Victoria University of Wellington 1899 ~ 1999 A History
[six] — Cribbed, cabined and confined
Cribbed, cabined and
LITTLE DID ANYONE know then that the ‘Battles of the Sites’ recounted with satisfaction in Spike in 1903 was only the prelude to a much longer history of struggle. The story of the physical development of Victoria is partly a story of bigger buildings, better classrooms, new laboratories, covered walkways, cafes and carparks: a story of progress. It is also about the shifting geographical focus of the university (it was literally an uphill struggle). But the dominating factor in the physical development of Victoria has been the site: its size, its topography and its location. It is a site that has inspired some grandiose statements, assorted metaphors (of ivory-tower detachment or social aspiration) and, in the days of ode-writing, stirring lines of verse (such as J.C. Beaglehole's ‘Dear hill of many visions’). Contriving to call this patch carved out of a precipitous hillside a ‘plateau’, a journalist introducing a six-part series on the newly independent university in 1962 pictured it ‘gaz[ing] in solemn dignity over Port Nicholson and the Hutt Valley’.1 The site ‘has more than a touch of magnificence’, the university's submission to the Hughes Parry committee agreed, but ‘its contours are difficult’.2
The idea of moving the college from its hillside perch was considered in the 1940s in response to three unsolicited suggestions. In July 1945 the Students' Association asked the Council to consider moving down to the Te Aro Flat area (around Adelaide Road), where the City Council was planning a programme of slum clearance. In the present buildings students suffered in ‘cramped lecture-rooms’ and staff in ‘indifferent cubby holes, termed studies’, but further building to the south – the only possible direction the site could expand – would result only in ‘an untidy, drawn out, heterogeneous collection of buildings devoid of any beauty whatsoever’ (a not entirely inaccurate description of the future campus, in fact), and would ‘detract from presenting the University as an imposing and magnificent structure that it should be as the University of the Capital City’.3 page 129 The following month Massey Agricultural College, once Victoria's protégé, formally approached the Council with a suggestion that the two institutions consolidate their work in pure science, sociology and education, and that Victoria (with the exception, possibly, of its commerce and law faculties) move to the Massey site, where the government had recently acquired another 263 acres for educational use. There would be room as well for a teachers' college.4 A few weeks later came a letter from the Masterton Trust Lands Trust with an offer of 70 acres, the patronage of the Trust and a grant of £500 a year. The Trust had heard that Victoria was considering moving: ‘Obviously if Victoria College is to develop as a University it would be impossible to remain where it is. Even in its foundation years we knew that it was cribbed, cabined and confined’, and as a result had developed into ‘what is known in Germany as a Technical College rather than a University’.5 The Council appointed a committee to investigate.
The decision was reconfirmed a few years later in response to an elaborate 12– point plan being promoted by a city councillor which involved moving the university college, teachers' college and Wellington Girls' College to the vice-regal site on Mt Victoria (Government House would shift to the site of the gaol on Mt Crawford, and the gaol to Makara). But the land proposed was too small, the Professorial Board reported, and the present location had the advantage of proximity, its magnificent outlook and ‘fifty years of affectionate tradition’.9 Just how the university has used this site has been an important part of its relationship with its city: its history of ‘town and gown’.
The Easterfield building: ‘this imposing edifice could well have been imported direct from the United States of America’. Gordon Burt collection, ATL 37137 1/2
The next priority was a new library and arts building, for which an application was submitted to the grants committee in October 1955. The library had long outgrown its cramped (albeit charming) home in the Hunter north wing. Its book stock had increased from fewer than 18,000 volumes in 1922 to nearly 100,000. It had swallowed five staff rooms and five classrooms, but still the reading space was ‘grossly inadequate’, storage space ‘desperate’. ‘Our students,’ observed councillor O'Brien in 1963, ‘are out of the habit of using the university library because of the lack of seats.’14 It had been hoped that construction of a new building could begin as soon as the science building was completed. (The one-building-at-a-time approach taken by Victoria's planners, in contrast to the other universities', was later widely considered to have been unwise.) In fact, authorisation for the library was not given until 1958. Construction began in 1962, and the page 133 Rankine Brown building was officially opened in June 1966. It had been ‘especially designed to be precast in large units in Bulls and Tauranga in an effort to avoid the shortage of labour in Wellington’ (and won an architectural award for its innovative engineering design), but there was no planning for the weather. ‘Once the upper levels … became exposed to the full blast of the southerly, the rush of carpenters leaving the job became a serious menace to student circulation’.15
The plans had been considerably modified in those 10 years: it was originally to have had six (not 10) storeys, to house the college office, administrative staff, and the Council, Professorial Board and committee rooms, as well as the library, staff studies and classrooms, and the Staff Common Room. By now, however, the administration had been accommodated in extensions to the Robert Stout building, completed in 1961, and the separate law library was left behind in Hunter. The main library occupied only half the new building; teaching and staff rooms took up the top four floors. This meant that even when it opened there were fewer seats per reader than the figure set by a university libraries conference in 1957. The ideal was four students per seat, the reality nearer five, but this was a vast improvement on the ‘fantastically low’ ratio of 1:12.5 the university had had to report in 1957. The librarian, Harold Miller, who had been closely involved in the design of the building, was pleased, although there were a few regrets: ‘I am myself very sorry that metal-frame tables had to be substituted for the more massive all-wood refectory-type tables upon which I had set my heart’, and there had been ‘some trouble over colour schemes. On the whole, the appearance of the public rooms is somewhat more subdued than I would have liked; but the effect is pleasant enough.’16 Award- winning or not, the building was, however, execrably designed for academic use. Circulation, of both people and air, was a particular problem: staff complained, students petitioned.
