When the world came to Dunedin

If Dunedin's leaders today announced they were going to stage an expo over 6.5ha and attract more than 3 million visitors, locals might think they were dreaming.

But that's exactly what happened in 1925 and the former Logan Park art gallery is a reminder.

The gallery is the sole surviving building from the 1925-6 New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition, being the only structure built of permanent materials, for insurance reasons.

In just six months, the exhibition attracted over 3.2 million visitors, more than double New Zealand's total population at the time.

The event was one of a string of international exhibitions that began in Europe in the mid-1800s and which included the Great Exhibition held at Crystal Palace in London. A way of showing new technology, they also enabled people to learn more about the world, glorified imperialism and, for young countries such as New Zealand, demonstrated a "coming of age".

Dunedin architect Edmund Anscombe was the driving force behind the 1925 event and also its architect.

Born in Sussex, England, he served an apprenticeship as a carpenter and studied architecture before designing, among other buildings, the School of Mines at the University of Otago, the Lindo Ferguson Building at the medical school, Otago Girls High School and the Allied Press building.

The art gallery, built of brick and concrete, was laid out around an octagonal chamber and housed 46 sculptures and more than 900 pictures, nearly half of which were oils.

The building was split into 11 rooms, arranged by nationality of artists and medium, and used an innovative "top-lighting" system that Anscombe developed from models he had studied overseas.

Reflecting ceilings placed below skylights left the floor in relative darkness while the walls were flooded with light. This allowed the maximum amount of natural light to penetrate the building's interior while leaving all the walls free of windows and meant there was more than 3000sq m of hanging space. Electric light bulbs in the roof space produced a similar effect at night.

The building continued to function as the city's art gallery for more than 70 years and has more recently been leased out to sports bodies.

 

 

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