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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2 (May 1, 1937)

New Zealand's New Temple of Transport — The Glory Of Our Greatest Building — Where Utility and Artistry Blend in Unity of Beauty

New Zealand's New Temple of Transport
The Glory Of Our Greatest Building
Where Utility and Artistry Blend in Unity of Beauty

I cannot imagine a more prosaic title than the “Wellington Railway Station,” but the collection of everyday syllables will speedily stand for a mental image that is far from the commonplace or the workaday world. It is a common and monotonous charge against New Zealand and New Zealanders, that we, as a young nation, are obsessed with utilitarian and materialistic ideas. We are credited with sublime scenery; “Rugged Grandeur,” “Weird Thermal Regions,” “Nature's Wildest Wonderland” go cheek by jowl with such mildly satirical headlines as “The Empire's Dairy Farm” “The Land of Opportunity” and “A Motor to Every Five Inhabitants.” No sparkling praise comes our way for fountains, statues, or architecture.

If it were possible to imagine the return to this earth of John Ruskin, I can believe that if he read many modern commentaries on New Zealand he would expect to feel, as he did on his first trip to Scotland, “there was a peculiar painfulness in its scenery caused by the non-manifestation of the powers of human art.”

He pointed out that similar sights and scenes in Switzerland were softened and given a warmer beauty through the presence everywhere of the work of man. I am afraid that criticism of New Zealand's art of building goes farther and deeper than the observations of the great Victorian writer on art. It is not so long ago that a writer of a very different type, Miss Vicki Baum, commented on the old-fashioned drab and uninteresting buildings in our city streets, and on the apparent dislike of sun and air shown by the designers of our dwellings. She voiced the gibe that they seemed to be mainly planned to protect suburban carpets.

It is possible to combat generalisations of this severity about our houses. Our provincial capitals and our cities have a plentiful supply of decorative and artistic homes which provide comfort, as well as ample access to our flooding sunlight.

In the cities, notably in the last few years in Wellington, imposing business buildings have arisen which are lovely to the eye, brightly but harmoniously tinted, and modern in design.

It is a matter of historical development that Wellington should have been under the disability of two main terminal stations, neither of them modern, and placed far apart. It is a matter of another facet of history that there has been a delay so lengthy in putting the remedial plan of a new structure into operation.

However, the time has arrived. The opening ceremonies are close at hand and a new era dawns for the travelling public who use the terminal station of the capital city.

The new Wellington Station is therefore more important than at first appears. It is the ranking achievement of New Zealanders in the investiture with beauty of a building created for industrial purposes. Moreover, it is a building devoted solely to one industry, Transport — the business of the largest of the Departments of State, the New Zealand Railways Department. Two striking peaks have been reached in the matter of railway stations, but the new Wellington Station is the Mount Cook of them all; in fact, to run the risk of over-straining the metaphor, it is a mountain range, by comparison with its brethren in New Zealand. It is firstly much the largest building of any kind that has been erected in the Dominion; it will house in its six tremendous floors, the population of a town, the majority of the executive personnel of our country's largest industrial undertaking. Put baldly, it is a combination of Head Office and Terminal Depot, it is Base Headquarters and the capital city's railway station combined.

It follows therefore that there must be two separate and individual stories in this article; one will be about the building as a railway station for the use of the travelling public; the other will be about that portion of this mighty edifice which is the spacious home of so many working fellow countrymen.

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page 51
The spacious Concourse of the new Station.

The spacious Concourse of the new Station.

By way of being practical, let us take a glance first at the platforms. It is difficult for any of us to imagine a platform as anything but a commonplace, slightly melancholy - looking practical instrument. However, imagination has been used here. In our picture you will see that the roofs slope inwards towards a central runaway gutter. This finally exorcises the bogey of raindrips. The stormiest night will not prevent the ceremony of “seeing Auntie off” being performed in the dry. The main departure platform is 900 feet long and 29 feet wide, and the arrival platform is slightly narrower but of the same length. The first novel and sound idea that struck me was that there is a central aisle for the luggage trucks and carriers. This will at any rate lessen the general noise for those hearty warning shouts will not be necessary and passengers' movements will not have to be so athletic. There are two fine platforms for suburban traffic and for country trains, race trains and general. These are both nearly two hundred yards long, and like the others, armed with loud speakers and clocks. The arrival platform, by the way has generous access to the wide arterial Waterloo Quay route, and the luggage dock is handy on the way out. In Featherston Street is the entrance to the suburban platforms and there is an emergency booking office on the right.

This disposes of the practical outdoor machine for the coming and going of passengers and their luggage, and perhaps this section seems queerly placed in a story on the art values of the new station. However, one final test of artistic values is efficiency, and the platforms have attained this without ugliness. In fact they have a simple and airy dignity of their own, and no dingy walls and comfort-wrecking seats disfigure their long, clean pathways.

Here, let us return to the constituent elements of the main structure.

(Rly. publicity photo.) The Main Booking Hall, showing the massive arches and mural decoration.

(Rly. publicity photo.)
The Main Booking Hall, showing the massive arches and mural decoration.

Measurements are almost useless for the purpose of giving any idea of the grandeur of this building. The eight great pillars, each with a diameter of five feet, make a colonnade 123 feet long and this is only one third, approximately, of the total frontage, which runs all the way from Featherston Street to Waterloo Quay. The Greeks understood the immeasurable effect on the imagination of mighty pillars. They greet the eye with the same impression of stately strength as the grove of forest giants from which they were first copied in stone.

In the middle of these is the noble entrance, but before going inside the first great hall of this Temple of Transport, we should notice the colouring of the outer walls. Here is no grey or uniform brown of building stone, but a many tinted kaleidoscopic panorama of ornamental brickwork, warm, rich and eye-filling. By the way, the brickwork, all made by New Zealand hands and brains, is on a reinforced system evolved for earthquake resisting purposes in Japan; for that matter the whole building is entirely earthquake - resisting throughout every foot.

The joy of brickwork is that its colours improve with age and are fadeless for all time.

The splendid facade fronts a spacious area of lawn, shrubbery and a parquetry of ornamental tiles, and wide pavements. The grounds and the frontage will be floodlit with one of the most modern installations in the world. When the whole scene is bathed