In addition, government approval had been given in 1957 for a new student union building, for which the students had been accumulating funds since 1932, and it opened, along with a new gymnasium, in 1961. The tennis courts, so arduously claimed by Dixon and friends, had to be sacrificed, but agreement had been reached with the City Council for four new courts to be built on the site of the Geology and Geography huts (their removal when the science building was completed had been a condition of the university's use of the land). In the page 134 1950s Victoria also began acquiring residential properties on the west side of Kelburn Parade – the start of its creeping, and controversial, expansion into its suburban hinterland. Number 20 Kelburn Parade was purchased in 1951, to be used for a caretaker's flat and the School of Social Science; number 42, shared with the teachers' college, in 1956; and a third house in 1959. (Further afield, a vice-chancellor's residence was purchased, in Kinross Street, in 1962.)
Victoria's submission to the Hughes Parry committee in 1959 took a wider and longer view of the university's prospects on its 20-odd vertical acres. Already, eventual occupation of a large part of the west side of Kelburn Parade below Glasgow Street was assumed, while to the south properties on the east side of Kelburn Parade, edging the gully that comprised much of the 1949 extension, had been zoned for university use under the Town and Country Planning Act 1953, and the government was buying them (three to date) as they became available. The Council believed 6000 students could be accommodated on the present site, but that did not allow for new developments. It was modestly suggested that the government set aside an area of about 200 acres, ‘within easy commuting distance of the Kelburn site’, for the university ‘and such institutions and agencies as might advantageously join with the University in advanced scientific research, high level technological research’, and other space-requiring activities. (‘The Council regards this matter as of major importance in the national interest.’)19
Early the following year Ian Reynolds of the Auckland firm Kingston, Reynolds and Thom, architects of the Rankine Brown building, and of all of the university's major new academic buildings until the 1980s, was commissioned to produce a report on Victoria's building and site requirements for the next 25 years. (The assistant principal, meanwhile, had visited the United States to investigate university campuses there.) From this report dates the figure of 10,000 – students enrolled at Victoria by 1985 – as a planning principle.20 The report, prepared in association with the vice-chancellor's office (Culliford had a large hand in it), was completed in 1962 and remained the basis of the university's physical development until 1982, although its magnificent vision would never be fully realised.
Reynolds calculated that the university needed 103.35 additional acres for its present and future requirements up until 1985, including 30 acres in reserve for ‘at present unforeseeable needs’.21 He included at least 25 acres for sports fields, three acres for the engineering school of which Williams was then hopeful, halls of residence and car parking. On the existing site, the proposed extension of the Kirk building was to be completed by 1967, to be followed by an adjoining multi-storey research tower, and a physics and earth sciences building in the vicinity of the bowling green by 1968. Longer term, the student union building and gymnasium would be extended, and an indoor recreation centre (with a 33-yard pool) built adjacent to the gym. Student halls of residence were pencilled in around Clermont Terrace and Salamanca Road to the north and the Fairlie and Adams Terrace area to the south. Somewhere (the report did not nominate where) there should also be a building for staff recreational and cultural activity, ‘in a pleasant setting with a reasonable area of ground [an acre at least] adequately laid out, reasonably close to but not amongst the most densely built up area of teaching buildings’.22
On the west side of Kelburn Parade Reynolds drew in two tower blocks, a low administration building and an auditorium, with underground parking and an underpass beneath Kelburn Parade. It would, the report suggested, be helpful if page 136 the City Council would consider constructing a new road to relieve the pressure on this major suburban thoroughfare which inconveniently bisected the campus – an idea that had been proposed at least as early as 1949. (Even in 1930, Hunter had been complaining about the noise of the rush-hour traffic disturbing his classes.)23 A new road was also planned running from Kelburn Parade by an underpass beneath Fairlie Terrace, to Adams Terrace and Aro Street, linking the main campus with a proposed southern appendage in Mitchelltown. Here, a likely site for playing fields and student car parking had been identified in Polhill Gully, a steep, dark, undeveloped valley (once the route taken by Karori farmers to bring their milk into town) and inaccessible except by foot. The adjacent valley, Holloway, would be an ideal location for departments engaged in advanced scientific and technological work where there might be risk of explosion or radioactivity. It was a ‘climatically bleak’ area, ‘a small backwater of houses of indifferent quality’.24 Culliford proposed a minibus service between the Aro Valley and Kelburn Parade sites. Discussions were already under way with the city engineer.
