September 6, 2015 … “A Handsome Pile”*

While I don’t regret leaving, I have a certain fondness for the Kelburn Campus of Victoria University.

Hunter - North

The North facade of the Hunter Building. The big window lets light into the council chamber

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.

Hunter -East

The front door of the Hunter Building

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.


In the main entrance foyer with the stairway leading up to managerial offices

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.


Stairs to where?

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.

down stairs

… and back down again

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.


There’s a big wide world out there

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


About wysiwygpurple

Retirement suits me well. I spend much of my time out making pictures, or at home organizing and refining my pictures. This blog provides me with a platform from which I can indulge my passion for improving my photography and at the same time analyze my thoughts about what I have seen, where I have been and what is happening in my life. My images set out to be honest, but that does not mean I have not adjusted them. I use software to display what I saw though the viewfinder to best advantage. My preference is for landscape and nature, and is mostly centred around my hometown of Wellington, New Zealand.
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2 Responses to September 6, 2015 … “A Handsome Pile”*

  1. Peter Coleridge says:

    I enjoyed your “tour” of the Hunter building. When I started at Victoria (1959) it was still the most used building and was certainly not decorated to the standard you show. The entrance hall was basically a large cloakroom – I lost the notes to most of my second year courses when my briefcase was stolen. In those days it was usual to just leave such posessions unattended. (Luckily a very generous friend provided better notes than mine to copy.)

    The library was still in use as a library although very overcrowded with few desk spaces.

  2. The libray now occupies 8 floors of the Rankine Brown building. Hundreds of terminals and the catalogue is a museum piece. I did my PhD during the transition from card catalogue to web search. Amazing to recall there was plan to demolish the Hunter. We owe a lot to “the Friends of the Hunter” who battled to save it

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