Maori Battalion Building

Architect John Scott was commissioned in 1954 by the Raukawa tribal excecutive to develop plans for a community centre in Palmerston North. This was less than fifteen years after the 28th Maori Battalion was formed at the Palmerston North Showgrounds, where they trained and from where they departed for active service in World War Two. Opened in July 1964 by the Governor-General Sir Bernard Fergusson, the community centre was seen to recognise the close connection between the Battalion and the city.

Despite John Scott’s notoriety in New Zealand architectural circles for his design of Futuna chapel in Karori, Wellington, his Maori Battalion War Memorial Building has received little attention. There was a brief spurt by Maori writers in the 1960s, who lavished praise on the building for its successful incorporation of both Maori and European elements of architecture. In the last thirty years only two articles by architectural writers have focussed on the building.

As Bill McKay writes in his 2006 article, the building is a “concrete post and beam structure (influenced by contemporary Japanese Modernism” with an “abundant use of carved panels in juxtaposition with the structure”. Vanya Steiner (1995) points out that the design draws on the language of the whare whakairo as well as that of New Brutalism, with its use of raw concrete block (as was being used by overseas architects such as Kenzo Tange) potentially being seen by New Zealanders at the time as an unsuitable material for such a building. Mr Kelly Kereama of Feilding cared the fourteen 8-foot panels on the outside of the building. Tukutuku panels were used inside and intricate kowhaiwhai patterns adorned the exposed beams.

Three stories high, the building originally functioned as a meeting hall. A stage, offices and toilets were located on the ground floor, a kitchen and dining area on the first floor, and sleeping area with an additional smaller hall on the top floor. Currently it is used as a visual arts centre and gallery, though earlier spent a number of years as local band venue, tavern, and restaurant (most famously as The Wild Horse Saloon).

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