A tour of the Lower Hutt Civic Centre
Heritage New Zealand has designated the Lower Hutt Civic Centre a site of historic importance.
They say “Placement of important civic administration and public buildings together in parkland surroundings away from main street situations is extremely rare in New Zealand at this time.”
“Four buildings of diverse purpose, a church, a library complex, a town hall complex and a horticultural hall, show an integrated design in concrete steel and glass by two noted Wellington architectural firms.”
Why did the Hutt need a Civic Centre?
The 1950s was a time of dynamic growth and change in the Hutt.
The construction of over 5,400 new state houses and the expansion of industry meant the population of Lower Hutt grew from 14,000 in 1931 to 44,000 in 1951.
Lower Hutt became a city in 1941 and by 1955 Lower Hutt was the 5th largest in New Zealand.
The growth of Lower Hutt meant there was a need for new amenities of all kinds particularly in new suburbs such as Naenae and Taita – transport, halls, schools, shopping centres, sporting facilities.
The late 1940s and early 1950s also saw the construction of new facilities for the whole city, including the hospital, fire station, post office and bus terminal.
Note the recently constructed Queens Drive to the right.
There was also needs for new community facilities in the Central Business District and new premises for expanding Council services.
In 1937 Mayor Jack Andrews appointed Lower Hutt’s first town planner, R.D.H. Hill, and in 1945 Andrews formed the Civic Centre Committee to plan new civic facilities.
This Structon Group Architects plan of the Lower Hutt civic centre includes a hotel facing the roundabout.
Ronald Muston founded Structon Group Architects and designed the Church of St. James and the War Memorial Library and Cultural Centre. He also designed the Dowse Art Gallery which opened in 1971. The above drawing is by Leonard Mitchell and Muston is portrayed in the Human Endeavour mural in the War Memorial Library also by Leonard Mitchell.
Percy Dowse, Mayor from 1950 to 1970, lead work to realize the planning of the Civic Centre Committee.
The Church of St. James, 1953
The first Church of St. James was built on the opposite side of the river in 1841 and was destroyed by floods. The second Church was built in 1845 where the present cemetery is. The third Church was built in 1880 and suffered extensive fire damage in June 1946.
The fourth Church of St. James was designed by Ronald Muston of Structon Group Architects and constructed by W.M. Angus Ltd. It cost 80,000 Pounds and was opened in 1953.
The Church won a New Zealand Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1954 and was described as the “most radical modern church design in New Zealand.”
The vicarage and a bus shelter were built in the modernist architecture style.
The War Memorial Library and Cultural Centre 1956
Ronald Muston was asked to design the War Memorial Library and Cultural Centre in a style compatible with the Church of St James.
Construction by the contractor W.M. Angus began in 1953 and the building opened in February 1956.
As well as the library, the building housed a 350 seat theatre, Plunket Rooms, three meeting rooms and an exhibition space.
Wellington artist, Leonard Mitchell was commissioned to paint 3 murals for the War Memorial Library.
Council Administration Building and Town Hall 1957
The Council Administration Building and Town Hall opened in April 1957, 14 months after the War Memorial Library and Cultural Centre opening.
The building was designed by Keith Cook (King, Cook & Dawson) and the contractor was again W.M. Angus Ltd. The design uses Modern Movement principles as well as displaying Art Deco influences.
Keith Cook also designed the Horticultural Hall which was built beside the Town Hall and opened in 1959.
What is Modern Movement architecture?
The original Civic Centre buildings were built over a relatively short time-frame in a coherent style and the Civic Centre is held up as an excellent example of Modern Movement architecture.
Key features of Modern Movement architecture include:
- Honest expression of key structural elements
- Often strongly geometric bold shapes
- Overall simplicity
- Lack of elaborate decoration
- Use of new mass-produced materials – particularly steel and concrete
- Extensive use of glass