Conserving New Zealand’s Built Heritage

New Zealand is regarded as a young country and seen by many as having a very small amount of heritage buildings worthy of conservation. This may be true when comparing New Zealand to Europe but is such a comparison even necessary? We are a young country when it comes to built heritage but Greece was young at one time too.

Some people regard New Zealand’s efforts in conservation as pointless or futile because they compare our heritage buildings with that of older countries. There is certainly plenty to learn from the conservation successes and failures of other countries but comparing New Zealand to them will only serve to hold us back. Whilst those other countries may already have an abundance of historic buildings, we are in the privileged position to be creating, what will eventually be, our historic buildings and doing so with an encyclopedia of knowledge from what has gone before.

manukau-heads-collageConservation is many things to many people and whilst there are some guiding principles that most practitioners in the arena adhere to, the most important aspect of conservation is conserving the social value of a building. Manukau Heads Lighthouse was one such building that was deemed to have significant social value and thanks to the tireless efforts of the local community, the lighthouse reopened to visitors in 2006 after a huge restoration project. You can find out more about the history of the lighthouse and the efforts to restore it here.

The fact is that the age of a building is irrelevant. We conserve buildings because they have meaning. A building should not have to wait until it achieves a certain age before it is deemed worthy of conservation. The Sky Tower in Auckland is a modern landmark building. Whilst it is not considered a heritage building now, it will most likely be seen as one in 100 years time.

For some, the beauty or worth of a building is in its history, for others it’s function, architectural merit or how high it towers above the buildings around it. A building doesn’t even have to be whole or functional to be of worth. There are ruins of buildings the world over and many are the focus of targeted conservation to preserve what remains. The ruins of the Woodstock Battery, Karangahake (feature image) allow visitors a greater appreciation for the scale of the industry that occupied the site. The presence of the ruins creates a physical connection to the history of the site that would not exist if they were removed.

mason-brosA recent example of conservation at work in New Zealand is the adaptive re-use of the Mason Bros building in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter. Balancing the need for a vibrant work space whilst being respectful to a historic buildings form is always a compromise and the success of this approach relies on good architecture. Retaining the features of the building that reflect its character, the distinctive precast concrete, red brickwork and saw tooth roof structure, Warren and Mahoney have created a modern work space within, what was once, the home of heavy industry. Find out more by clicking here.

As a country, we are still in our infancy. Our built environment reflects this and in time it will reflect a country with a more established history. If we stop comparing our nation with others and accept we are a young country and have a limited historic building stock, we can focus on the job at hand – conserving what we do have and laying the foundations for the future where our history will be reflected in the buildings we conserve today.

by Victoria Richardson