William Gummer (1884-1966) was one of New Zealand’s greatest architects and this building is one of his finest designs. Gummer was highly competent and creative in many styles, but one of his greatest contributions to New Zealand architecture may well be his embrace of European Modernism. He travelled widely as a young man and studied overseas trends diligently, particularly in the United States, Britain and Europe. He designed three strikingly modern houses in Hawkes Bay in the first half of the twentieth-century and with the State Insurance Building (1940), he displayed his familiarity with Emil Fahrenkamp’s Shell Haus, Berlin (1932), courtesy of another trip to Europe in 1936.
Gummer’s interpretation is no slavish copy.
Ever sure-footed, he utilised the distinctive wavy form brilliantly to negotiate the splayed corner of Stout Street and Lambton Quay. The quality of the materials, including Coromandel granite (used on the ground floor) and the beautiful fenestration, adds refinement and elegance to the building. The building also forms a magnificent grouping with the Public Trust Building (former) on the other side of Stout Street, and the Departmental Building, next door on Stout Street.
It is a demonstration of the building’s qualities that it continues to shine despite the indignities heaped on it by the unfortunate Ian Athfield-designed additions of 1998. Three storeys were added to the building in the retrograde choice of an Art Deco-style radiator grille, along with a completely unnecessary cut-out of one bay of the Stout Street ground floor facade.
The “My favourite modernist building …” series is in support of Gordon Wilson Flats which is facing threat of demolition.