Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Government Building ... #51

The most historical & imposing building in the parliamentary and government quarter is the Old Government Building (1876) at the north end of Lambton Quay. Like the other buildings in this area, it stands on the old seabed that was thrust upwards in the 1855 earthquake and proved a welcome addition to the narrow strip of level ground fronting the harbor.

Although this massive four-story building in Italian Renaissance style looks as if it were built in stone, it is in fact wholly of wood - the second-largest wooden building in the world. The architect, WH Clayton, son-in-law of the then prime minister Sir Julius Vogel, used kauri, rimu and matai wood, which turned out to be so expensive that the government dispensed with an official opening ceremony. The building originally had 22 chimneys but these were removed as an earthquake risk. In front of the building is a statue of the Labor leader and prime minister (1940-9) Peter Fraser.

Some interesting historical quotes about The Government Building
'The large government buildings are so many shams. In the distance you exclaim "What splendid freestone structures" and when you go up to them and tap them with your finger, you find that they are nothing but wooden erections, painted and rough cast with sand to represent stone, but they are very handsome ...'

"As a matter of economy - indeed as one of necessity for properly carrying on the business of the country - I may state that the Government are convinced that new offices must be erected" Julius Vogel, 1873.

"This tender don't take the risk against earth shakes nor foundation giving". The lowest tender for the construction in concrete was £40,900 and in timber £29,975 well above the sum of £16,000 that had been voted"

A labour only contract was let to Scoular & Archibald for the sum of £24,685.

"It is a strongly classical building, both in in its grand and summetrical composition, and in its details - quoin blocks at the corners, string courses at each floor level, and a heavily bracketed cornice at the roof level. The Doric columned porches are academically correct in reproducing the details of classic Greek architecture in timber. The original paint finish, textured with sand, would have completed the impression of 'splendid freestone structures'

The Government Building is now the home of the University Law School ... which brings 'a smile to the mind' given its academically correct architecture !!

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