Acclaimed tower to come down

DAVID WILLIAMS
Last updated 05:00 09/06/2011
Grant MacKinnon
DON SCOTT/The Press
HEARTBROKEN: Developer Grant MacKinnon in front of the condemned Gallery Apartments he spent many years of his life working on.

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When Christchurch developer Grant MacKinnon completed the $15 million Gallery Apartments in 2007, it was the highlight of his career.

Using exposed concrete, copper panels and timber screens for its sleek, modern design won the high-rise apartment a New Zealand Institute of Architects award.

Now the 43-metre-high Gloucester St building – which used 26,000 cubic metres of concrete in its construction – is shattered after February's earthquake and will be demolished.

"It's the combination of 15 to 20 years of work and to see it now have to come down, it's definitely heartbreaking," MacKinnon said yesterday.

Gallery Apartments was one of several modern apartment complexes approved for demolition by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority recently.

Worcester St's HSBC Tower and Gloucester St's Pacific Tower are the only high rises to be finished in the city since 2007, and neither are on the demolition list.

MacKinnon said Gallery Apartments did not fail.

It did what it was meant to, "which was to stay upright, absorb the energy and break and crack but not fall down".

He said the building was heavy and made from brittle material, while the two newer high rises were steel-framed, meaning they were lighter, more flexible and therefore more able to withstand an earthquake.

MacKinnon was not surprised when an engineering report stated Gallery Apartments was uneconomic to repair.

"[The earthquake] lifted them up and dropped them.

"Concrete is very strong, but it's also brittle, so once it's broken, you can't repair it," he said.

"I saw [inside] a lot of walls and floors and joints that were cracked and shattered. I've seen areas where concrete's ... fallen away, shattered."

Penthouse owner Charlie Anderson, a former North Otago grain farmer, said the tower "hung together" in September, but "really got wrecked" in February.

He did not know what the insurance company had decided but he thought many owners would not want to live there again.

"I hope they just give us a cheque and we disappear."

MacKinnon was talking to several property owners about opportunities and was considering developing timber commercial buildings in the central city. He was also convinced that Christchurch's love affair with concrete was not over.

After all, he said, the Canterbury Plains, with its river gravels and sand, was just unformed concrete.

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"When push comes to shove, I think concrete will come back because it didn't fail and it's cheaper."

- The Press

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