. The need for a vertical landmark to signal Naenae’s commercial hub had been recognised by Ernst Plischke, who had included a tower or campanile in his 1943 design for Naenae’s community centre. Gordon Wilson understood its aesthetic value and ensured Plischke’s idea was carried over into the revised Naenae commercial centre scheme.

The clock tower symbolised past and modern times simultaneously. Following tradition, it was sited to one side of the building and near the building entrance. Rising 47 feet high (14.3 metres), it dominated the Naenae townscape. But in light of the Hawke’s Bay earthquake of 1931 and departmental policy, consideration of seismic issues was paramount. New thought about the tower’s placement in relation to the rest of the building was required and unlike in earlier post offices, the tower was not fully integrated into the rest of the building, which was seen to reduce the seismic risk. This combined with a reinforced concrete frame permitted the existence of its slender form.

As predicted, the tower did not lead to a flurry of other ones elsewhere. Neither the new Masterton (1961) nor Stratford (1964) post offices included towers. It was not until the 1970s that clock towers re-emerged as a feature of new post office buildings, most notably the brutalist Nelson Post Office (1976). This made the Naenae Post Office unique in the 1950s and 1960s. The simplicity of its form and the arrangement of materials gave the tower an elegance that was arguably unsurpassed by any similar structure in the period; the Palmerston North Clock Tower in The Square (1957) was its closest rival but this was demolished in the early 2000s and rebuilt anew.

Construction and Opening

The construction contract was awarded to J. M. Construction in September 1958 with a bid of £32,000 (equivalent to $1.49 million in 2019). The need for a health clinic in the building had passed and this area was converted into a shop until the space was required for post office use. The foundation laying ceremony was held on 1 May 1959 and the building was opened on 4 December by the Post Office Director General Michael Moohan. Also in attendance was the Prime Minister Walter Nash. He had been a driving force in the development of Naenae since 1944 and, as the local Member of Parliament, had retained a strong interest in its continuing growth. He told the assembled crowd that the new building was the ‘last piece in the mosaic of the Naenae commercial centre’. He was particularly delighted to see a new post office clock tower, noting that they were once as integral to post offices as stamps: ‘Not only will the clock mark the time for all who see it, but the 47ft. high tower is undoubtedly the architectural focal point for the whole Naenae community centre’. The customer service area featured a wooden counter, elegant pendant ceiling lights and a striking abstract mural from the emerging Stokes Valley artist Guy Ngan, who had joined the MOW in 1956 at the behest of Gordon Wilson. Ngan went onto design sculptures and murals for several government buildings in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Naenae Post Office received public recognition at the time of its construction, appearing in professional and popular New Zealand architectural journals, and representing modern post office design in the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand (1966).

Later history

Due to a paucity of archival evidence, the building’s post-1960s history is patchy. There are many anecdotal reports about the importance of the building in daily community life. A popular collective memory is how teenagers would scale the clock tower as a local rite of passage. The practice damaged the clock mechanism in 1979 and led to the tower’s brick lattice work being filled in to stop would-be climbers. In 1984, substantial modifications to the building were proposed, which would have added a second storey to the structure and radically reconfigured interior spaces. In the end changes appear to have been restricted to renovating the public service area (which likely included the removal of the original counter and lighting), replacing the fabric roof with an iron one, installing new entrance doors, plastering over lattice brick work above the western parapet, and the repainting of the interior and exterior. It might have been at this time that the Guy Ngan mural was taken down. Its location and whether it still exists is uncertain.

The original clock was removed from the tower in 1991 and apparently dumped at a local tip. A new clock was installed around 2002 after publican Gary O’Keefe campaigned for its reinstatement, arguing that it was ‘greatly missed’. He recalled ‘setting his watch by the Post Office clock during the 1960s in his way to and from school’ and reported that ‘hotel patrons still talk about the clock’.

In the late 1980s, following the creation of New Zealand Post as a state-owned enterprise, over 400 post offices were sold in a cost-cutting exercise and closures continued into the 21st century. With the growth of electronic communication and the demise of letter mail, the post office ceased to be the social and commercial hub it once was. During the 2010s New Zealand Post closed many more post offices due to reducing demand for its services and to save costs. These were usually sold to private buyers and buildings were converted to other uses. Remaining post office services were now franchised out. Where the post office had once been among the most conspicuous building in the high street, it was now consigned to a corner of newsagent, dairy or even petrol station.

