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Merger with Wellington Polytechnic

Wellington School of Design

The Wellington School of Design was opened on 13 April 1886 as the result of an initiative of the then Minister of Education, Robert Stout. The first director of the School of Design was Arthur Dewhurst Riley.

The School’s main aim was to train teachers in drawing, but special classes in art subjects, and technical evening classes including mechanics and engineering, were also offered to fee-paying adults.

To reflect its curriculum the name of the School was changed to the Wellington Technical School in 1891. 

Renamed the Wellington Technical College

In 1905 the School’s scope was widened when a technical high school was added to the existing programmes to cater for the needs of children who left school, but were not yet ready for employment. The School was subsequently renamed the Wellington Technical College.

The School of Design initially occupied premises on Brandon Street, in central Wellington, and later moved to a building in Mercer Street where it became part of the Wellington Technical College. The Technical College moved in 1922 to the Mount Cook site adjacent to where the Wellington campus of Massey University is today.

Becoming the Wellington Polytechnic

Throughout the following decades the Technical College’s academic programmes continued to expand. By the early 1960s the numbers of tertiary students far exceeded that of secondary students at the College. In 1962 the polytechnic and high school divisions of the College were separated and the Wellington Polytechnic and the Wellington High School was brought into being.

Thus in 1962, the Wellington School of Design became a School within Wellington Polytechnic. Under its Director, James Coe, the School consolidated and developed the multi-professional approach to scholarship in a central design discipline, with an integrated suite of undergraduate qualifications and research.

The School of Design became the country’s flagship design school and the main distinguishing feature of the Polytechnic.

Attaining university status

New Zealand's first university design degree was developed and delivered conjointly by the Wellington School of Design and Victoria University of Wellington from 1992. The design degree was conferred by Victoria University of Wellington until 1999 when the merger between the Wellington Polytechnic and Massey University took place. After the merger the design degree, and some of the other programmes and qualifications of the Polytechnic, were reviewed and re-accredited for delivery by Massey University.

Out of the merger between Wellington Polytechnic and Massey University was born the College of Design, Fine Arts and Music (since 2005 known as the College of Creative Arts) which was made up of the Wellington School of Design, the Wellington Conservatorium of Music and the newly formed School of Fine Arts.

Since its inception the School of Design has enjoyed a long and prestigious history, producing many of New Zealand’s most notable and famous designers, and is now home to over half of all design students studying in New Zealand.