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Heritage of Education focus for Onehunga landmark

Heritage of Education focus for Onehunga landmark

The Heritage of Education is the theme of this year’s International Day for Monuments and Sites on April 18 – a day that highlights and celebrates different aspects of heritage, organised by ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites).

And according to the NZ Historic Places Trust’s Heritage Adviser Registration, Martin Jones, one historic Onehunga building fits the education heritage criteria perfectly.

“The former Onehunga Primary School building is a prominent landmark, which has tremendous heritage value both in terms of its architectural importance and its educational heritage significance,” says Martin.

“It’s a grand and elaborately detailed building. When it was opened in 1901 it was described as ‘one of the finest schools in New Zealand’.”

Designed by Auckland Education Board architects John Mitchell and Robert Watt, the former school building was designed in the Free Classical or Queen Anne Revival style, favoured by the two architects.

The style of architecture they chose was a departure from Gothic architecture, which tended to be associated with church buildings. The Queen Anne Revival style was considered to be more fitting for places like public schools, in line with the ethos of free, secular elementary education enshrined in the Education Act of 1877.

“Mitchell and Watt’s designs represent an important phase in the architectural development of school buildings in New Zealand. The former Onehunga Primary School building is considered to be an outstanding example of their work for the Auckland Education Board,” says Martin.

“It was quite innovative for its time, and was designed to make the best use of light, ventilation and heating.”

The building served its original purpose for 80 years when, in 1981, a new replacement school building was constructed next door. Since 1982, the building has been known as Onehunga Community House – a facility used as a venue for community and recreational activities.

“The former Onehunga Primary School building is still a wonderful landmark, and has benefited recently from significant conservation work both inside and out – including the reinstatement of some of the decorative features that had been lost over the years, like the building’s distinctive belfry.”

According to Jenny May, the Chair of ICOMOS New Zealand, the International Day for Monuments and Sites seeks to encourage local communities and individuals around the world to consider the importance of cultural heritage to their lives, identities and communities.

“Education in New Zealand was practised in a wide range of places – including growing suburbs like Onehunga. Buildings and sites associated with early education initiatives – like the former Onehunga Primary School building – are a significant part of our social and cultural heritage,” she says.

“The International Day for Monuments and Sites provides a good opportunity for us to reflect on the very important part education has played in the evolution of our cultural and built heritage.”


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