Sir Geoffrey Peren Building
Throughout its history, the Sir Geoffrey Peren Building has been known by several names - initially Agricultural Science Building (often shortened to Science Building) or Main Building, then later, Old Main Building and, since 2010, Sir Geoffrey Peren Building.
The building was designed by Roy Alstan Lippincott (1865-1969), an Auckland based architect, who originally came from the U.S.A. and had been involved with the ‘Chicago School’ of architects. (Prior to designing the Massey Agricultural College buildings, Lippincott had also designed the iconic Arts Building and a number of other buildings of the then Auckland University College in the 1920s.)
Lippincott had designed an elegant campus layout plan for Massey Agricultural College, giving the Main Building pride of place.
The Government financed the early College buildings. In September 1929 the Fletcher Construction Company was awarded a combined tender of £96,500 for constructing the Main Building, the Refectory and the dormitories. (An earlier estimate had placed the cost of the Main Building alone at £84,000.) Cabinet insisted however that the total cost of the project be reduced and Lippincott, by eliminating certain features of these buildings, hence reduced the contract price by £4,085. This thus brought the total cost of the project to just over £92,000.
Site work and preparation started in October/November 1929 and on 4 December 1929 the granite foundation stone was laid by the Governor-General, Sir Charles Fergusson. (A sealed copper capsule was deposited underneath the foundation stone. In the capsule was placed a Massey College Calendar, copies of the local newspaper, a few contemporary coins etc.).
The building was officially opened on 30 April 1931 by the then Governor-General Lord Bledisloe. The opening was attended by the Prime Minister and several other dignitaries. At the time of the opening of the building, the College had a total of 200 students.
The building was designed mainly in the Spanish Mission style but also contains an eclectic mix of elements from other architectural style. Characterised of the Spanish Mission style it the round headed windows on the third floor. (Features echoed in Business Studies buildings (PN) and some Auckland Campus buildings.) It was constructed of reinforced concrete, incorporating advanced earthquake-proofing techniques, and red Marseilles tiles were used for the original roof. The exterior was clad in a roughcast mixture consisting of various New Zealand marbles. The step to the entrance hall was made of solid marble blocks.
The exterior of the building reflects Art Deco design elements and incorporates designs/motifs which mimic Māori carvings. The interior also contains designs of Māori origin, as well as designs reflecting natural elements of New Zealand – these include kiwis, fantails, bulrushes and owls, to name a few.
Lippincott also designed all of the fittings as well as the furniture that were to be used in the building.
The initial layout of the building allowed for staff offices, lecture rooms, a library and twelve laboratories. The original estimate was that one fifth of the space provided by the building would be used for research purposes. A staircase in each corner of the building allowed for quick access between floors.
Over its lifetime, the building has changed in use from originally being an Agricultural Science building, with its many laboratories (between 1931 and the 1960s these included the laboratories for Chemistry, Soils, Microtomy, Field Husbandry, Botany, Wool, Zoology etc.), to its current use by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, with its seminar rooms and studies. Of the building’s original spaces, only the auditorium, circulation spaces and toilets remain in their original use.
Between 1978 and 1980 a top storey was added to the east and west wings of the building. The lecture hall was also converted into a dual purpose lecture hall/theatre with the addition of a stage.
In 1990 the building was recognised by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust as a Historic Place Category I.
Between 2012 and 2016 the building was earthquake strengthened and restored to its former glory.ContributorMassey University Archives