Lower Hutt’s new Events Centre, which opens on July 14, will provide an elegant, contemporary partner for the refurbished Town Hall.
The old and the new side by side, the two buildings strongly articulate a respect for the city’s Modernist history, while embracing the present and future.
In the 1950s, Lower Hutt’s Civic Precinct was designed in a deliberately modern style as a powerful political statement when Mayor Percy Dowse saw the chance to transform a ‘once drab and dowdy town into a Cinderella City’ - as the New Zealand Women’s Weekly described it in April 1956.
Lower Hutt became New Zealand’s fifth largest city when the population doubled to 40,000 in the post-war era. Mayor Dowse faced opposition from a conservative ‘no-change’ ratepayers lobby, but won public support to drag Lower Hutt from decaying dormitory suburb to shiny new-city status. In 1957, the Evening Post described him as ‘being well on the way to becoming known as Mr Lower Hutt’ because of the expansion of Civic amenities during his mayoralty.
“We are now in the proud position of a city with a focal centre in which a group of magnificent buildings symbolizes a highly developed sense of civic pride. I can therefore confidently hope that in the years to come, not only will the administration of the city be conducted from this centre, but that the standard of citizenship will grow side by side with the dignity and stature of our city,” Mayor Dowse said at the official opening on Thursday 4 April, 1957.
The 1957 Town Hall was designed to be the focal point of Lower Hutt’s social life. The opening was followed by a month of events and festivities, which included a Civic Ball attended by the Mayor and Mayoress, Mrs Dowse, the Governor General Sir Willoughby Norrie and Lady Norrie and 900 guests.
The precinct is an excellent example of successful mid-20th Century town planning using the garden city concept with four integrated buildings constructed from concrete, steel and glass designed in a cohesive Modernist style located in, or beside, Riddiford Garden. The War Memorial Library and Little Theatre, Council administration building, Town Hall and St James church were completed between 1953 and 1959. The Horticultural Hall was designed in the same style after a fire burnt down the original hall in 1957.
The new Events Centre pays homage to the original Modernist vision. “While benefitting from the memories and anchorage the old Town Hall brings, the new integrated centre looks positively to what the future holds. The new building provides a strong, elegant contemporary partner to the refurbished Town Hall and clock tower, without diminishing its importance and position as the civic centrepiece,” says Michael Bennett of architecture+.
The new Events Centre complex will officially be opened on Saturday 14 July 2018 with a public formal opening, followed by community performances and events throughout the day.
Lower Hutt Town Hall. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1957/0440a-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22315051
Walking through a guard of honour made by Hutt Valley High School pupils (l-r) Mayor Percy Dowse, Mrs Mary Dowse, school principal Ivan Hills and Governor General Sir Willoughby Norrie. Hutt City Libraries Ref. 3500
Chilton St James debutantes, at the Lower Hutt Town hall, Wellington. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002): Photographic negatives and prints of the evening post Ref: EP/1959/1581-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23502525