Sir Basil Spence was impressed: visiting 18 months later to deliver the Chancellor's Lectures, he is reported to have described the scheme as ‘way beyond pioneer stuff … quite sophisticated and sensitive’.25 Williams wrote in his preface to the report: ‘I believe that with skilful planning the Victoria University of Wellington could become, in a physical sense, one of the most impressive city universities in the world and a great ornament to the capital city of New Zealand. And it is no accident that greatness of thought and intellectual achievement is very often found in matching circumstances of natural beauty and architectural distinction.’26
The mayor was also impressed. At a meeting in February 1964 between the university, the grants committee, local planning authorities and government departments, he declared himself ‘delighted’ with the proposals, the Polhill Gully scheme ‘imaginative’. It seemed to fit well with City Council plans for residential development in the Fitchett's Farm area behind Mitchelltown and further south on the ridges above Happy Valley, and for new roads to improve traffic flow between Aro Valley and the western suburbs (a cable car was also being mooted). He wondered, even, if the 165 acres proposed was enough – 250 might be required – and envisaged the university taking over Te Aro School, the Central Park hospital and Central Park.27 A few years earlier, at the opening of the student union building, he had spoken warmly of the ‘strong bonds’ between the university and the city, and ‘look[ed] forward to the time when the university buildings extend on to city land’. (‘The only thing wrong with [Victoria],’ the mayor of Lower Hutt had observed on the same occasion, ‘is that it is in the wrong place.’)28 Another city councillor urged that 300–400 acres be set aside as well at Judgeford just north of Wellington for future university development. In fact this area was earmarked in the 1960s for a possible second university for the capital, but this thought was abandoned in the early 1970s when the growth of university rolls was stabilising (at the same time as the second Auckland university at Albany was also scuttled). The meeting endorsed the development plan, with some specific reservations page 137 (especially from the Treasury representative); and later that year 130 acres were designated under the Wellington City District Scheme for university use. Only the requested site for the engineering school – at the southern end of The Terrace – was refused.
The execution of the Reynolds–Culliford plan was beset by a multitude of problems. Some were caused by economic conditions, the fluctuating state of the building industry and of university funding. But for the most part they were more localised. They witnessed a deteriorating relationship with the City Council, and tense relations with the university's immediate neighbours, who often resented and sometimes resisted its encroachment on their suburb. The very assets that made the Kelburn site worth having – its proximity to the city and its stunning views – also meant that the university was situated in what was becoming an increasingly desirable and wealthy residential area, whose residents included Cabinet ministers and former university professors. Victoria was not alone in its conflict with the city over its buildings and site. Auckland University, too, had become engaged in a bitter public battle (in its case about whether it would be allowed to stay in the city) which had retarded its building progress in the 1950s. But while the national university building programme accelerated in the wake of the Hughes Parry report, Victoria's lost momentum.29
Before the district scheme designation was made, there had already been adverse publicity about the university's claim on the Salamanca Road/Clermont Terrace area: about its likely effect on the residential character of the area, on property
Working drawings for the new physics and earth sciences building, meanwhile, had gone to the University Grants Committee in November 1969. The committee's first response was to ask Victoria to consider a staged development of this huge – 250,000 square foot, $7 million – project. This was agreed, and it was reconfigured in five parts: the first scheduled for completion by the end of 1973, the fifth by the end of 1977.
It might seem that the university was primarily interested in the proper housing of its science departments. The continuing priority given to the Cotton complex even when it was in the humanities and social sciences that pressures were rising encouraged some to continue to think so. Moreover, the single-minded pursuit of the Cotton building, some have argued, was seriously detrimental to Victoria's relationship with the grants committee. By early 1970, however, a proposal was also before the committee for a new arts building, the first of a planned four- page 141 tower development on the west side of Kelburn Parade. (This was a departure from the 1962 plan, which had envisaged two taller towers and two lower-rise buildings.)
In 1970 the Professorial Board invited suggestions for naming the university's first new-era buildings. Disappointingly, only seven responses were received, and were assessed by the assistant principal. A decision to retain the name of Kirk for the whole biology block was unanimous.35 Cotton won for the new science building ahead of Maclaurin and Marsden. Nominations for the yet-to-be-built arts tower had not been sought, but the Student Representative Council requested anyway that it be named after the first professor of modern languages. The only question was whether it should be the Zedlitz building or the Von Zedlitz building. (A suggestion that major lecture theatres be named too was rejected by the Professorial Board.)
So Cotton began to grow along the southern ridge, although rather more slowly than originally planned. Stage one would finally be completed in 1979; construction of stage two commenced the following year. ‘Notably intrusive for its bulk and massing in a dominant position is the “urban wall” of the Cotton Building,’ commented a City Council-commissioned report on protecting the integrity of the urban skyline and view shafts in the mid–1980s.40 Such things had not been thought about in 1962.