In 2015 New Zealand Post closed its Naenae branch and sold the building to private buyers. Groups like the Naenae Residents’ Association have lobbied for the building’s retention and expressed a desire for the tower to remain standing in the face of seismic concerns. In 2018 the building was used as a temporary community art space, in part because its aesthetic qualities were well-suited for this function. During the 2019 Naenae Matariki Festival the wall facing the mall was the backdrop for an outdoor screening of the movie Hunt for the Wilderpeople, advertised as taking place ‘under the clock tower’. The Hutt City Council announced it was in negotiations to lease the building for community purposes in late 2019. Earlier that year it was added to the District Plan heritage schedule; the proposal garnered supportive community submissions.

The tower remains an emblem of both Hillary Court and Naenae. It is often depicted in media reports on the suburb and is used in branding for local organisations and events, such as promotional group Naenae Proud – Shop Local, the ‘This is Naenae: Ko Naenae Tēnei’ facebook page and the 2019 Naenae Matariki Festival. When the clock was repaired in 2019 social media posts elicited positive community comments, like ‘the clock is and was a landmark’. Its soaring form is a prominent element in the Daysh Street mural at the entrance to Naenae.

The information below is from the nomination form.

Historical Information on Naenae Post Office

Before 1840, the Naenae area was forested and swampy. It was the site of Te Mako pa, where the important Te Ati Awa leader Wi Tako lived for nearly 30 years until 1880. There he built a pātaka called Nuku Tewhatewha to symbolise his support for a Māori king. After World War One the Reform government set up a poultry and market garden settlement for partially disabled servicemen in Naenae and the area became Wellington’s main market garden. In the late 1930s the Labour government identified the area as suitable for state housing development. Market gardeners relocated to Ōtaki and Naenae and its neighbouring communities of Epuni and Taita were built as state housing suburbs. Their spatial and social planning were strongly informed by garden city ideology. The scheme’s lead planner was the prominent architect Ernst Plischke. Streets, services and amenities were designed to encourage social interaction and the development of a community spirit. This was especially evident in Naenae, the best example of garden city planning in New Zealand. Its 1943 plan featured a substantial community centre designed in the modernist style. This was based on St Mark’s Square in Venice and included pedestrian squares, shops, offices, public amenities, and a tower (akin to a campanile) to relieve the horizontal line of the buildings.

Due to the pressure to build houses first, the community centre was delayed until 1951. By this time Plischke had left government service and other Ministry of Works architects finalised the plan. Most of the space would be given over to shops, but it would also include a cinema, hotel and professional premises for doctors and others. It was to be New Zealand’s biggest and most costly pre-planned centre and its first pedestrian mall. The form owed much to Plischke’s original plan, comprising a series of pedestrian courts, with carparking assigned to the centre’s edges. The centre’s main axis ran from the railway station, through the shopping court, to the Olympic pool. Train passengers would walk under cover through the centre on their way to the pool or homes beyond it. In 1953 the government invited applications for sites in the complex. All buildings had to be constructed in a modernist style and have common parapet and veranda heights. These restrictions increased both architectural unity and streetscape appeal of the complex. The centre was built in a piecemeal fashion in the following years and named Hillary Court after mountaineer Edmund Hillary.

The last site to be developed was the one for the post office. The first post office in Naenae was an ex-Army building that was located on the corner of Seddon St and Naenae Rd from 1946. With the state housing suburb growing rapidly the facility soon became inadequate and calls for a new post office were voiced from 1954. It was not until 1958 that the government agreed to build a new post office in the community.

