If you look up as you march down the west side of Lambton Quay, keeping left with the obedient public servants, you will notice twenty circular lights underneath the awning for Massey House (Plishke and Firth, 126-132 Lambton Quay, Wellington). Like the cache of lightbulbs that illuminate the entrance to the Palladium in London’s West End, the Wellington lights are always cheerfully illuminated, promising entertainments within. On the cusp of its seventh decade of existence, Massey House looks great for its age, glass curtain walling on The Terrace and Quay elevations still glittering in the morning and evening light, even if its girth has doubled with an eight-storey addition to the south mirroring the original slim-line form which was completed on 4 October 1957.
It’s this first Massey House that takes my fancy. To me, it is a perfect time capsule, telling us much about those halcyon days when 100,000 tons of meat pushed wool off its pedestal and became New Zealand’s top export income earner. Built so that the dairy and meat producer boards could market our beef, lamb and milk products to the world, Massey House symbolises a go-ahead modernity. It showed that the country that pioneered frozen meat shipments in the nineteenth century could create the latest in contemporary architecture in the twentieth. Its ferro-concrete structure is Golden Bay cement, strengthened with locally forged steel, its plate glass molded into sheets from silica found in the pure sands of the Parengarenga Harbour, near North Cape. Rimu ply and burr totara linings fitted out the interior, with the foyer given a note of restrained luxury with panels of rose aurora marble from Portugal. It’s such a proud building, and a distinctive one, with its kidney bean-shaped lift housing, and sturdy pilotis stepping out into the Quay, carrying a little whiff of Le Corbusier to the South Pacific.
The “My favourite modernist building …” series is in support of Gordon Wilson Flats which is facing threat of demolition.