Andrew Dickens: New Zealand needs to treat our buildings better

Andrew Dickens ,
Publish Date
Thursday, 28 February 2019, 12:18PM
Wellington Town Hall is an example of how poorly we have treated our buildings, Andrew Dickens writes.

Here we go again - another debate about old buildings, history and legacy and of course, money.

The Dominion Post reported today that the cost of Wellington’s Town Hall earthquake strengthening project looks set to expand to $130 million, as contractors are understood to be counting on a $20m contingency fund.

It may officially stand at $112.4m as reported yesterday, but capital developers say the cost of Wellington’s Town Hall project will rise by a further $20m and that everyone I the construction industry knew that.

Add to that the fact that the Council’s Chief Executive Kevin Lavery said last week that the price of the contract could not be fixed because of the high demand for construction and workers in the city, then you have to feel that the Town Hall project could end out being a never ending money pit.

David Farrar figured out that if the project costs $130 million then that would force every household in Wellington to pay $1800 each. He reckons it’s a terrible idea and the money should be spent on libraries and parks and not a big hall for what he calls the elites.

Another critic calls the hall an old dog and he reckons it would be better and cheaper to just keep the façade and build a new building to modern standards behind it.

While I can understand that sentiment, I can also understand the desire to fix the building because it is a classic with a history.  Opened in 1904, it used to have a handsome 150 foot tall clock tower which was removed after the Napier Earthquake. Now that showed some forward thinking.  Such a pity they didn’t maintain the hall all through last century.

There’s the famous story about when Kenny Rogers and the First Edition played in the 70s.  When they hit a big note the stage ceiling collapsed on them, dropping pigeon bodies, empty and dead eggs, nesting material and plaster rubble and dust all over the stage and the band's equipment.

The Hall, by the way, has been rated one of the best in the world for acoustic quality. Indeed back in ’86, I saw Simply Red there.  The band lowered their volume and Mick Hucknell put aside the mic and sang without amplification and it sounded amazing and Mick said it was a hell of a room.

Now, New Zealand is a young country and there’s not a lot of history or historical buildings anyway, and the ones we do have are ticking over 100 years old.  So of course they’re going to be expensive to maintain, but they become even more expensive the more they are delayed. And we would be far the poorer without the little history we have preserved. Maybe we could do this better.

The Royal Albert Hall in London was built in 1871 and has undergone a slow and continual renovation programme since the 90s which so far has cost $80 million. It’s also a charitable trust supported by their lottery and the National Trust and not tax or ratepayers.

They know a bit about history, the Brits, and they know how to preserve it.  It is something we were been terrible at through the 20th Century.  How about we just admit we’ve been dumb.  Fix the good stuff up and not make the same mistakes through the next 100 years.


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