Man to create near-perfect replica of Christchurch heritage house

Last updated 05:00 10/06/2017

Martin Holland's historic Richmond home was wrecked in the earthquake. It is being rebuilt as a replica, except warmer.

The heritage house was munted beyond restoration.
"Every detail is meant to be reproduced as accurately as possible, says Martin Holland.
Plaster ceilings have been removed for replication.
Marble fireplaces have been removed and will be exactly remade from new stone.

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Christchurch earthquake

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Martin Holland has just begun a counter-intuitive rebuild of his Christchurch home, but then he's a slightly counter-intuitive guy.

Last month contractors moved onto his 1913 heritage property in Richmond, Christchurch, to extract the "exceptional" heritage features from the earthquake-wrecked house.

When they're done, a demolition company will smash what's left and a building company will erect a near-perfect replica in its place.

"Every detail is meant to be reproduced as accurately as possible, while respecting health and safety standards," Holland says.

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The ornate plaster ceilings will be reproduced by the tradesmen who did the Isaac Theatre Royal ceiling. The extensive native woodwork will be matched millimetre by millimetre by new wood. And the expensive red bricks from London will be reproduced with new stone. 

The only materials to be reused in the modern house will be about two dozen stained glass windows, but they will be double glazed. And the Italian marble fireplaces will refurbished. Every thing else will be made with new materials, but crafted to match the old.

"Getting the artisans who can do the stonemasonry and the woodwork is phenomenally expensive," Holland says.

He will get a new house of 480 square metres and five bedrooms that looks identical to the 104-year-old original – at no cost to himself.

Lucky for him, his insurance policy from Lumley stated that he would get an exact replica of his home – the sometimes troublesome "like for like" clause taken to its full conclusion. There was no financial ceiling on this commitment. 

Holland didn't know this clause was in his policy. His bank arranged insurance cover 10 years ago when he bought the old house. The implications only became clear after the February 2011 quake.

Holland and his lawyer stood firm, for six years.

"I was very stubborn and said, "It's your policy and you have to do this'," he says."This is what the insurance policy said they would do," he says. The company "perhaps" tried to avoid this obligation for a time, until Holland patiently and repeatedly explained his true motivation.

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"I'm not rebuilding it in order to make a profit," he says.

"I'm rebuilding it so that the city still has a beautiful old house to enjoy."

When complete, the replica will have cost about double its resale value, Holland says. 

He won't get into the financial specifics, but according to  Trade Me data, the property sold for $905,000 in 2006 and today carries a rateable value of $1.14 million. 

Speculating here, the insurance company will sink something like $2m into the rebuild. 

All Holland will say is that it's a "ridiculous amount of money".  

Holland says he watched the destruction of Christchurch heritage with horror. 

"I wanted to add something back into the the city … it's a very beautiful building and it's historic and there's hardly any [heritage] left."

"I'm in a position to ... make this a sort of legacy and its never been about making money but about returning things to how they were. You could say its psychological."

"I don't like a change. I didn't like the earthquakes and I want things back the way they were. And a degree of stubbornness." 

What kind of person gets this result? Holland was raised in North London and earned his PhD in politics in the UK. He came to Christchurch 33 years ago for an academic job, not intending to stay for his lifetime, but never left. 

"This city has been very good to me, very kind to me", he says.

These days he's a professor at the University of Canterbury and the founder and director of the university's National Centre for Research on Europe. He researches, in other words, the European Union – from New Zealand. And relations between the two.

"It's counter-intuitive but it's not a problem," he says. He's raised nearly NZ$10m in research funds, almost all from the EU itself, to fund scholarships, research projects and several trips to Europe a year.

He is, in others words, successful. He's a sophisticated man. He's got patience. He's insistent. He listens to his advisers. 

Erecting a true replica is almost impossible, says heritage activist and former city councillor Anna Crighton.

Since the earthquakes, she's seen restorations, adaptations, replications of some aspects of a heritage fabric, but not an attempted true replica.

"A full replication ... is unusual," she says.

The best known example until now has been the replicated Occidental Hotel, once near Latimer Sq and now on St Asaph St and occupied by Coriander's Indian restaurant.

Holland's rebuild won't be a perfect true replica, of course. He bowed to "health and safety". He can't rebuild the triple brick walls; he'll get a single brick facade over top a structural wood frame. And he'll insulate these exterior walls with modern technology.

The original house was cold and dark, he says. So, he'll also install European central heating with period water radiators. Wiring will be up to code.

The kitchen will be fitted with mod cons but still be placed towards the dark, back part of the house.

And the chapel won't be exact either. But it's a frankly uninspiring addition from when the house was occupied by nuns in the 1950s or 60s.

The house was built by Benjamin Moore, a contractor who helped build the former Press building in Cathedral Square.

The name is almost lost to history, but Holland says Moore "built this house for himself, he lived here ... Many of the architectural features and building features were there to demonstrate what a skilled builder he was. It was his home and possibly his advertising project as well."

Holland says he's looking forward to a long retirement in the house. 

"The insurance company was very fair in the end. It was a long process but a fair process," he says.

"It paid to play the long game."

- Stuff


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