This was designed by the Ministry of Works architectural division. Its modernist design is the most sophisticated and accomplished in Hillary Court. It is constructed of brick and reinforced concrete, the concrete having a white plaster finish. Brick was also used as a decorative element; as latticework in the western parapet and the clock tower. The western elevation features a grid-patterned windows that signal the customer service area and then a staff area. The latter is further identified by planter boxes. The south-west and public entrance corner is splayed, allowing a graceful turn to southern side. This elevation features the 47 foot (14.3m) tower. It has two vertical concrete columns that merge in a semi-circle at an open top. The semi-circle features decorative round holes. The clock is situated beneath this open top. East of the tower is a small courtyard, with beams that support the veranda and elegantly cantilever to the southern wall. This is dominated by grid-patterned, floor to ceiling windows, behind which was a staff workroom. The veranda and parapet heights carefully harmonise with the rest of Hillary Court. The interior was equally pleasing. The customer service area featured a handsome wooden counter, pendant ceiling lights and a large abstract wall mural by the celebrated artist Guy Ngan.

The high quality of the design and materials reflected the importance of the post office in daily New Zealand life. The institution had long been a social hub in most communities – a place to post letters, bank, or chat with neighbours – and was typically among the most impressive buildings within them. Post offices had traditionally been distinguished by a clock tower, but the collapse of some towers in earthquakes put a stop to them. However, advances in building science meant that by the mid-1950s towers could be built to higher seismic standards. The decision was therefore made to include a clock tower in Naenae post office. The government had agreed with its architects that a tower was desirable ‘on the grounds that it will help to relieve to some extent the architectural flatness of the surrounding area.’ (Plischke’s hope for campanile-like element had survived his departure.) But rather than incorporating it into the building as had been past practice, this tower was to free-standing to minimise seismic risks.

The post office’s construction contract was won by J. M. Construction with a bid of £33,000 ($1.49 million in 2018). The foundation laying ceremony was held on 1 May 1959 and the building officially opened several months later on 4 December by the Prime Minister and local MP, Walter Nash. He told the assembled crowd that new building was the ‘last piece in the mosaic of the Naenae commercial centre’. He particularly delighted to see a new post office clock tower, noting that they were once as integral to post offices as stamps. ‘Not only will the clock mark the time for all who see it, but the 47ft. high tower is undoubtedly the architectural focal point for the whole Naenae community centre’, he proclaimed.

In 1984 New Zealand Post proposed substantial modifications to the building, which, among other things, would have added a second story to the structure and radically reconfigured interior spaces. In the end changes appear to have been restricted to modernising the public service area, replacing the entrance doors, plastering over lattice brick work above the western parapet, and the repainting of the interior and exterior. It might have been at this time that the Guy Ngan mural was taken down. Its location (or whether it still exists) is presently uncertain.

With the growth of electronic communication and the demise of letter mail in the early 2000s, the post office ceased to be the social and commercial hub it once was. During the 2010s New Zealand Post began closing many suburban post offices to save costs. In 2015 it closed its Naenae branch and sold it to a private buyer. In 2108, the future of its tower is in doubt.

Ben Schrader

(3 August 2018)

Physical Description

Current Description

Naenae Post Office (Former) is located in Hillary Court, the commercial and community centre of the Lower Hutt suburb of Naenae. Hillary Court was built from the early 1950s and all its buildings share a common modernist architectural style and range from one to two storeys in height. An exception is a three-storey 1980s-era apartment building directly opposite the post office.

The post office building is 490 square metres and is constructed of reinforced concrete with brick infill walls, the concrete having a plaster finish. The roof has a steel frame and wooden joists and an iron roof (it was originally fabric). The north-western elevation features grid-patterned metal-framed windows that signal the customer service area and then a staff area. Clerestory windows run along the parapet. Stone aggregate is used in the bottom panel of the window grids on this elevation. The west-facing public entrance corner is splayed, which was often a feature of post office buildings, allowing for both a graceful turn of a corner site and space for an entranceway This area contains a stone-paved vestibule and features metal and glass entrance doors (not the original). A wall to the right of the entrance door covers where the post boxes once were.

The 14.3 metre slab-like clock tower sits to the right of the vestibule. It has two vertical concrete columns that merge in an arch at the top. The arch features decorative round holes. The clock is situated beneath this open top; under this are two bands of red brick, formerly comprising a latticework pattern. At the base of the tower is a decorative metal screen and above this is a slatted skylight.