1973 saw the return of the prefab. Like the army huts 40 years before, they were a temporary solution to an accommodation crisis at a time of suddenly swelling student numbers that proved to be rather more permanent than planned. An archipelago of prefabs appeared to the south of the lecture block and more were squeezed into the spaces behind houses on Kelburn Parade. Plans to erect four more on the Hunter lawn in 1974, however, were thwarted. Local residents and university staff protested in outrage; students pulled up the surveyors' pegs and filed a writ in the Supreme Court; the City Council refused to grant a building permit. Culliford would have gone ahead anyway, but others exercised wiser political judgement. The vice-chancellor was as concerned about the issue's divisive effect on the university community as about the disruption to the building programme.41 The prefabs were erected on the southern carpark instead.
This was only a skirmish. On the morning of 26 March 1973 two moderate earthquakes caused visible damage to the Hunter building, and began the 20-year battle that would pit the university authorities against its staff and students, the City Council, the growing urban conservation movement, and the constraints of university funding. The university Council immediately commissioned a report on the structural soundness of the ‘handsome pile’, and in August the City Council declared the building an earthquake risk that would in due course have to be either strengthened or demolished. The seismic report submitted to the university in 1974 by its consultants (now Kingston Reynolds Thom & Allardice) presented four options, which ranged from strengthening the building to partially or completely demolishing it. Costings were sought, and a programme of evacuation was authorised.
It is as well that it had been decided not to proceed with a proposal to floodlight the Hunter building during the university's 75th year in 1974. In fact the 75th anniversary was not observed at all, at least partly because the ‘expenditure of public money in celebrating one's own birthday might well do the University … harm’ at a time when the cost and purpose of universities generally were under scrutiny, and Victoria's public image in particular was felt to be ‘not very high’. Lighting up the Hunter building had been one of a number of celebratory page 144 suggestions considered during 1972: a commissioned piece of music; a commemorative stamp issue; the publication of a social history of the university; a brochure of photographs of the university at work; public relations activities with an emphasis on Victoria's positive contribution to the city and government, and highlighting, perhaps, its accommodation problems (‘slum living conditions for students and semi-slum for certain academic activities could be very photogenic,’ a professor of economics, Barbu Niculescu, suggested); and that ‘hoary old chestnut’, changing the name to the University of Wellington.42 This too would have been an unfortunate debate to have been engaged in when the university was facing criticism for squandering its own and the city's heritage. (Moreover, it was suggested more than once during the Hunter saga that the statue of Queen Victoria in Cambridge Terrace be moved to the Hunter lawn.)
In 1975 the university successfully appealed to the Town and Country Planning Appeal Board when the City Council decided to list the Hunter building in the district scheme (as ‘a place of historic interest worthy of permanent preservation’), and began planning for its replacement. The Appeal Board had agreed that the building was of historic interest and was hopeful that its demolition could be forestalled. The money was the problem – whichever figures one accepted. The mayor, and architect, Michael Fowler – who was rather less indulgent towards the university than his predecessor, Frank Kitts – publicly called the university Council a ‘bloody pack of rascals’ for, he claimed, knowingly accepting from its consultants an inflated estimate of the cost of saving the building, a statement the university felt compelled to deny. The university was, he charged, ‘abrogating its responsibility’ by not committing itself to its preservation.43 During 1976 the two councils met to discuss the cost of restoration and who should pay, for the University Grants Committee had already advised Victoria that it would not support an appeal to the government for funding. But relations remained tense. They were not helped by a public spat at the beginning of 1977 between Victoria's retiring assistant principal and the mayor. Culliford accused the City Council of using the university as a whipping boy on which to ‘vent its frustration and bitchiness’ (‘There has always been a bit of political kudos in being bestial to the university,’ he stated), to which the mayor replied in kind.44
In September 1977 the university Council resolved by a majority decision to demolish Hunter and replace it with ‘a building of architectural distinction’, prompting a public outcry, the formation of the Friends of Hunter, and a 2000– signature petition. That it was of historical and local significance is without doubt. Whether Hunter was a building of architectural distinction is debatable. It was certainly a handsome building in some aspects, although it was generally agreed (by those who had worked in it) to be poorly designed for its purpose. It was later described by the university's professor of architecture as a bad example of revival Gothic.46 To many it was the only university building possessing any aesthetic merit. ‘The historically-minded talk of it as one of the few remaining examples of late perpendicular Gothic and Kiwi do-it-yourself, and certainly the only interesting piece of architecture on campus.’47 There was a sentimental element too. The building, wrote a graduate in the Dominion, ‘symbolises the traditions of pleasant days spent at the university before being caught up in the money-making swirl of the real world’.48 It was observed by one journalist prominent in the save-Hunter campaign that most of the university's sub-committee making decisions about its future were outsiders; nor had it been lost on another commentator (although himself a visiting Australian) that the vice-chancellor, Taylor, was ‘a foreigner’. Chancellor Kevin O'Brien, however, was known to favour demolition and was anything but an outsider to either Victoria or Wellington.49
The Friends of Hunter engaged their own consultants,50 and at the December 1977 meeting of the university Council offered to undertake a feasibility study of the building's restoration. The offer was accepted and the demolition plan was suspended. The Friends' Hunter Feasibility Study, presented to the university in July 1978, was based on the then-novel concept of ‘retrofitting’: saving the facade, page 146 at least, and rebuilding the interior. The $4 million plan, in brief, was to save the east facade, the library wing and main staircase. The 1920s physics and chemistry wings were, it was agreed, expendable. Two new buildings, a five-storey lecture tower and a larger New Hunter, would be erected in their place. The university's committees and consultants proceeded to evaluate the plan, and students and staff were asked for their opinions. Of the 220 responses to a questionnaire distributed amongst the (7000) students, 204 wanted the building saved in whole or in part. The staff too were generally opposed to demolition – although the faculties of architecture and law preferred to express no opinion. By the end of 1979, although agreement on the details of the Friends' proposals had not been reached and estimates of the cost still differed widely, the Council had confirmed its stay of execution and agreed that a design competition be held, with the New Zealand Institute of Architects advising. The University Grants Committee was approached for approval to proceed – but funding was not forthcoming.
