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Project Profile


2009 Award of Merit

Waterworks Building

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Project TitleWaterworks Building

Location805 Great North Road, Western Springs, Auckland, New Zealand

Responsible PartyDave Pearson, Ken Pointon and Mike Basham

Heritage ArchitectDave Pearson Architects Ltd.

ContractorHaydn & Rollett (Waterworks Building) and APS LTD (Engineers’ Cottage)

Date of CompletionSeptember 2002 (Waterworks Building), April 2008 (beam engine) and  December 2008 (Engineer’s Cottage)

Project Synopsis

An iconic Neo-classical structure with rusticated stone quoins, arched head windows and a plastered cornice, the Waterworks Building is an outstanding example of Victorian industrial period architecture, and is considered one of New Zealand’s foremost industrial heritage sites. Opened in 1876, the Waterworks Building served to provide a reliable supply of fresh water for the growing city of Auckland, supporting the health and wellbeing of the city’s citizens.

The two-storey solid masonry with lime mortar pumphouse building and adjacent single-storey boiler house were designed by architect-engineer William Errington in 1875. The Waterworks Building contains a large beam engine built by the firm of John Key and Sons of Scotland, installed to extract water from the nearby Western Springs reservoir. The facility continued to pump water until 1948, when it was decommissioned from daily use. Although subsequently employed in emergencies between 1948 and 1964, the Waterworks Building did not function as a working water pumping station and consequently fell into a state of disrepair. By the 1960s, the roof and gutters were leaking and sections of the plaster cornice had fallen off. Moisture ingress had led to widespread water damage, efflorescence and the decay of timber trusses, roof members and joinery. The beam engine had seized and was missing various parts.

Its salvation was due to the efforts of a professor from Auckland University and a group of engineers with an appreciation for heritage structures, who became active in raising awareness about the significance of the building and its machinery. A project was initiated in 1964 to establish a museum in the building to preserve a collection of transportation-related artefacts: the Museum of Transport and Technology. This effort was unfortunately too late to save the Lancashire boilers in the boiler room and the distinctive brick chimney, both of which had already been removed from the site. Although this initial effort ultimately led to the preservation of the Waterworks Building, in the early years the museum lacked support and funding. 

By 2000, the Waterworks Building had sunk into an even more serious state of dilapidation. A new group of supporters decided that a comprehensive conservation plan was required, including plans for structural upgrading, the provision of a new slate roof and repairs and remedial work to the building fabric. Following repairs to the building in 2002, it became the focal point of the Museum of Transport and Technology, providing educational and interactive exhibits for visitors.

The project’s sponsors then focused attention on restoring the pumping machinery within the building, most of which had survived, and on repairing the single-story Engineer’s Cottage, also on the site. With support from the government and from individuals and organizations, work to restore the machinery began in 2004 and was completed in April 2008. Work to restore the Cottage began in 2008 and was completed by the end of the year.

Conservation Approach

The main goal of the project was to conserve the Waterworks Building and the Cottage and to restore the beam engine to full working order. The work followed international conservation guidelines and the recommendations set out in the ICOMOS New Zealand Charter for the Conservation of Places of Cultural Heritage Value.

From the outset of the project, several conservation objectives helped guide the direction of the work. The architect felt strongly that work should reveal the way in which the building had aged over the centuries. For instance, in treating the boiler house’s exposed timber trusses, which had been encrusted with a layer of soot over the original whitewashed surfaces, the architects decided not to restore the timber to an immaculate condition. Rather, the surfaces were gently rubbed to reveal some of the original surface finish while retaining traces of the soot black. The architect and project supporters also decided that the some parts of the building should be returned to an earlier appearance, as a way of recovering and interpreting its heritage significance. This step involved the removal of visibly intrusive and historically insignificant elements and the reconstruction of some missing elements. The project’s design team held to the dictum that there would be no reconstruction work without clear evidence of the original forms. Photographs and original drawings were important in ensuring accuracy of replacement features.

Particular care was taken to utilize traditional construction techniques and to rely on appropriate materials — those that would have been used at the time the building was constructed and which were deemed significant to the building’s original character. This approach, the project’s supporters believed, respected the history of the building and gave recognition to the original designers and builders. The composition of the original mortar, for example, was replicated. Based on laboratory tests, the architect reconstructed the sand and lime mortar used in the original work, passing this knowledge onto the construction crew. Likewise, the technique for making the joints of the building’s arches was revived. The arches, which had been placed over windows and doors, featured joints with raised “tuck-pointing”. The technique of tuck-pointing was a procedure that had been all but lost, so the workers on the project therefore had to learn this procedure.

The original structure had a slate roof, which at some point been replaced with a corrugated steel one. The conservation team removed the later roof and replaced it with a new slate roof based on the original design. To improve the roof’s performance, workers installed flashing, formed from lead sheets, at ridges and hips, while copper was used for the gutters. 

Several new interventions were necessary to bring Waterworks Building into conformity with modern safety standards. These included structural upgrading to meet New Zealand Building Code requirements for earthquake prone areas. The structural work involved the insertion of a steel framework and cross bracing just below the roof level. The steel work was painted light grey to distinguish it from the original structure and to minimize its overall visual impact. The architect also designed the steel bracing system in a manner that would allow its removal at a future date. The notion of reversibility is in accordance with generally recognized conservation practice.

The project’s designers’ interpreted the conservation project as part of the building’s history, a significant juncture in the evolution of the property. To that end, they insisted that new repairs be clearly visible rather than be concealed within the original fabric and structure. This approach can be seen most clearly in the boiler house, where the repairs to beam ends involved the insertion of steel plates slotted into the timber. There was no attempt to try to conceal the bolts holding the repaired sections together, leaving the repairs as a permanent part of the display. Work on the Engineer’s Cottage included the removal of a rear verandah and the reconstruction of a rear entry porch in accordance with old photographs. The original timber deck, rails and balustrades of the front verandah were reinstated, removing an inappropriate concrete floor that had been installed in an earlier repair effort. The chimney was repointed, decayed timber weather boards replaced and the original colour scheme reinstated. The restored Cottage became the linchpin of a colonial village constructed on the museum grounds, which now comprises some ten buildings, including a church, school and blacksmith’s forge.

Conservation and the Community

The Waterworks Building has played a key role in the history of the Auckland community, initially as a provider of fresh water to the city’s population and today housing an interactive and living museum. The historic property stands as a prominent feature of the locality and is a distinctive structure in the landscape. The restoration and operation of the facility has depended largely on volunteer support. Members of the local community painstakingly restored the beam-engine to operable condition, an effort that required the dedication of a team of from eight to twelve museum volunteers meeting weekly over a period of four years.

The working machinery the only double Woolf compound engine in the world and the largest operating beam-engine in the Southern hemisphere is now a primary attraction at the Auckland Museum of Transport and Technology and has added immensely to the educational value of the site.

Quote from the Project Team

“Over the years, the building had aged gracefully. The patina resulting from 125 years of life was part of its character and this should be celebrated. The building should, therefore, not be restored to a pristine or as new condition but should be allowed to show its age.”