While I don’t regret leaving, I have a certain fondness for the Kelburn Campus of Victoria University.
The Hunter Building in particular has a special place in my memories. I was privileged to have an office in the old building for the first two years of my employment there. Compared with the small spaces my former colleagues now occupy, my office was old-time grandeur. When I moved in, in 1995, it was freshly renovated and earthquake strengthened (to the standards of the day). I decided to see what I could see yesterday, when the place was quiet.
Regrettably, the purity of the original 1904 design is diluted with the addition of some utilitarian spaces on the East facing frontage. The drab grey additions house electricity substations and emergency generators. The building is not air-conditioned. Car parking was less of a problem in 1904, but now there are designated spaces for each of the many managerial types who infest academia today. Conspicuously, none seemed to be for actual teachers or students.
Inside the old building, its grand stair case leads strait to a plaque commemorating the laying of the foundation stone by “the governor of the colony” on 2nd August, 1904. The college’s motto “Sapientia Magis Auro Desideranda” translates as “Wisdom is more desirable than gold”. I fear our country has lost sight of this.
There was a conference occurring in the council chamber, so I felt constrained from making pictures in the grandest space in the building. When the college was founded, the present council chamber was the library. However, I enjoyed the challenges posed by that main staircase. Fortunately this is not Hogwarts, so the staircases don’t move.
Going up or coming down the quality of the plaster work and detailed finishing is admirable. I mentioned the lack of air conditioning, and if you look behind the pot plant on the left you can see one of the cast iron hot water radiators that are the only concession to Wellington’s dismal winters.
Each time I visit, I feel the distance between myself and the institution widening. I suppose most tertiary institutions are moving away from their traditions towards a more corporate and managed environment. All the signs prohibiting this or that conform to a corporate branding manual and I feel a little sad.
That’s all for today.
*”A Handsome Pile: The Story of the Hunter Building” published by Victoria University of Wellington, 1995