Edmund Anscombe


A visit to Melbourne’s Centennial International Exhibition in 1888 at the age of 14 sparked Edmund Anscombe’s lifelong interest in the design of international exhibitions. After serving an apprenticeship as a carpenter in South Otago, Anscombe left New Zealand to study architecture in the United States, where he also helped construct the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St Louis, Missouri.

After returning to Dunedin in 1907, Anscombe co-founded an architectural firm which received commissions from as far afield as Invercargill and Palmerston North. Anscombe supervised the construction of Wanganui’s Sarjeant Gallery according to the design of Donald Hosie, one of his pupils who had been killed in the First World War.

Anscombe was much influenced by new developments in architecture, and his frequent overseas trips ensured he was always at the forefront of stylistic fashion. Following a tour of Canada and the United States in 1922, Anscombe promoted the idea of an international exhibition in Dunedin, and designed the buildings for what became the 1925–26 New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition.

His most important work was the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition of 1939–40. The International style conveyed by the structures at Rongotai, Wellington, was intended to reflect New Zealand's progressive approach to the world. After the Centennial Exhibition he continued to promote various visionary schemes.

Anscombe became one of the most important figures shaping the fabric of New Zealand’s 20th-century architecture due to the quality, range and scale of his designs, as well as the prolific nature of his practice.

Adapted by Matthew Tonks from the DNZB biography by Greg Bowron

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