Old Public Trust building revival nearly complete video

CATHERINE HARRIS/stuff.co.nz

Ralph Roberts, executive director of Warren & Mahoney architects, takes Stuff on a walk though the renovation of Wellington's beloved Old Public Trust building.

The scaffolding and covers will soon come down around Wellington's Old Public Trust Building and people will be able to see the results of its makeover.

By early September, the fit out work will  be complete and its new tenants the Ministry of Culture and Heritage will be able to move in.

Its ground floor tenant, a Jamie Oliver restaurant, is expected to open early next year.

Ralph Roberts of Warren & Mahoney outside the nearly renovated Old Public Trust building in Stout St

Ralph Roberts of Warren & Mahoney outside the nearly renovated Old Public Trust building in Stout St

Widely regarded as one of Wellington's finest buildings, the baroque-style Edwardian building was put up for sale in 2013 after sustaining earthquake damage.

Its restoration has clearly been a labour of love for its owner, developer Maurice Clark, and architects Warren & Mahoney, who have both been widely praised for their work on the other side of Stout St at the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment's new premises.

Recently Ralph Roberts, Warren and Mahoney's executive director, gave Stuff a sneak preview of what the public can expect, and he said they will be relieved to find many of the original features still present.

The Tonga stone exterior of Wellington's beloved Old Public Trust building

The Tonga stone exterior of Wellington's beloved Old Public Trust building

The original floor mosaics and curved staircase on the ground floor remain, as does the Tonga stone and brick facade.

But even though it's a category A historic building, Roberts says it does not have to be a complete carbon copy.

"It's right to be sympathetic, to follow clues from old buildings for example around mass and form, materiality, as part of the way you might structure a design, but it's not good to try and copy details from old buildings.

The original entrance and stairwell of the Old Public Trust building has been kept

The original entrance and stairwell of the Old Public Trust building has been kept

"Absolutely restore and repair broken parts in that detail, but as soon as you start to produce something beside it or in it that is a copy of the detail, you're clouding what is the old and the new.

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"I think from a heritage point of view it's nice to walk into a building and see really clearly what is the old building, that it's been well looked after and if some parts are missing, well, they're missing."

With the Public Trust building, a new steel stair, partly encased in fire-retardant glass, was inserted to meet code.

The Old Public Trust building which is being strengthened by Maurice Clark's McKee Fehl company and architects Warren & ...

The Old Public Trust building which is being strengthened by Maurice Clark's McKee Fehl company and architects Warren & Mahoney.

"But it's also about acknowledging that it's not a heritage stair and there was never a heritage stair there. So what we've done is put in a new stair that nods towards heritage."

Dating back to 1908, the building's far-sighted architect John Campbell was aware of the San Francisco earthquake and persuaded the government of the day to let it have a steel frame from added strength.

Clark's construction firm McKee Fehl have worked to strengthen the building in several ways, including adding subtle points in the facade to absorb pressure and adding shear walls inside.

Roberts says the foundations were largely good, although a fair amount of sand was sucked up and fresh concrete poured in.

That was important because it was carrying the weight of half an inter-island ferry, he added.

With so little greenfield space in the city, Roberts said old buildings were having to be adapted to suit modern needs and the Old Public Trust building was the same.

It did not have the large modern floorplates that many corporates now demand but like many late 30s buildings it had generous floor-to-floor heights.

"They were well configured and well-proportioned," says Roberts, which made the space feel better and left room for modern necessities like air conditioning and sprinklers.

The basement of the building will serve as storage and kitchen facilities for the restaurant above.  Maybe even a craft brewery, hints Roberts.

THE STOUT ST CROWD

A group of concerned professionals have formed to revitalise the northern end of Lambton Quay and its side streets.

The "government precinct" includes Stout St, which has a direct link from the quay to the Railway Station.

Warren and Mahoney's executive director Ralph Roberts believes streets like Stout St could be "far better than they currently are," with a need for seating, better services and shelter from the harsh Wellington winds.

"They can be tough areas. On a good day they fine but still they don't have a very good amenity (hairdressers, cafes). Thousands walk through it every day but there's not much shelter."

He thinks Stout St is a prime candidate for being pedestrianised but says it can only happen with the support of the council and other bodies.

"Often the argument comes down to how many carparks will we lose?"

But there are ways around that, he says.

 - Stuff

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