On the south-western elevation is a small courtyard (originally an ornamental garden), with concrete beams that support the veranda and elegantly cantilever to the wall. This is dominated by grid-patterned, floor to ceiling metal-framed windows, behind which provided ample natural light to the mailroom. There is also an external glass door to the mail room for public parcel collection. The veranda and parapet heights carefully harmonise with the rest of Hillary Court.

The rear of the building is reached by a service lane. This features a mail dock and a large band of windows that provide light to the mail room. Adjacent is the original bicycle storage annex and rear access to the staff area in the north-western elevation.

The interior comprises a mixture of (former) public and staff spaces that largely mirror the original floorplan. The public space includes a vestibule and customer service area. The staff area is dominated by the mail room, where mail was sorted for distribution. Other spaces include offices, a strong room, toilets and a bicycle storage room. Chattels have been removed along with the original counter, lighting and mural in the customer service area, but the building retains some original fixtures, such as native timber internal doors, wall-mounted heaters and metal radiators. The metal windows are opened by original crank handles and fastenings.

In November 2019 the building was being used for storage and was in need of some basic maintenance like painting, with some evidence of leaks through the metal-framed windows, but otherwise appears to be in a good material condition.

Comparative Analysis

The Naenae Post Office (Former) marks an architectural transition point when compared to other post offices designed and built during the same period. It reflects both the popularity of international modernism in the 1950s and the beginnings of a broader trend towards Brutalism in public buildings commissioned or designed by the MOW.

Gordon Wilson’s (1900–59) time as the Department of Housing’s Chief Architect (1936–48) and as Government Architect (1952–59) saw international modernism embedded in the approach to New Zealand public architecture, with examples such as the Dixon Street Flats in Wellington and the University of Otago Dental School (1957–61; List No. 7618). However, during his tenure variations appeared which show a continued evolution and awareness of international architectural principles. The Naenae Post Office is an example of this and foreshadows the fully-fledged Brutalist work which came to dominate public buildings during Fergus George Frederick Sheppard’s time as Government Architect (1959–71).

Naenae Post Office has architectural affinities with Ted McCoy’s Aquinas Hall in Dunedin, winner of the New Zealand Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1956, the same year the post office was designed.

In 2017 the majority of the distinctive brick infill of Aquinas Hall was replaced by aluminium panels as part of a seismic strengthening project. Original architectural features are still extant at Naenae Post Office, most prominently the clock tower.

Post Offices

The Bauhausian-influenced Feilding and Hokitika post offices (1950 and 1953) are good examples of their type, demonstrating characteristic crisp use of concrete and glazing. The Gore Post Office (1958) shares the substantial street-facing stairwell and the other features of the Feilding and Hokitika buildings and projects a similar solidity, all typical of an international modernist approach. The Gore building once had a small clock attached to the blank wall of the main elevation; this had all the appearance of an afterthought and added visual clutter, despite being a useful amenity. By the nature of their design, particularly the massing of forms, these post offices appear heavy and monolithic when compared to the light and graceful lines of the Naenae building.

The Naenae Post Office reflects the beginnings of a transition to Brutalism. Although interpreted differently around the world by individual architects, a characteristic of Brutalism is honestly expressed concrete or béton brut (concrete in the raw), such as off-form concrete where the textural forms of the casting process were purposely retained for effect and other castings methods were combined to create an interesting interplay of surfaces. Other characteristics of Brutalism are textured exteriors, memorable shapes and openly-displayed structural elements. While the Naenae Post Office employs plastered rather than raw or off-form concrete, it displays a textured surface through the use of stone aggregate panelling and brick infill. The slim, curved clock tower constitutes a distinctive shape, while the cantilevered concrete beams are an excellent ‘expression of structure’.

The Masterton and Stratford post offices (1961 and 1964) share some of the early Brutalist architecture (and materials) of the Naenae building and both are larger. However, the addition of a tower at Naenae gives visual relief to the strongly horizontal form of the building and this element is missing from the other structures. The juxtaposition of vertical and horizontal axes and lines at Naenae is an arguably more sophisticated and pleasing arrangement than at Masterton and Stratford.

