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Heritage Building Inventory

PRUDENTIAL ASSURANCE BUILDING

332-340 Lambton Quay

Architect: Hennessy & Henessey Date of Construction: 1934.

(Australia) /Gray, Young,

Morton & Young (New Zealand).

Architectural Style: Art Deco. Building Type/Use: Office.

Compilation Date: March 1994. Photo Negative: 19.10

District Plan: Map 17, reference 190/3. Condition: NZHPT Classification II (C).

Visible Material: Steel-frame, reinforced concrete, sandstone exterior facing, bronze touch holders, terrazzo panelling.

HISTORY

Wellington's Prudential Assurance Building, designed in 1933 by Australian firm Hennessy and Hennessy, is one of the country's most flamboyant works in the Art Deco style. The original scheme for the development was a group of three blocks marching up Plimmer Steps, but only one block was ever built. This block had recesses in its side walls to provide light and air shafts when it was joined by neighbouring tall buildings. Its pink tones, wall scoring, jagged skyline and small windows all help to provide an appearance of distinction. (3)

The Prudential Assurance Building was one of the first steel­framed structures to be erected in Wellington following the introduction of the new earthquake code. In fact, these new codes, introduced as construction was about to proceed, led to a structural redesign carried out in conjunction with the Wellington firm representing the Australian architects. (1)

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE

The Prudential Assurance building is a significant building of the inter-war period, designed in an Art Deco style. Along with the 1930's buildings to its sides, it forms a small but important precinct of inter-war commercial buildings that make a considerable contribution to the urban fabric of the central city. The building is intimately associated with the staff, management and clients of Prudential Assurance.

ARCHITECT

Gray Young was born in Oamaru. When he was a child his family moved to Wellington, where he was educated. After leaving school he was articled to the Wellington architectural firm of Crichton and McKay. In 1906 he won a competition for the design of Knox College, Dunedin, and shortly after this he commenced practice on his own account.

He became a prominent New Zealand architect and during his career of 60 years he designed over 500 buildings. His major buildings include the Wellington and Christchurch railway stations (1936 and 1954 respectively), Scot's College (1919), Phoenix Assurance Building (1930), and the Australian Mutual Provident Society (AMP) Chambers (1950). At Victoria University he was responsible for the Stout (1930), Kirk (1938), and Easterfield (1957) Buildings, and Weir House (1930). Gray Young also achieved recognition for his domestic work such as the Elliott House, Wellington (1913).

His design for the Wellesley Club (1925) earned him the Gold Medal of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1932. He was elected a Fellow of the Institute in 1913, serving on the executive committee from 1914-1935 and was president from 1935-36. He was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and achieved prominence in public affairs. (4)

ARCHITECTURE

The Prudential is a highly distinctive building, with a symmetrical and compact layout, and a three­dimensional composition. In many ways it is a representative Art Deco building, blending a number of stylistic motifs into a crisp and bold design. The building echoes, but does not imitate, the Medieval Keep, the Norman tower and, in the ground and first floors, something of the massive trabeation of Egyptian forms. The architects, Hennessy & Hennessy, were notable practitioners of the Art Deco idiom, and the Prudential Building is similar, in its exterior massing and detail, to the ACA Building, Queen Street, Melbourne (1936) also designed by this firm.

Distinctive features of Art Deco architecture are represented in the facades of the Prudential, particularly the system of emphatic vertical piers and fins which terminate in a stepped skyline, with a crenellated parapet and centre piece. These strongly­modelled vertical elements give the building a soaring quality ­ a typical Art Deco effect. The monumental central entrance, rising to a piano storey, is another characteristic of Art Deco architecture. So too, is the stylised lettering on the lower entablature, and the stylised low­relief ornament featuring corner eagles and other company emblems and regalia. The terminating piers of the building, and the spandrels below the top­floor windows, feature a typical Deco parallel line motif; spandrels between the piers feature a chevron pattern.

The building is faced with sandstone on all the external facades. There are bronze torch­holders by the entrance, and bronze decorations within the spandrels of the piano floor. The central entrance leads to a main office hall, two stories high, with terrazzo panels and frieze, and fluted pillars. The load­bearing system of the building is constructed in cast in­situ reinforced concrete including footings, basement floor and walls, external and internal walls, and the grid of columns and beams. Interior partitions have been constructed of brick. (1)

SUMMARY OF HERITAGE VALUES

Cultural:

Emotional:

Historical: The building is associated with a significant early New Zealand insurance company which played an important role in the economic development of the country.

Design: The building reflects the period in which it was constructed, and enhances the small but significant group of 1930's office buildings of south Lambton Quay.

Use: The building retains functional and economic use values.

Contextual: The building is a good representative example of an inter-war architectural style.

Level of Authenticity: The building retains external authenticity of materials, design and craftsmanship.

Statement of Significance: The building makes a significant contribution to a rare surviving small pocket of inter-war buildings designed in an appropriate style for the period.

Sources

(1) NZHPT C & D Listed Buildings.

(2) Wellington District Committee files.

(3) New Zealand Architecture, Peter Shaw.

(4) NZHPT Glossary of Architects, 1991.

   
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