WHAT I DID ON MY HOLIDAYS
Over the Easter break, heritage enthusiasts from the U of Auckland visited building works at two 19th-century masonry buildings. The first was the 1870s mansion Roselle House, now part of St Kentigern Boys’ School. Next was the 1850s ecclesiastical training school, the Melanesian Mission, which gives its name to Mission Bay.
One of the major topics of discussion at both sites was re-use, and how making the buildings useful for their current occupants supports their preservation. Renovating a building usually means making changes to its fabric and there are consequent losses of heritage material. To make such changes, consent is required from heritage authorities, and this has to be negotiated. Part of the negotiation comes down to demonstrating the overall benefits to the building that can be expected from the project, even if those benefits come at some cost to what is currently there.
At Roselle House, the school is on- trend, transforming library space into learning commons. There was a discussion of the decision-making and consenting processes that were required to allow a large opening to be cut in a wall for a new entry. Cutting the hole meant losing some heritage fabric, but the future use of the building required it. Peter Reed and his colleagues discussed how the building’s elements were classified through its conservation plan, and how the Heritage Impact Assessment (for the new aperture) was devised. (In other parts of Roselle House heritage material that has been removed has been stored for re-use when the building is made good.)
HOW TOUGH IS OLD STUFF?
Both Roselle House and the Mission are being strengthened against earthquakes. There’s a good deal of new material going into each site, but, interestingly, the pre-existing fabric of the site is also having its strength recognized and used. U of A research on heritage fabric was mentioned in dispatches, and no doubt a number of you site visitors (and your professors) are working on how to assess the strength of old materials.
At Roselle, new concrete bearer beams span under the floors, and the walls, floors, and ceilings are being strapped together and connected to these beams. Plywood diaphragms at floor and ceiling are the order of the day. But the main earthquake-resisting structure will be an internal shear wall. This will be poured anew, but it incorporates pre-existing timbers, and their strength was calculated and incorporated into the shear wall’s design.
At the Mission, a good deal of new steel has gone in, to secure the gable ends and the long walls against out-of-plane loading. Jeremy Salmond and Andrew Clarke described sending their design drawings for the steelwork back and forth to each other, and they both stressed the importance of designing every detail sympathetically to the building’s original programme. For example, the 200mm beam that spans the top of the walls in the Mission Hall has been custom-welded with an angled rear flange: instead of looking like this |____| in section, it looks like this |____\ . Why? So that it fits under the slope of the roof: thus the beam will not protrude over the edge of the wall. The beam has the same dimensions on its exposed face as a now-removed timber strip that used to run around the top of the walls. When the walls are refinished, the steel beam will have the same visual effect as what has been lost.
But to return to the strength of the existing materials at the Mission: the engineers made an assessment of the capacity of the masonry walls, using for their calculations some results from Jason Ingham’s research. An initial plan to tie the wall together with threaded rods was abandoned in favour of a Mapei- brand lime-based grout or slurry. Regularly spaced holes were drilled in the mortar, and the sludge was pumped into the wall. (Pumped by hand, so that the pressure didn’t get high enough to pop off the other side of the wall!) The result: the void spaces between the rubble are filled, and the inner and outer skins of the wall are bonded together. And it’s invisible. So the original material, supported by some chemical wizardry, gets retained, and can now resist greater loads.
WATER WATER EVERYWHERE; or, THE CONSEQUENCES OF DESIGN DECISIONS
Water in the walls was a recurring theme. At Roselle House, a chain of unfortunate decisions caused considerable harm to the fabric. First, wooden verandahs were replaced with terrazzo in the 1930s, sealing off the underfloor without ventilation, and causing the timber bearers to rot. Next, sagging timber floors were replaced with concrete. Uh-oh! Now the ground water, under pressure, wicked up the rendered plaster internal walls, moving between the brick and plaster, or between the plaster and its hastily re-applied paintwork. Wherever the water went, efflorescence remained, in the form of salty stains and crystalline growths. One of the major tasks of the project is to remove the old concrete floors and to draw the moisture out of the bricks with a special clay, in a process known as poulticing. The terrazzo stays, but it will be ducted to allow proper underfloor airflow. Peter made the point that the consequences of the 1930s renovation decisions took decades to become obvious, but have also created problems for occupants for many more decades. Earlier attempts to fix the problem only made it worse. Think twice about messing with an original design!
Water has a more subtle place in the walls at the Mission. The walls are made from chunks of basalt, taken from Rangitoto, and piled up in random courses, held in place with a lime mortar. Dressed blocks of scoria form the quoins. Both scoria and basalt are highly porous, and so, in wetter months, the walls have always been permeated with damp. This, says Jeremy, is not really a problem: the walls were made to be wet—notwithstanding that water entry did ruin the original plasterwork and create efflorescence. Problems have been caused by later attempts to “solve” the dampness, in particular by repointing with Portland cement, by plastering the inner face of the walls, and by treating with an “invisible chemical raincoat”, the latter occurring in 1977. These treatments tending to combine to retain moisture within the walls—the opposite of what was intended—and deteriorate the lime mortar, so much so that Jeremy described the walls as being “two dry stone walls with sand between them.” That doesn’t sound like a structure that would resist earthquake shaking very well! In combination with the Mapei re-grouting and the steelwork, the walls have been re-limed, and will surely be much the better for it.
A NOOK ABOUT CHIMNEYS
Two contrasting treatments for chimneys deserve mention. At the Mission, an elegant brick chimney stands above the rock wall on the western side of the hall. The chimney has been post-tensioned with steel rods, which connect an upper plate to the floor slab, holding the stack firmly together against shaking. The solution allows space for a flue to be inserted, so that a gas fire can simulate the cozy effect of a real one.
At Roselle House, the project team discovered that in some long-forgotten she’ll- be-right renovation, a chimney which poked out of the roof had had most of its lower extent removed. This is a trick somewhat akin to climbing out on a tree branch and then sawing it off behind you—expect things to start going downhill fast! As Peter explained, there were six tons of bricks sitting up in the roof and upper storey with very little holding them in place. In this case, the majority of the remaining chimney material has been removed, and a lightweight replica will be installed to keep the roofline looking the same. A steel brace for the chimney-stump was discarded, as it would have needed to be excessively large.
I very much enjoyed the visits, and I’m sure that other site visitors felt the same. We’re extremely grateful to Jeremy Salmond and Peter Reed of Salmond Reed, and to Andrew Clarke and Dave Olsen of Mitchell Vranjes, as well as to the contractors and project managers who allowed us to come on site.