State Housing Shopping Areas

Whereas the other post office buildings stand alone in their streetscapes, Naenae Post Office (Former) is an integrated part of an ensemble of other 1950s modernist buildings, a feature that enhances its aesthetic appeal and further sets it apart from its peers. It is the most prominent building in Hillary Court, the ‘focal point’ of Naenae and the country’s first pedestrian mall. All the buildings in the complex had to be architecturally sympathetic to one another and while the post office is visually harmonious with the surrounding shops, the clock tower ensures the building is distinctive.

Other major state housing schemes of the general period include Savage Crescent in Palmerston North (built 1937-45), Hayes Park in Hamilton (1939-1945) and Tāmaki in Auckland (1950s). Savage Crescent and Hayes Paddock were much smaller than Naenae and their modest shopping areas are not comparable with Hillary Court – only one shop was built in Savage Crescent out of a proposed 20, while the four Hayes Paddock shops were confined to one large building on a corner site. Neither place had a post office. The substantial Glen Innes shopping area within the Tāmaki scheme was built from the late 1950s and remains an important community centre, but much of the original state housing area has been rebuilt, disassociating the shops from their historic context. An unassuming post office was built there in 1961 and is now occupied by a Salvation Army Family Store.

The information below is from the nomination form.

The post office comprises a building, a tower, and a small courtyard. It is at the heart of Hillary Court and its most conspicuous building, made more so by the tower which dominates the whole complex. It is located on the main pedestrian axis of Hillary Court - running from Naenae Olympic Pool to the Naenae railway station underpass - and is on a corner site beside the main courtyard. The building is designed in a modernist architectural style and is of brick and concrete construction. Its interior comprises a customer service area, work rooms, offices, toilets and storage.

It was not until 1958 that the government agreed to build a new post office in the community. This was designed by the Ministry of Works architectural division. Its modernist design is the most sophisticated and accomplished in Hillary Court. It is constructed of brick and reinforced concrete, the concrete having a white plaster finish. Brick was also used as a decorative element; as latticework in the western parapet and the clock tower. The western elevation features a grid-patterned windows that signal the customer service area and then a staff area. The latter is further identified by planter boxes. The south-west and public entrance corner is splayed, allowing a graceful turn to southern side. This elevation features the 47 foot (14.3m) tower. It has two vertical concrete columns that merge in a semi-circle at an open top. The semi-circle features decorative round holes. The clock is situated beneath this open top. East of the tower is a small courtyard, with beams that support the veranda and elegantly cantilever to the southern wall. This is dominated by grid-patterned, floor to ceiling windows, behind which was a staff workroom. The veranda and parapet heights carefully harmonise with the rest of Hillary Court. The interior was equally pleasing. The customer service area featured a handsome wooden counter, pendant ceiling lights and a large abstract wall mural by the celebrated artist Guy Ngan.

Notable Features

The south-west elevation features the 47 foot (14.3m) tower. It has two vertical concrete columns that merge in a semi-circle at an open top. The semi-circle features decorative round holes. The clock is situated beneath this open top.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1959 -
1 May 1959 - 4 December 1959

Other
1979 -
Brick lattice-work of clock tower infilled

Refurbishment/renovation
1984 - 1985
Renovations to the building: public service area renovated; fabric roof replaced with an iron one; new entrance doors installed; lattice brickwork above the western parapet plastered over; interior and exterior repainted

Other
1991 -
Original clock removed

Modification
2002 -
New clock installed

Construction Details

Concrete, brick, steel, timber, glass, stone, plaster; latticework in the western parapet and the clock tower.

Completion Date

14th January 2020

Report Written By

Ben Schrader, Karen Astwood and Kerryn Pollock

Information Sources

Ferguson, 1994

Gael Ferguson, Building the New Zealand Dream, Palmerston North, 1994

Millar, 1972

David Millar, Once Upon a Village, a History of Lower Hutt, 1819-1965, Wellington, 1972

Gatley, 2008

Julia Gatley (ed.), Long Live the Modern: New Zealand's New Architecture 1904-1984, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2008

Schrader, 2005

Ben Schrader, We call it home: a history of New Zealand state housing. Auckland: Reed, 2005

Other Information

Disclaimer

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero 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.

Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice.