Christchurch Cathedral Rebuilding

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Published on: March 16, 2013
Cathedral Render
An updated rendering, December 2013, with able assistance from Sam Fastier & Bernard Farrant


In May 2012, and again in December 2013, I had the privilege of working once more with Sir Miles Warren (I was an employee of his at Warren & Mahoney in the 90’s), and we prepared a model & some images to illustrate his proposed very low cost ($18m) strategy for reinstating the cathedral.

In essence, the original masonry base would be salvaged & made safe to a height of a few meters, while everything above this would be rebuilt in lightweight & earthquake resilient timber, adopting a contemporary implementation of Gothic principles (expression of load paths, verticality etc.), and honouring something of the original architect George Gilbert Scott’s intention, who had actually designed the cathedral in timber, not stone – for fear of earthquakes! (sadly he was overruled when the project was subsequently taken over by Benjamin Mountfort).

Cathedral cutaway
Cathedral cutaway

With Sir Miles’ approach we sit quite unashamedly between the strong desire of many for the comfort of complete and verbatim reinstatement of the original building, and the equally strong desire of others to do something a little more intellectually challenging with the site that acknowledges our own time and place in history – such as the idea championed (claimed?) by mayor Bob Parker for a variation on Norway’s Hedmark Museum, where the original building is retained as ruins encased within a contemporary glass shell.

Of course there is almost no money to do either of those, and amid all the politics and legal squabbling, the Anglican church faces the dilemma of dwindling congregations (and incomes) who have different priorities and practices than those of the Victorian settlers who built the original cathedral, and a pressing need to address the many other damaged and underinsured churches throughout the region that must also compete for funding.

So it may be that while our approach pleases few completely, it takes something from the aspirations of most parties, and of all the proposals put forward to date, it does offer the outstanding benefit of being feasible.

Cathedral transcept looking up
Cathedral transcept looking up

Paul King Architect | Christchurch | New Zealand | (03) 383 4592 |

Christchurch ’48 Hours’ Competition

Christchurch Architects were put to the challenge recently, with a design competition to address the earthquake ravaged city centre.

Starting at midday on 1st July 2011 and finishing an exhausting but exhilarating 48 hours later, 15 teams comprising over a hundred Architects, architectural designers, landscape architects, urban designers, engineers and students gathered together at Lincoln University to compete in the 48 Hour Design Challenge. Teams were assigned one of five earthquake damaged sites within Christchurch’s central city, and tasked to propose innovative Architecture that would address the reconstruction opportunities presented by each site, as well as wider economic, environmental and social themes.

There were four sites within the Red Zone: Cathedral Square and BNZ Building; 160 Gloucester Street; the Orion NZ Building at 203 Gloucester Street; and 90 Armagh Street, including the Avon River and Victoria Square. The fifth site, which sits outside the Red Zone, is the former Christchurch Women’s Hospital at 885 Colombo Street.

The supreme award was allocated to the designers of a scheme for the 15000m² Orion site, situated near the Avon River in central Christchurch.

The winning solution proposed salvaging the structure of an existing car parking building to create a new and exciting mixture of retail and office spaces, affordable housing, a covered market and an innovative community space in the form of a 30 meter timber lattice framed floating ‘drum’. The design created a landscaped public square with pedestrian links to Latimer Square and the river, acknowledging multiple layers of connection with time & place, weaving in memories of earlier waterways, wells and flora, and the indigenous pre European occupation and food gathering activity associated with the Avon.

The winning team, named after its sponsor ‘NZ Wood’ consisted of:

Jason Guiver, team coordinator & sponsor, NZ Wood Timber Design Advisory Centre
Paul King, Architect and 3D visualiser, Architecture Prime Ltd
Jasper van der Lingen, Architect, Sheppard + Rout Architects Ltd
Di Lucas, Land scape Architect, Lucas Associates
Dr Jackie Bowring, Professor of Urban and landscape design, Lincoln University
Chris Speed, Structural Engineer, Dunning Thornton Ltd
Ben Carter, Civil Engineering Student, University of Canterbury

“Though there is only so much that can be accomplished in 48 hours, this outcome vindicates a strongly design led collaborative approach rather than a planning rule driven approach to rebuilding our city, and shows what can happen when Architects are actually allowed to do their job” said Paul King, one of the winning Architects.

More coverage on the competition can be found here:
in this 3 News video clip.

Images by Paul King, Architecture Prime Ltd

Paul King Architect | Christchurch | New Zealand | (03) 383 4592 |

Leaky Building Syndrome, And How To Avoid It!

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Published on: March 28, 2011

Horror stories about poor construction standards in many new homes have dominated the news in recent years. Popularly known as “leaky-building- syndrome “, this phenomenon has sent shock waves through the New Zealand  building industry and shivers down the spines of many potential new home buyers. These events have brought into question the advisability of purchasing or building a new home at all.

Many prospective home buyers are left wondering —” is it worth the risk?” and, “if things go wrong, who’s to blame?”


Buildings around the world have always been subject to leaks as they age, sometimes because maintenance has been inadequate, and often during severe weather conditions. However, here in New Zealand and overseas there has been a significant increase in leak problems that can’t be explained this way.

Various groups have been blamed — builders, building materials manufacturers, city councils, the government, architects and other designers, and even homeowners themselves.   In reality, most problems have arisen due to a number of factors and cannot be attributed exclusively to one agent or authority.  If we are aware of these factors and take them into account during a new home’s design and construction, leaky-building-syndrome is entirely avoidable. As always, good professional design and advice ahead of time is the best insurance against potentially serious leak problems – now, and into the future.


