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Project Profile


2008 Honourable Mention

Bach 38

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Project TitleBach 38

LocationRangitoto Island, Hauraki Gulf, Auckland, New Zealand

Size83 square metres

CostApproximately US$ 52,000

Responsible PartyRangitoto Island Historic Conservation Trust

Heritage ArchitectDave Pearson Architects Ltd. and Salmon Reed Architects

Date of CompletionApril 2005

Project Synopsis

Rangitoto Island is located in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, approximately 35 minutes by ferry from Auckland. The volcanic island has been a popular holiday destination for Auckland residents since the beginning of the twentieth century. During the 1920s and 1930s holidaymakers began to construct rudimentary bungalows on the island, despite the fact that the island lacks running water, a sewage system or electricity. Called “baches” (an abbreviation of “bachelor pad” although they are usually family holiday homes), the bungalows were generally constructed out of salvaged materials and erected on sites for which owners had no clear title, since the land is part of a scenic reserve.

A local definition of a bach is “something you built yourself, on land you don’t own, out of materials you borrowed or stole”. With their basic construction style and the sense of simplicity and independence that surrounds their use, the bach represents an important facet of the New Zealand national psyche. As such, the bach is a valuable part of the nation’s twentieth-century heritage. With construction of private dwellings prohibited on Rangitoto Island since 1937, the island’s baches are fast-disappearing; most examples were demolished when the original lessees died. Of the 130 baches that once stood on the island, only 34 remain.

Recognizing the historic significance of the bungalows, local authorities finally halted the process of demolition in 1990. The bach communities are now protected under the New Zealand Historic Places Act of 1993. The Rangitoto Island Historic Conservation Trust is now spearheading efforts to conserve the handful of remaining examples.

Bach 38 was built in 1928 by frequent island visitor Walter Pooley. Given his enthusiasm for the place, the Rangitoto Island Domain Board appointed him caretaker of Rangitoto “without emolument”. Pooley and his wife eventually retired to the island, furnishing the bach in a style characteristic of the times. Two decades later, Bert and Sadie Biddulph purchased the house. They made few initial changes other than hanging new wallpaper and installing a generator for electricity. Later improvements were also modest in scope. These included building a concrete patio at the back of the house, enlarging the kitchen and initiating the construction of a larger bathroom, a project never completed. In 1952 the house changed hands again, this time becoming the property of the Macdonald family. Four generations of the extended family enjoyed the bach until 2001, when its last owner donated the property, which was in a state of considerable disrepair, to the Rangitoto Island Historic Conservation Trust for restoration and reuse.

With the permission and cooperation of the Department of Conservation, a four-year project was initiated in 2002 to restore the bach and to turn it into a museum to interpret bach community life, headquarters for the Trust on the island and overnight accommodation for volunteer staff and researchers. On 16 April 2005, Bach 38 was officially opened by the chief heritage advisor of Auckland City and the regional manager of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

Conservation Approach

The conservation project was unusual for the fact it was almost entirely a voluntary effort. Project volunteers put in a combined 2,060 hours of pro bono work, totalling an equivalent of US$ 18,000 in unpaid labour; the fee paid to a professional builder came only to US$ 460. To further cut costs, the project also depended mainly on the donation of materials; purchased materials amounted to just US$ 10,000.

Given the poor condition of the bach, however, the conservation effort was necessarily a thoroughgoing process. The house had been occupied only on a part-time basis over the previous half century and had significant damage due to rot. In addition, the galvanized corrugated steel roof was rusted through in many places, causing significant damage to the ceiling and interior. To make the building watertight, the team replaced the original roofing with donated Colorcote aluminium roofing.

Unfortunately for the authenticity of the restoration project, the native New Zealand wood originally used for the walls had since become an endangered resource. As a result, exterior weatherboarding had to be replaced with new pine boards. On the interior, moisture damage meant that the carpenter and team members had to replace the floor of one bedroom and part of that of another room. Other interior work included repainting the walls, trim and ceiling and cleaning the historic linoleum floors and wallpaper.

Several changes reflected modern environmental standards and requirements. Technicians installed solar panels to provide electricity, instead of relying on the old generator. A “kiwi bog” (aerobic composting toilet) was installed to replace what locals call the “long drop” in a corrugated shed outside. The project also included provision of plastic rainwater tanks, required because of the lack of a water source on the island; these replaced the rusting original iron versions. As a step toward improving the performance of the water dispersal system, the conservation team installed new PVC rain-gutters and leaders (downspouts) in lieu of the deteriorated original examples.

Overall, the conservators recognized that the essence of bach architecture was embedded in their ad hoc character, with materials often recycled from other demolished baches or taken from the immediate surroundings. Because of this special character of the bach, the conservation team resolved not to restore the modest building to an “as new” state, but chose to replace the original fabric only where necessary due to rot or other damage. This approach meant retaining the wallpaper and linoleum even though superficial damage was evident. To assist in the effort, paper conservators from the Auckland City Art Gallery carefully removed some irretrievably damaged wallpaper but otherwise retained the existing treatment throughout. In several instances they stripped away small areas of the existing wallpaper to display earlier layers beneath. Much of Walter Pooley’s original 1920s furniture remained in the house; this and later examples have been carefully preserved and now form a significant part of the interpretive program for the museum and visitor centre.

Conservation and the Community

The restoration and conservation of Bach 38 was foremost a community effort. Local residents and others committed to the history and heritage of Rangitoto Island donated time and materials to make the effort possible. The enthusiasm of local volunteers reflected the neighbourliness and “can do” attitude of bach culture itself. In this, the very process was reminiscent of the way of life of the baches. The effort of the Rangitoto Island Historic Conservation Trust in preserving the few remaining examples of baches in some ways mirrors that spirit as well. Such wholehearted organizational and community involvement sends a positive signal for the future of the 34 baches on the island, and for the heritage of Rangitoto Island in general. As an exhibit site showcasing bach culture between 1928 and 1950, Bach 38 is an important memorial to this period in New Zealand’s history.

Quote from the Project Team

“The bach culture is associated with the wider values of self-sufficiency, independence, cooperation and community. The refurbished Bach 38 offers the visitor a glimpse into bach life.”