Home' The Wellingtonian : February 23rd 2012 Contents 12 THE WELLINGTONIAN, FEBRUARY 23, 2012
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Keeping an eye
on city's history
Ian Bowman: ''Central government has to become more involved.''
Photo: JOSEPH ROMANOS
Joseph Romanos talks to heritage architect Ian Bowman about
what makes buildings safer, being a Karori cub and the troubled
Wellington Town Hall.
How did you become interested in
My father was an architect. When I was
young I used to make balsa wood models of
houses and I'd go on site visits with him.
What about the heritage side that
you specialise in?
I did a degree in history and economic
history at Victoria University, and a degree
in architecture at Auckland University.
Then I saw a notice about a master of arts
course in conservation studies at York Uni-
versity, so I did that, too.
That's a lot of study.
It was. My mother-in-law thought I
would never get a proper job.
Were you always interested in the
Yes. I did my thesis at architecture school
on [his wife] Erin's great-great grandfather.
He arrived in New Zealand in 1851 and was
one of the few trained architects in the
country at the time.
Where did you work as an architect
specialising in heritage?
At the Ministry of Works first, as they
were the architects to the New Zealand His-
toric Places Trust, though for the past 20
years I've been out on my own.
What are some Wellington heritage
projects you've been involved in?
I've been doing jobs at Government
House since 1986 and was involved in the
big refit last year. I worked on the Welling-
ton Town Hall in 1992 and am advising on
the latest strengthening project. Also resto-
ration of the St James Theatre, the [Vic-
toria University] Hunter building, Parlia-
ment buildings and the Embassy.
Why didn't they strengthen the town
hall properly 20 years ago?
The focus then was to refurbish the build-
ing so it worked the way the council needed
it. And earthquake requirements have been
ramped up, especially after Christchurch.
Minimum standards are much higher now.
I suppose you want to conserve
every old building.
Not at all. Age is only one factor. Other
elements in a heritage building include
architectural design, the technology in its
construction, how rare it is, whether it is a
good example of a building type and
whether it is associated with important
events or people.
Do you ever recommend pulling
down a heritage-listed building?
Only in exceptional circumstances like
the Timeball station in Lyttelton, where it
needed to be dismantled to prevent further
damage. Other buildings in Christchurch
that were too badly damaged to be rebuilt
had to come down -- safety always comes
What about if no-one will pay to
strengthen a heritage-listed building?
There's no simple answer but I feel cen-
tral government has to become more
involved, perhaps offering tax relief to
owners doing earthquake strengthening.
Over the years who has been the
most effective culture minister?
Helen Clark was outstanding. She had
studied history and had the knowledge. She
considerably increased the funding of the
Historic Places Trust.
Why were so many buildings in
Christchurch destroyed by the earth-
It was an incredibly destructive earth-
quake, way beyond what the building code
allowed for. It is amazing so many build-
ings stayed up. Also, a lot of the damaged
buildings were not in good repair. The brick
and stone ones did not fare well if they
hadn't been maintained.
What makes a building safer?
If the building is well maintained, there's
less likelihood of the roof beams rotting.
Older places tend to have smaller rooms
and more walls, which holds things
together better. If the design is symmetrical
it will be stronger -- buildings with compli-
cated plans tend to pull apart in an earth-
quake. Wooden buildings are generally OK
except where main walls have been taken
out on the inside. Not all old buildings are
earthquake prone. Some government build-
ings designed and built by the Ministry of
Works in the 1930s are up to 100 per cent
of the current code.
What are some of your favourite
In Wellington, buildings I know well
because I've worked on them include the
national war memorial, the old national
museum, Wellington Railway Station, Old
St Paul's, the Embassy Theatre, the
wooden government building, the town hall
and the Old Public Trust Building. A small
building I really like is the transformer
building in Kate Sheppard Place. It has a
quirkiness about it.
What other places do you like?
The Sarjeant Art Gallery in Whanganui
is a really good example of modern classical
design with good use of Oamaru stone. I
like Dunedin Railway Station, the law
courts opposite and the First church just
above it. I like the Nelson lighthouse and I
really like our home in Nelson.
Yes, it was designed in 1952 by my father
and was apparently the first concrete block
house in New Zealand, even before the
famous houses designed by Miles Warren.
I'm hoping it gets listed as a heritage build-
You live in Nelson and Wellington.
Which is home?
I grew up in Nelson but have strong links
to Wellington. My mother was from here
and I'd sometimes stay with my
grandparents in Karori. While my parents
were overseas one year I attended Karori
Normal School for three weeks and was in
Karori cubs. My aunt and uncle lived in
Karori. My uncle, Ted Frost, was editor of
The Dominion. Erin and I lived in Petone
for 20 years but now live in Mt Victoria.
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