The Municipal Chambers has travelled a long road of historical development, and is now a powerful piece of symbolic architecture right in the heart of the city
These qualities were compromised over the years with removal of the top part of the central tower, the main entrance steps, and balustrades at roof level. These elements have all been restored convincingly and accurately, and have awakened the latent need in the community for symbolic public architecture.
The finished product
Externally, the Municipal Chambers has been restored to RA Lawson’s design. It has changed from being an old and bland building stripped of its decoration and symbolic functions into the centrepiece of Dunedin’s main central open space. Restoration of the Chambers has re-established a powerful symbolic environment for the Dunedin City Council, enhanced by cultural references to the history of the City and the Province.
The construction has recognised a new culture of respect for historic buildings in Dunedin. It also awakened the Council itself to the unique architectural heritage of Dunedin, through which the City’s buildings are now viewed as a central element in the City’s marketing strategy for economic growth. In 1874 design entries were called for for a larger more functional civic building, but it was not until a vote in November 1876 that the Council decided that the Corporation offices should be built in the Octagon.
The building was to include council chambers and offices, a large public hall to seat 2000 people, a clock and observation tower, fire brigade premises and a market. RA Lawson won the contract as the architect. He was actually placed second in the competition but as he was a resident in Dunedin, he was given the commission and permission to use his design. The building contract was let on 26 February 1878 to local contractors Mercer and Low at the amount of 20, 390 pounds.
The foundation stone was laid on 24 May 1878. In a cavity beneath this stone a bottle was placed containing copies of all the current local papers, a parchment scroll bearing an account of the history of the project, a pamphlet written by James McIndoe describing the city and province and a set of contemporary coins. The Town Hall was built of Oamaru limestone with two storeys and a basement and was officially opened for business on 25 May 1880. The Dunedin City Council had their first meeting on 1 June 1880 in the new premises.
Growth calls for still larger premises
Over 100 years passed, and growth of the City as well as added Council functions exerted pressure on office space in the new chambers. For a number of years before the 100-year period ended, many departments of Council were housed in outlying rented premises. As the time for plans for the new complex began to emerge, departments were spread over five outlying offices for which considerable rent was being paid. Not only was it costly but the disintegration of so many units of administration severely impaired the efficiency of the whole organisation.
The Municipal Chambers were modernised in 1939, with two lifts replacing the interior stairs, and the original exterior stairs being removed and most of the interior being relined. In 1964 the upper section of the Oamaru Stone Clocktower was removed, together with stone parapets, balustrades and all exterior decorative elements. A new civic administration building was completed in 1982 and the Chambers was largely vacated. There was sporadic debate during this decade about whether the building should be restored or demolished altogether. In 1987, city consultants were asked to develop a strategic plan for the future of the building. If restoration was to proceed, it was to take place inside the context of continuing use.
The approach recommended by the Architects was to retain the social and cultural significance of the building by continuing its use as the formal and symbolic centre of local government in Dunedin. This was to be achieved by restoring and extending the Council Chamber and by creating a new Committee Room so that all public meetings of the Council would take place in the Chambers. Concurrently, the building would also be used to reinforce the growing tourist industry by rebuilding the Tourist Information Centre at ground floor level.
To augment the symbolic and cultural values of the building as a Civil symbol, it was also recommended that the exterior of the building should be restored, including reconstruction of the Clocktower, rebuilding of the exterior stairs and replacement of the exterior decoration. The civic and tourist uses were extended to include a restaurant and a formal civic reception space at first floor level.
Amalgamation of the local authority had created a Council of twenty-one elected representatives in place of the previous twelve. This meant the size of the Council Chamber had to be doubled. This was achieved by breaking out the side walls of the Chamber. Paintings of past Mayors and public dignitaries were hung, and the Speaker’s chair from the old Otago Provincial Council was restored for the Mayor’s use.
Text from Dunedin City Council website
This artwork is under a creative commons licence.
Esta obra está bajo una licencia de creative commons
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