Town Hall miracle: Christchurch's iconic building will breathe again

By Shelley Robinson

The iconic Town Hall has gone from being the home of orchestras and performers, to the home of diggers, drilling rigs and about 50 workers. Photographer Olivia Spencer-Bower has the front row seat to the painstaking restoration project and will document its progress each month until it is finished in 2018.

Within the heart of the Town Hall - the auditorium - there is a "performance of a different kind" underway.

A symphony of noise emanates from workers and machines painstakingly putting back together one of the great symbols of the city.

And once a month, lurking in the background is photographer Olivia Spencer-Bower, 29, quietly recording with her three cameras as the workers slowly breathe life back into the Town Hall.

Olivia Spencer-Bower work documenting the Town Hall won her two silvers and a bronze at the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography IRIS Awards 2016. Photo / Olivia Spencer-Bower
Olivia Spencer-Bower work documenting the Town Hall won her two silvers and a bronze at the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography IRIS Awards 2016. Photo / Olivia Spencer-Bower

For her, it has been a poignant role from the first day she stepped inside due to its historical significance, the story of those working inside and her memories of the great building.

"It is those guys putting the hammer to the nail . . . it amazes me that the rebuild is literally man labour, not machines.

It is people dedicating their lives to bringing the building back to life," she said.

Her work documenting the Town Hall won her two silvers and a bronze at the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography IRIS Awards 2016.

The machinery in the auditorium she likens to a "performance of a different kind", very different from the productions Cantabrians will recall seeing on stage.

Once a month, Olivia Spencer-Bower takes her time to move about the Town Hall, recording its progress. Photo / Olivia Spencer-Bower
Once a month, Olivia Spencer-Bower takes her time to move about the Town Hall, recording its progress. Photo / Olivia Spencer-Bower

The $127.5 million project is expected to be completed by June 2018.

Nearly a year ago, Ms Spencer-Bower won the tender from the Hawkins Construction to document the building's rebirth.

Once a month, she takes her time to move about the Town Hall, recording its progress.

"These images will have so much more value in 15 years time when the Town Hall is finished and the city has started to grow back properly. These are images I hope will have quite a historical relevance," she said.

Getting to know the building's secrets

Olivia Spencer-Bower and apprentice carpenter Yannich Noa Siaosi are two people involved in making history at the Town Hall. Photo / Christchurch Star
Olivia Spencer-Bower and apprentice carpenter Yannich Noa Siaosi are two people involved in making history at the Town Hall. Photo / Christchurch Star

Yannich Noa Siaosi, 28, knows the Town Hall's secrets - secrets he reckons only the original workers from the 1970s will know.

The apprentice carpenter has been working on the Town Hall since February and is one of about 50 workers. He is a man of few words but becomes animated when describing what he has encountered on the job.

There are a myriad of "tunnels" and back rooms in and beneath the Town Hall that he is fascinated with.

For him, it is of huge historical and personal significance that he and his colleagues from

Hawkins Construction may be the only ones who know where they are.

"You would never have known they were there, unless you worked here. It is fascinating," he said.

He surmises the only other people likely to know the extent of the tunnels are the workers from the 1970s who built the original building, because he encounters their names etched on the brick work when they go to rip down a wall.

"We come across these bits of history. We will be clearing out a room getting it ready for demolition and we'll come across all these cool things from the 70s, like old phones and phone lists and stuff," he said.

He helps Ms Spencer-Bower sometimes by taking her up on the scissor lift so she can get a good angle.

"Sometimes I clean her cameras, too," he chortled.

- Christchurch Star

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