W.B. Armson: A Colonial Architect Rediscovered

6 December 1983 – 31 January 1984

W.B. Armson (1834–1883) designed many commercial buildings in Christchurch and throughout New Zealand. This exhibition features his original plans and drawings.

William Barnett Armson was one of those comparatively rare architects, a designer of handsome buildings and a highly accomplished draughtsman. When he died on February 22, 1883, he was described as one of New Zealand's leading architects, but one hundred years later his contribution has been almost forgotten. Time has dealt cruelly with Armson's buildings, of the dozen commercial premises he designed for Hereford Street, only Fisher's Building remains. While many of the buildings have gone, his drawings for them survive, preserved in the office of Collins, Hunt and Loveridge, the architectural firm Armson founded in 1871.

To mark the centenary of Armson's death an exhibition of his drawings and photographs of the buildings has been organised by the Department of Art History at the University of Canterbury for exhibition at the McDougall Art Gallery. The exhibition is curated by five M.A. students as part of their contribution to the New Zealand Architecture course taught by Dr Ian Lochhead and Mr Jonathan Mane. Valuable financial assistance has been provided by the Canterbury Regional Committee of the Historic Places Trust, by the Canterbury Branch of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, and by the Christchurch Civic Trust.

The exhibition will present a survey of Armson's career, beginning with early designs executed in Australia, continuing with his work in Dunedin and Hokitika in the 1860s and concluding with the final and most productive phase of his career in Christchurch between 1871 and 1883. Drawings for a wide range of buildings, from humble cottages, to schools, churches and banks will be exhibited, including a significant group for Armson's masterpiece, the Bank of New Zealand in Dunedin.

An illustrated catalogue, containing much new information on Armson's life and career, will be published to accompany the exhibition.

('W.B. Armson: A Colonial Architect Rediscovered', Bulletin, No.30, November/December 1983, p.2)