Over the next few years Hunter remained half empty and in a state of deteriorating repair, while two series of tests of the strength of its brickwork were carried out. Concern rose over the safety, let alone comfort, of the building's last occupants, the Physics and Music departments. They languished in the chemistry wing which was structurally the soundest part of the building, but, in the words of the chair of the Music Department, Margaret Nielsen, ‘dirty, dangerous, vermin-ridden, water-damaged’.51 Plaster fell from the ceiling and peeled from the walls; the roof leaked. Music, ironically one of the university's highest-profile departments, had been housed since its beginning in 1946 in the building that had looked to Fred Page then like ‘an institution for bad girls’.52 ‘We think we are a very special department in the university,’ Nielsen commented, ‘and we have good contact with the musicians in the city. But we can hardly invite them into this grot.’53 The Physics Department staff were due to move to the new Cotton wing in 1983; the fate of Music remained uncertain.
Meanwhile, the university's new-building programme had been attracting its share of controversy, in particular its plans for the high-rise development of the west side of Kelburn Parade. An application for a building permit for the Von Zedlitz tower (to house the languages and literature departments and Sociology and Social Work) was submitted in July 1973, and the university was waiting for government authority to call tenders when the City Council requested an environmental impact report on the whole tower-block plan. This was undertaken in 1974. One outcome was the subsequent decision to abandon the third and fourth towers and replace them with low- or medium-rise buildings. In December the Council informed the university that a building permit for Von Zedlitz was conditional on the height of the 10-storey building being reduced by two storeys or 20 feet. The question of page 148 whether the Council was empowered to make this condition (or whether, like the Crown, the university could claim exemption from town planning regulations) was eventually resolved by the Supreme Court in the university's favour in 1975. It was towards the end of this year, about the same time that Victoria also successfully opposed the first attempt to list Hunter in the district scheme, that a university/ city liaison committee was established. (It met, however, infrequently.)
As if the height of the Von Zedlitz building wasn't irksome enough to the university's immediate neighbours whose outlooks were affected, soon four 50– foot ventilation chimneys began rising above the squat services block behind it: the ‘Von Zedlitz rockets’, they were dubbed. Robert Muldoon, the prime minister, was one of the Central Terrace residents whose harbour views were compromised. The Evening Post described them as ‘downright ugly’ (which was true) and ‘surely a blatant case of gown deliberately aggravating town’ (which was provocative).56 As the university pointed out, the chimneys would have been 15 feet shorter if not for the environmental impact report. Its efforts at damage control, however, were not entirely successful. A Kelburn Newsletter, intended to be the first of a regular issue to keep residents informed about university development plans and to promote ‘mutual understanding’, was distributed in July 1976 – at a time of continuing complaints as well from Clermont Terrace residents, and the looming shadow of Hunter. It was dismissed by one Central Terrace inhabitant as a ‘“soft-soap” newsletter’ and by the Greater Kelburn Progressive Association as ‘insidious propaganda’.57 The chimneys, however, were there to stay. And Von Zedlitz rose to its full height – to be officially opened, along with Cotton, an architectural sciences laboratory and new Recreation Centre, by the National government's minister of education, Merv Wellington, in May 1979.
Its companion commerce and administration tower had been approved by the government in 1976. The very idea of a companion tower was disconcerting to those who now worked in the rabbit-warrenish interior of Von Zedlitz, but that is not this story. By the time the design report had been completed for the second, 11-storey building – to be named after the first professor of economics, Bernard Murphy – new town planning laws required the university to submit the proposal to the City Council. It at first asked the university to reconsider the height of the building, then threatened court action. A suggestion that Victoria simply disregard the request because of a technical breach of the new regulations was not encouraged by its solicitors.58 Then the project became mired in the larger, muddier field of university capital works. The days when the government accepted University Grants Committee applications for funding ‘without demur’ were long gone. The Treasury recommended early in 1980 that no further major buildings be approved for Victoria until (among other conditions) the fate of the Hunter building was decided, and authority to call tenders for the new tower was withheld. The vice-chancellor publicly described the delay as ‘outrageous’. It was widely accepted that Victoria was the worst accommodated of the country's seven universities. It had 9.2 square metres of usable space for every equivalent full-time student compared with the national average of 11.6. Nearly 40% of that space was in page 149 substandard or temporary accommodation, which included by now some 50 old houses. It lacked the equivalent of eight Von Zedlitzes, or six Hunters, of permanent space. But the grants committee was able to authorise only two major new building projects, and Victoria's was not one of them.
