Saving the soul.

Conservation isn’t always about saving the fabric of a building. As the Old Homestead community house in Auckland’s Point Chevalier shows, it’s also about saving its soul.

This was a project where the 120-year-old building that had originally been cobbled together from two farmhouses, could not be saved. The building had been part of the fabric of the Pt Chevalier community for decades, it was the home of the local Co-operating Parish and it was used by local groups ranging from craft clubs to the Girls Brigade.It was riddled with borer, the piles were failing, the chimneys were hazardous, building services and fire systems were ancient or non-existent, and it had no amenities for people with disabilities.

So conservation meant replacing it - board for board, window for window, door for door.

For Babbage Consultants project architect and building conservation specialist Charlotte Saunders, who had a key role in the planning and execution of the project and for a time ran a youth programme at the centre, it was also a labour of love.

“Replacing a building - even with an exact copy - goes against what I believe in when it comes to heritage and conservation,” she said.

“But we just couldn’t. It simply wasn’t possible to remediate the building without doubling the budget. For the owners, that wasn’t realistic and the ongoing maintenance would have been hugely expensive.”

Replacing the heritage

Charlotte has extensive experience in building heritage work. She was involved in assessment and design work after the 2010 Canterbury earthquake left many heritage buildings damaged, and again the following February when the Christchurch quakes saw many of those buildings damaged further.

So if the Old Homestead building in Pt Chevalier couldn’t be saved, Charlotte was determined the replacement would be virtually indistinguishable from the original.

She sourced weatherboards and found a joinery factory that could make exact copies of the fretwork and the balustrades from the verandas. 

She measured every door, window, frame and feature, including the roof height so the new building would be indistinguishable from the old. “We had to do the original building justice,” she said.

However, while the exterior of the building is a copy of the old, the interior is more suited to its community use.

It comprises a flexible layout with movable dividing walls and double-glazing, with the insulation beefed up to cut sound from the main road and noise from adjoining meeting rooms. It also has a graded kitchen that can be hired out to the community for preparing food for markets and fairs.

Saving the building’s soul

A key focus for the owners and the Babbage team was saving a community icon.

“There are a lot of associated memories for the people of the district,” Charlotte said. “If we had replaced the building with something different, those memories would have been diminished.”

The new structure has been built from modern materials because the owners wanted a building that had been there for 120 years to be there for another 120. But it looks so much like the original visitors often believe the original building has been repaired.

“This has been an exercise in the conservation of the building’s importance in history and its relationship with people,” Charlotte said.

“We haven’t saved the fabric of the building but we’ve saved its place in the community. “It’s conservation of the building’s soul.”

For more information on the conservation of buildings or adapting them for other uses, please contact Wilson Pickering.

09 379 9980

Saving the Soul