In July Maurice Clark, Managing Director of McKee Fehl, led two Friends tours through the Old Public Trust Building. Completed in 1908 the five-storey Edwardian Baroque building is the last surviving example using Tonga granite from Nelson. A notable feature on Lambton Quay, it is deserving of its Heritage NZ Category 1 rating. But to preserve its future, the building had to be commercially viable.

McKee Fehl is strengthening and restoring the structure. What we visited was a building site. We could see the scale and complexity of the work required to lengthen the life of an over 100-year-old stone building and bring it up to current seismic and safety standards.

Maurice explained how the structure was ‘tied together’. New shear walls, with buckle zones, extend the height of the building. New floor slabs, with cables running through, connect the walls and floor. 30-metre deep piles underpin everything.

The only route to the roof was to climb up three storeys on the external scaffolding. Once there, we could see up-close the beautiful decorative pattern of the copper roofing on the dome and dormers and carved granite detail on the pediments.

Access inside was through a dormer window. Insulation and air-conditioning will improve conditions for those working on the attic level, so they no longer swelter in summer or freeze in winter. A steel floating-staircase, designed by architects Warren and Mahoney, will connect the floors and its glass balustrades will act as a light-well. In the original ground-floor grand chamber, with its classical arcading, the coffered ceiling and classical detailing will be reinstated.

The completed work will retain many of the original features of this heritage building and include what is required for an updated modern office building. Once finished in late 2015, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage will occupy the upper floors and a Jamie’s Italian restaurant the ground floor and basement.

McKee Fehl has been responsible for the restoration of a number of historically significant buildings in Wellington. You will find details of the Old Public Trust building and other conservation projects here.