The Treasury dissented when the University Works Committee finally recommended a grant and approval to call tenders in late 1983.59 But Cabinet agreed, and work began on clearing the site (of four houses) in March 1984. No longer was it the Bernard Murphy building, though. In response to public comment and a family request, it was agreed to rename it the Murphy building. Barney Murphy had never been known as Bernard.
At the request of the government, Victoria commissioned a new campus development plan in 1979, the first comprehensive review of its building and site programme since 1962. The job was entrusted again to Kingston Reynolds. It presented, nevertheless, a significantly different approach from the previous plan, a general scaling-down commensurate with the cooler funding climate and an expectation that student numbers would not significantly increase over the next 10 years (although here they were wrong again). It was also more cautious in looking ahead only 15 years. The new plan was released at the end of 1981. In addition to major buildings already in progress, the university remained committed to the third and ‘final’ stage of Cotton as it was now described (although Cottons four, five and six would be back on the drawing board within a few years). A ‘retrofitting’ programme was planned for Kirk and Easterfield. Otherwise, small- or medium-scale buildings replaced the concrete monoliths of the '60s planners. A history and philosophy building was planned (but never realised) for the prefab site behind the lecture theatre block (now named Maclaurin); and a low-rise, multi-building music complex on Kelburn Parade proposed on the edge of the Cotton zone. This was in development by late 1984, and the Music Department was finally rescued from the crumbling chemistry wing of Hunter in 1988. Old houses were no longer regarded as a temporary evil but would themselves be retrofitted for permanent accommodation where appropriate. With the third and fourth Kelburn Parade towers now definitely abandoned, houses here would be upgraded, and more open, green space created.
The new development review proceeded with a welcome degree of consultation (an expression of the Taylor rather than the Williams style, at least in part). In the submissions that were received, another change was made explicit: the shift in the geographical centre of the university from north to south, away from the Hunter building. This had in fact already started by the beginning of the 1960s, well before the progressive abandonment of Hunter, with the opening of the student union building and Easterfield, in whose large, all-purpose lecture theatre arts as well as science students attended a good number of their classes. Now the geopolitical centre of the university was recognised to be the open space – once carpark – between Easterfield and Rankine Brown. The library, page 150 surely, was the intellectual centre of the university, and was becoming the social one too. The representation from the Staff Club president argued that the Staff Club's central situation on the third floor of Rankine Brown, and its need to expand, must be the primary consideration in planning discussions. (The location of the Staff Club, which was taking up space desperately needed by the library – which was now short by 500 seats, or one-third the reader space of grants committee guidelines – had been a matter of contention for some time. The vision of the 1962 report, of a staff recreation building situated in some peaceful, sylvan glade, needless to say had not been realised.) Non-academic amenities should also be developed in this area: ‘a bank, post office, telephones, a book store, dairy/milk bar/cafeteria, and a drapery/stationery/general goods outlet…. The failure of university planners to make any sort of provision whatsoever for the elementary needs of its captive population,’ it was argued, ‘represents an inexcusable indifference towards the welfare of those they purport to plan for.’60 The Association of University Teachers similarly envisaged the further development of the Rankine Brown area as a ‘university campus centre’. At the end of 1979 work began on landscaping the courtyard ‘to create a sense of unity and significance to the space that befits its central location and its heavy pedestrian usage’ – with a curve of broad low steps to create ‘a shallow amphitheatre’, a covered walkway between Easterfield and Rankine Brown, and the planting of deciduous trees and a sculpture (by George Kojis).61 Earlier generations of students had slouched, smoked and socialised on the Hunter steps; now they congregated in ‘the Quad’.
