Wednesday, August 18, 2010

#1174 ... Dominion Farmers Institute

A closer view of the Dominion Farmers Institute building shown in yesterdays posting ... and no it is not the Vodafone building (red sign) ... that is behind on Midland Park.

Statement of Significance
With the formation of the Dominion Farmer's Institute, farming organisations had a co-ordinated voice, and the construction of a major commercial building in central Wellington was a potent symbol of their ambitions. The high historic value of the building derives principally from its construction and occupation by the Institute, further enhanced by later tenants, the Reserve bank in particular. Some Wellingtonians know the building for the full size moa that occupied its foyer, now located with a sculpture of Godfrey Bowen in the Featherston Street entrance, while many others worked or conducted business there.

The building is a well known landmark in the Featherston Street streetscape, unmistakable since its new vibrant colour scheme was applied, and highly visible to traffic travelling south into the city. The vertical proportions and tower make it a strong focal point. Although the Gothic style appears dated for the time, and inappropriate for the purpose, it is nevertheless a very well executed design in this mode, making full use of the structural possibilities of reinforced concrete for interpretation of Gothic forms and to provide ample natural light to the interior. It is the work of one of the oldest most and important architectural practices in New Zealand, at that time known as Collins and Harman. The building has high aesthetic value, and the level of authenticity of the exterior is likewise high.

The architects were Christchurch neo-Gothic specialists Collins and Harman. The permit was granted for the building's foundations in June 1917, at an estimated cost of £7470. The contractors were Fletcher Brothers, later Fletcher Construction, in what was one of their first successful Wellington tenders. They also secured the main contract, the permit for which was granted in January 1918.

Work was not completed until 1920. Hunt's vision of a farmer's hotel on the top three floors never transpired - the space was initially needed for offices and wool storage and the idea was never revived. Some of the associated producer organisations moved out because of space constraints. In 1929 the building was extended to the south by Collins and West (successors to Collins and Harman). In 1933 the newly constituted Reserve Bank took space on the ground floor, while another tenant was the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Some of the building's ornamentation was removed after the 1942 earthquake and there was major refurbishment in 1964 and again in 1968. In 1984 the building was completely refurbished, with the main entrance vestibule retained, and the 1929 addition was removed and replaced with a new building. The architects were Peddle, Thorp and Maidens. The building is now called Seabridge House, for its tenants, the New Zealand arm of some European shipping companies (no longer trading).

Seabridge House occupies a prominent city corner and is an important landmark in the commercial heart of the city.

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