Cunningham House – C.C.C. Draft Significance Statement

Philip Barrett Team Leader Heritage has generously provided us with the Draft Significance Statement for the Cunningham House.

Cuningham House is of historical and social significance as the largest and oldest of the Botanic Gardens display houses. It was built in 1923 and opened on 9 August 1924, funded by a bequest made to the Botanic Gardens by Mr C.A.C. Cuningham, a Christchurch law clerk, on his death in 1915. Conservatories, or Winter Gardens, were necessary structures for Botanic Gardens worldwide for the housing of botanic specimens from warmer climates. Although not built as a memorial, the building has a commemorative association with Mr Cuningham due to its name. The building reflects the continuity of the cultural activity of keeping and displaying plants from other parts of the world.

The building is of architectural significance due to its design along the lines of a classic English orangery in a Neo Classical style by one of the leading architectural Christchurch firms of the time, Collins and Harman, who modelled the design on the Reid Winter Gardens at Springburn Park in Glasgow.

In addition to its aesthetic contribution to the Gardens, the building fulfils the practical need to provide the appropriate environment for tropical plants. A central double height space provides room for tall plants and is edged with a first floor gallery. Symmetry characterises the building's interior and exterior, as does its rose garden setting and approach to the building. The principal façade to the south features a covered portico with paired Tuscan columns and a balustraded terrace on the first floor. The distinctive high dome-shaped glass roof is capped with a glazed lantern. The building has seen some alteration over time, including some glazing replaced with safety glass, and the original steel frames on the front and west elevations replaced with white powdered aluminium joinery. The movable steel ladder structure added to the roof to assist cleaning in recent years detracts from the reading of the roof form of the building. Cuningham House is of technological and craftsmanship significance due to its construction in steel, concrete and glass and its detailing. It is heated with a boiler and pipe work throughout the internal space. Cuningham House is part of a group of buildings within the Botanic Gardens including the adjoining Townend House and the McDougall Art Gallery.

The Christchurch Botanic gardens is the City's most significant designed green space in the City, and includes large grassed areas, large mature trees and planting displays. Cuningham House is located within the setting of the circular rose garden, to which it is axially aligned - the main (south) entrance is formally approached via the rose garden. The rose garden was first formed in 1909 and remodelled in 1936 ensuring an unobstructed view to the front façade of Cuningham House was maintained. The building and setting are of archaeological significance as they have some potential to hold evidence of human activity on the site, including construction methods and materials, and including evidence which pre-dates 1900.

Cuningham House is of metropolitan significance. Cuningham House has been assessed as making an important contribution to the identity, sense of place and history of the Christchurch metropolitan area and is primarily of importance to the City for its heritage values.

The glasshouse is acknowledged as being significance for its association with its benefactor Mr Cuningham; its use of housing a display of tropical plants for the Christchurch community to observe since the 1920s; its location in the Botanic Gardens within in the setting of the rose garden and its aesthetically pleasing and functional architectural form, use of materials and design to meet the practical needs of tropical plants.

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