Commerce graduate, advertising chief and benefactor Jack Ilott (right), with Council member Frank Corner at the opening of the Ilott coffee bar, 1985
Submissions to the review were also severely critical of the incrementalist, ‘essentially engineering approach’ of campus planning in the past, which had resulted in ‘a fragmented collection of discrete structures without much pretension to any integrated vision of what might constitute an ideal campus’ (much as the Students' Association had predicted in 1949), and the proliferation of what were now known in the trade as ‘sloips’ (spaces left out in planning). They were critical of its failure to take account of pedestrian needs, the microclimate of the site, and aesthetics.63 In the early 1970s, as work on the Cotton building began, as prefabs were sprouting like mushrooms and a large part of the campus resembled (or in fact was) a construction site, concern about the conservation of the natural environment was also growing. The accidental death by bulldozer of a walnut tree and a kowhai prompted a statement from the grounds supervisor (Joe Short) that ‘no trees, shrubs or flower patches are ever thoughtlessly removed’.64
The campus was divided into six precincts, and architectural consultants appointed for each. In the Kelburn Parade precinct, houses and the Von Zedlitz building were painted to a harmonious colour scheme (brick-red, mud-brown and concrete-grey). Power lines went underground, and the long-planned overbridge was widened to be a concourse rather than merely a conduit between science, commerce and arts. The 25-metre-long, 8.5-metre-wide, 35-tonne steel construction was lifted into place in the early hours of one morning in February 1987. Across the bridge the balcony of New Kirk was enclosed, and with a gift of $55,000 from retired advertising chief and commerce graduate Jack Ilott, became the Ilott coffee lounge. Returning to Victoria to study politics at the age of 70, Ilott had looked back nostalgically to his undergraduate days in the 1930s when page 153 there had been only about 700 students and ‘constant discussion and debate’, and decided that students in the 1980s worked too hard. A coffee lounge, he hoped, would help to foster ‘the important, informal side of University education’.70 Towards the top of Kelburn Parade a new university marae including a carved meeting house, Te Tumu Te Herenga Waka, was developed where there was once to have been a tower block or two. The single most spectacular innovation of the beautification project, however, was the $1.25 million, Athfield-designed, clear plastic roof over the Rankine Brown courtyard. This was Axford's special project, although he was gone before it was completed at the beginning of 1986.71
The precinct project ran into some problems of its own as well, including cost overruns and others resulting from having several architects working on several projects at the same time. When the courtyard scheme in particular was threatened, management of the university building programme was reorganised: a new position of assistant to the vice-chancellor for buildings and site development was created (into which the director of student welfare services moved), and at the request of nervous Council members a consulting civil engineer was appointed. And plans for scaling back the Cotton monolith had to be revised in the plain light of space requirements.
It was of course too late to start over with a completely fresh vision – of, perhaps, ‘hill-hugging unified sweeps and terraces of campus buildings designed to take advantage of the site and its views’, as the Evening Post commented wistfully when contemplating an architect's drawing of the Murphy building in 1983.72 Touring vice-chancellors could only look with envy, as Taylor did in 1970, at American universities like Stanford: a university founded in the same decade as Victoria, but by a railway millionaire rather than a reluctant state, endowed with some 9000 acres, in the area that was to become the international capital of the information technology industry known as Silicon Valley; its ‘Quad’ was half the size of Victoria's original site. There is a school of thought that such things do not matter: that a university comprises brains, not buildings, that scholars will think and create regardless of – in spite of, even – poverty and squalor. But the precinct project made an appreciable difference to the appearance and experience of Victoria's modest campus: it was without doubt a more comfortable place to be. It even attracted the congratulations of the minister of education, Merv Wellington – when he opened the second Cotton building, Laby, in June 1984 – for demonstrating ‘a sensible self-help attitude which is refreshing’.73
An equally significant outcome of the new approach to ‘the fabric of the university’ in the 1980s was the decision, in late 1985, to dispense with the services of Kingston Reynolds as its sole planning consultants and to appoint a campus planning group, including four architects. The creative result of new architectural input can be seen in the music complex (by Bill Alington of Gabites Porter & Partners), and the semi-circular works and services building (by Maurice Tebbs of Stephenson and Turner), sited on ‘a grassy knoll’74 south-east of the Cotton–Laby complex and completed in 1990.page 154
Part two of the Hunter saga was less complicated and confrontational than the first, and it too has a happy ending. In May 1984 it was publicly announced that the university, the Friends of Hunter, the Historic Places Trust and the government had agreed that the essential features of the building would be saved. Eight architects were invited to take part in a Hunter ideas competition: the brief included retaining the library, main foyer and staircase, the eastern facade and the roofline of the original arts wing. The prize was shared by Grahame Anderson and Gordon Moller. Anderson was appointed architectural consultant, Moller secondary design consultant. By the beginning of 1987 the Friends and Historic Places Trust had given their blessing to a plan for restoration of the northern parts of Hunter and the Robert Stout building for the registry, and a new multi-storey building adjoining the old physics wing for law. The university Council approached the grants committee, which (on the advice of the Ministry of Works) would fund the restoration only if the cost was less than for a new building on the same site – which it was, but only just. The total cost of the project was more than $20 million.
Once again, the money was the problem. The government gave a preliminary grant; sketch plans were prepared (and approved of by the Historic Places Trust); working drawings were commissioned. Construction was scheduled to begin in February 1990. Then university capital works allocations were slashed in the July 1989 budget. (Already, 1987 budget cuts had delayed university building projects for two years.) The project was further frustrated by the new funding regime brought in after July 1990 as part of the fourth Labour government's larger ‘devolutionary’ restructuring of the education system. The University Grants Committee was gone, and the universities would now be individually ‘bulk funded’ on the basis of student numbers. Their capital assets (and liabilities) became their own. The cost of the Hunter project was more than Victoria's newly devolved capital works budget could manage.