How Leaky-Building-Syndrome happens

Geographical location
The vast majority of New Zealand “leaky building” problems have emerged in the north of the North Island – where high rainfall & high humidity have exposed problems that would not arise as quickly (or at all) elsewhere.  Local climactic conditions need to be factored into the design of homes built in any region, and while experienced designers and builders are able to properly achieve the standards required, it seems that an overheated property market in the North, particularly in the Auckland area, had fostered a “cowboy” culture in which builders, owners and developers have taken short cuts to build more quickly and cheaply in recent years.



Certain materials used in buildings are blamed more often than others. Particularly strong criticism has been made of the use of plaster on polystyrene wall linings in combination with untreated timber wall framing.  If this construction technique is employed, only the outer painted surface provides for weather tightness. This weakness is compounded by the fact that if water does get through the surface, there is no easy way for it to get out again, so it can remain locked in the interior of the wall.

As a result of prolonged exposure to dampness, untreated timber framing quickly develops mould and rots – often without any visible sign from the outside until it is too late.   Better construction techniques exist that ensures that water resistance is not just dependant on a layer of paint!, and that allow drainage back out of any water that does penetrate the surface as result of  extreme weather conditions.


Bad design details

All too often the quickest, easiest and lowest cost “standard” methods of construction in recent years have been the most leak prone. Over-reliance on sealants and poorly designed or installed window flashings are common faults, made worse on buildings without wide eaves to shelter the walls and windows from rain, or on complex buildings where there are more joints that can develop leaks.   Good techniques exist to prevent leaking on any building, but these can cost a little more to design and build properly and may not be well understood by some designers & builders.

Lack of ventilation

Older New Zealand houses have always leaked – often more than the new “leaky buildings” we hear about!

However, in order to save on heating bills, newer buildings are usually much better sealed against draughts.  Ironically, this means they can be less able to ventilate away any moisture that forms within walls and roof spaces and consequently, any trapped water is more likely to sit for long periods and cause rot and other damage.


Building Regulations

The New Zealand Building Code is “performance based”.  It is flexible enough to allow for the use of new technology and innovation within a framework of generalised safety and durability requirements. However, while the code does offer guidance for many specific situations, it cannot hope to cover all of the huge range of situations, and all of the construction materials and systems that are available in any detail – this is left to the skill and experience of the designer and builder selected.  The code also only sets minimum standards.   Builders and owners who opt to build just to the minimum standards required by law allow themselves less margin for error. Mistakes do happen and purely price-driven decisions frequently do result in problems for home-owners – and not just from leaks!


Lack of oversight by local authorities

The checking of building consent applications by local authorities provides only minimal protection for home-owners.  Under current legislation the owner bears final legal responsibility for meeting all building and planning regulations, or for engaging builders and designers as required to achieve this.  As a result, and for some years before the crisis emerged, domestic building consents were often granted based on fairly minimal architectural drawings and details submitted.

This is fine where the owner delegates his or her responsibilities by engaging competent designers and builders who actually know the Code, understand the ramifications of each choice, and have the skills and judgement to select appropriate construction materials, details and methods in every situation  – but in a price driven market, the importance of such competence has often been overlooked.

As a result of “leaky building” publicity however local authorities now require much more thorough and detailed design information and drawings up-front, to catch more problems before they arise.

While some problems that emerge can be picked up later during construction on site, the reality is that Council building inspectors simply don’t have the time or funding to visit all building sites often enough to ensure that every problem is detected in timel, so good drawings are essential!


Inadequate training and knowledge of builders

Some builders and trades people —often the cheapest ones— have limited training or little overall understanding outside their own trade. This means they are often only familiar with minimum standards of construction or have little detailed understanding of how all a building’s parts need to work together.   This can be made worse when a homeowner or project manager or developer with even less training tries to co-ordinate all the different trades involved in the complex process of building a new home.


Inadequate training and knowledge of building designers

Price is usually a reflection of quality, and builders and designers who offer the lowest prices are often those least qualified to do the job. It’s the age-old rule—you get what you pay for.

This rule is particularly important in New Zealand, because until very recently there was no minimum legal level of competence required to design and build houses here.  The Government is currently establishing a mandatory “Licensed Building Practitioner” regime covering a range of designers & trades people to address this, and exclude some of the Cowboys operating in the Industry.

However the final processes for establishing competence and standards to be set for these practitioners are still evolving.   Currently Architects are the only designers of houses obliged to meet proven academic and professional standards.


Lack of input from Architects

The statistics show that problems are very much more likely to arise when home owners choose not to engage a Registered Architect.

Building a home is not a project to be undertaken lightly and an Architect’s input is essential if design and detailing issues are to be well resolved ahead of time.  An Architect can also monitor quality of work and building costs independently during construction to forestall any problems that do emerge.


Conclusions: Getting what you pay for

In a nutshell, it seems that much of the “Leaky Building Syndrome” has largely resulted from a combination of four main factors:

  1. The desire of home owners to save money and time.
  2. The availability of a wide range of new and cheaper building materials.
  3. The availability of a wide range of cheap tradespeople and designers in the construction industry.
  4. A tendency for owners to “do it themselves”, hiring and managing each trade separately during construction, foregoing the traditional single experienced contractor who would otherwise take full responsibility for and manage all construction,  and foregoing an independent Architect who has the skill and experience to ensure design  quality from the outset.

The ever-increasing range of cost cutting options clearly carries with it an increased level of risk, and at the end of the day, while building practitioners must be held to account for what they do, home-owners must also take more responsibility for choosing wisely.

If the true long-term costs and benefits are considered rather than just the lowest short-term cost, most problems disappear.  A new, well designed and well built home will always give the very best protection against leaks – and other problems. It is also a wonderful lifestyle option that, in the long-term, provides many New Zealanders with a sound investment and lasting value for their money.

Paul King Architect | Christchurch | New Zealand | (03) 383 4592 |

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