The university was seeking a transitional grant of $4.8 million for strengthening the building (restoration would cost just under $10 million more, the new law tower another $14.5 million). Why, it asked, couldn't the money come from the government's profit from the sale of Telecom, which the minister of education had promised for educational buildings? He turned them down. The press advised the university to look to corporate sponsorship and in the pockets of its ‘old boys and girls’. (Few in the city ‘would want to see the end of the Gothic building, which gives Victoria University almost all of its negligible character,’ the Evening Post unkindly observed.)75 Meanwhile a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in southern Hawke's Bay in May 1990 focused renewed attention on the structural integrity of the building. It had lain empty now for two years, used only as a film set: an Edgar Allan Poe-inspired television horror movie starring Patrick MacNee and Ian Mune was filmed there in March 1990.
Finally, in the face of the building's rapid deterioration and the students' page 155 burgeoning numbers, which threatened another official ‘accommodation crisis’, a $12 million contract for the Hunter restoration was let in December 1990, the price to be paid by drawing on the university's reserves, deferring other works and borrowing if necessary. The work began early in 1991: strengthening the brick walls with bolts and a spray-on concrete lining; restoring timber, moulded ceilings, architraves and archways; cleaning and repairing the memorial window; virtually gutting and rebuilding the physics wing; adding a three-level glass atrium between Hunter and Robert Stout. (The new law tower was deferred.) Registry and administration staff began moving back into the arts and library wing and restored Robert Stout building in May 1993, 20 years and two months after the earthquake that had appeared to spell the building's demise.
The Polhill Gully dream remained unfulfilled. It had been seen in 1962 as a medium-term rather than an immediate prospect. Aside from earthquakes, the complex of factors involved in the Polhill story is familiar. Although it was a scheme that never happened, it is part of the narrative of the university's uncertain relationship with its neighbourhood. The designated area, bounded by Aro Street, Durham Street and Holloway Road, contained 119 acres of largely ‘goat country’ (in the chancellor's words), from which Victoria could expect to gain about 60 acres of usable land.76 It was owned variously by the Crown and the City Council. By 1970 the university had taken possession of the old Mitchelltown School and the former Unity Theatre premises in Aro Street for a carpenters' workshop and store. Some 24 other properties had by the mid–1970s been acquired by the government for which it had no immediate use.
When it submitted a five-year building programme to the University Grants Committee in 1972, the university considered the Polhill Gully development ‘both necessary and practical’.77 But now the government, City Council and property developers were eyeing the empty gully and surrounding areas for housing. Developers planning a residential subdivision of Fitchett's Farm above Holloway Road wanted an access road through Polhill. When the City Council endeavoured to have the university designation over the area lifted, Victoria would agree only to the road, and would not relinquish its interest in the land. The Polhill question was also closely entwined with the Council's and university's respective, and not quite coinciding, proposals for the new road to link Aro Valley and the Kelburn Parade campus. ‘The situation is now so complicated,’ Culliford reported in 1976, ‘that it can be resolved only by administrative action of an almost primitive kind.’78
By the time these issues were back on agendas in 1979, having been over-shadowed by the Von Zedlitz and Hunter controversies, the need for new residential development in the area was uncertain and the City Council was anxious to retain as much housing in Holloway Road as possible. In September that year, much-publicised direct action by local residents stopped the demolition of a derelict university house in Holloway Road. When the university designation had first page 156 been agreed, Clermont Terrace residents immediately protested over the feared desecration of their neighbourhood. Now, the ‘small backwater of houses of indifferent quality’ that was Holloway Road was seen to have its own character. A Mitchelltown Society was incorporated, and lobbied for the area to be zoned a ‘village’ and the surrounding open hillsides protected. The thought of the university relinquishing its claim on Polhill was raised at this stage, but in passing.79 Instead, the university designation over the residential properties in Holloway Road and Aro Street, which it had found it did not need anyway, was removed at Victoria's instigation. In 1982 the Planning Tribunal further reduced the Polhill area, and also modified the district scheme designation from ‘tertiary purposes’ to more specific uses: for ‘university purposes (recreation and minor works)’ in the case of Polhill, for student accommodation around Clermont Terrace and Landcross Street, and for general university use elsewhere.
Ian Boyd points to Polhill Gully
Neither Victoria nor the City Council, moreover, was certain now of the need for the proposed new public road which would join Aro Street, by a still undetermined route, with the southern bend of ‘Culliford Drive’ – as the university's access road around the Cotton–Laby site had come to be informally known. When a third comprehensive site development review was undertaken in the early 1990s, both the Polhill and Boyd Wilson schemes were still on hold. Both would subsequently be abandoned (in return for an arrangement with the City Council for use of its recreation grounds). The Reynolds–Culliford plan to transform the quiet backwater of Holloway Road into an advanced and dangerous scientific research establishment had, of course, long been abandoned.