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The two buildings are structurally different – one is a concrete structure, the other a large steel structure; both are compliant to high seismic standards

A collaborative approach for King Edward Barracks
– By Lee Suckling

Ngai Tahu Property has seen its vision for the King Edward Barracks executed with a $64 million project on a whole city block in Christchurch.

Comprising two buildings, the project finished construction in autumn and occupies the former site of the Christchurch Central Police Station, which is Ngai Tahu land. The Warren and Mahoney designed buildings were constructed by Hawkins in close consultation with Ngai Tahu Property, resulting in a communal effort on an important historical site.

“The site was home to the former King Edward Barracks, which played a key role in our European history, but even earlier, it sat on the edge of the traditional Puari Pa, a nearby urupa (burial ground) and the important mahinga kai (food-gathering place) of the Otakaro (Avon) River,” says Ngai Tahu Property senior development manager Gordon Craig.

Ngai Tahu Property has acknowledged all these threads in the re-envisioned King Edward Barracks buildings, which now contain offices housing companies such as Vero, EY and Aurecon.

“This will be a place for the people of Christchurch, and storyboards placed throughout the new landscaped gardens will reflect our joint histories. A foundation stone, retrieved from [the original] King Edward Barracks will celebrate the military history of the site, and native plantings and traditional designs set into paving reference Ngai Tahu history,” Mr Craig says.

A different approach

One of the key differences about this project was the type of procurement Hawkins was involved in. “We didn’t close all the tenders; we worked with Ngai Tahu as a team approach,” says Steve Taw, Hawkins South Island regional manager.

“It’s all well and good to get the cheapest price on the day, as you do with most [construction] projects. We took a different approach – likened to when you’re buying a new car. You don’t buy the cheapest one; you buy the one you’re most comfortable with. That same logic isn’t usually applied to the construction industry.”

Engineering was contracted to Lewis Bradford for building one, and Aurecon took on building two. Grayson Engineering was the structural steel contractor while a number of parties contributed for the concrete.

Construction began with the implosion of the old Police Station in September 2015, and subsequently a huge amount of rubble and debris was removed from the site. The topping out was done within just 11 months as the final concrete was poured to complete the top floors, letting the buildings take shape.

“They’re two different buildings structurally,” says Mr Taw. “One is a concrete structure, the other is a large steel structure. Both are compliant to high seismic standards – they’re different to highlight that there’s more than one way to deliver a building.

“Building one has 21 bearings and 21 columns, isolating the building from ground movement [during seismic activity],” he says of the five-storey structure. “This is essentially what you’d see in buildings of significant importance like hospitals; it doesn’t place the building under the same stresses if it were fixed, and [earthquakes] feel less violent.

“Building two (also five storeys) has buckling restrained bracing (BRB), using a cyclical core filled with grout, which is now a common application [in seismically-sound Christchurch buildings].”

Mixed use

The ground floors of King Edward Barracks combine cafés and other hospitality spaces. Within the office buildings themselves, there will also be restaurants/cafés, a pharmacy and a convenience store.

Warren and Mahoney’s masterplan also includes some inner-city apartments, though these are currently still subject to design, testing of market demand, and board approval.
Approximately 300 people were at work on the 13,700 sq m site on a daily basis to ensure the timeframe of just over 18 months could be met. “Both the structures and the interior fitouts were progressing on the site at the same time,” says Mr Taw.

“It was a tight site for that many people. Doing the fitouts at the same time did put us under stresses and strains, in fact [in January 2017] we did 45,000 man hours. We have also peaked at 400 workers,” he adds.

“Essentially, we’ve done what we’ve done because of the collaborative approach, which was reciprocated by Ngai Tahu with the He Toki ki te Rika Maori pre-trade training programme. We’ve worked with Ngai Tahu to get as many people into the trade as we can.”

Human resources challenge

With so many workers onsite every day, a human resources challenge was presented with the international workforce. “Having people from all over the world speaking different languages has become part of life in the industry,” says Mr Taw. “It doesn’t have the same impact as it did five years ago when people started arriving [for the Christchurch rebuild]; we’ve learned a lot of lessons since then.

“It comes down to not assuming that people know what you’re saying. When you ask for people to acknowledge you, in a lot of cultures they will smile, nod and say yes, when they don’t know what they’re saying yes to,” he notes.

“It was important for us to understand them, and to do away with any thoughts of the person giving instruction as somebody who shouldn’t be questioned [by workers]. That’s involved a bit of [an internal] culture change.”

For Hawkins, this meant following an informal ‘buddy up’ programme to ensure health and safety standards were always met. “The only people who can change the culture of health and safety are those who are living it day to day,” Mr Taw says. “For anybody that didn’t have a good grasp of English, they were encouraged to buddy up with somebody that spoke their native language, and learn from them what’s acceptable and what’s not in the New Zealand construction environment.”

Close cooperation

Located in an extremely busy part of the Christchurch CBD, the project required very close cooperation with neighbours. “There was a lot of high-level collaboration and we’ve been working closely with the Christchurch City Council’s traffic management team,” says Hawkins senior site manager Darren Tucker. “It’s been satisfying to see the project develop to the client’s specification.”

The King Edward Barracks development is located in the West End between Cashel Street, Hereford Street, Montreal Street and Cambridge Terrace. The external space between the buildings, known as Nga Mara a Te Wera (the Gardens of Te Wera – a Ngai Tahu warrior chief), is designed to be a shared space for informal gatherings.

Freelance writer Lee Suckling has lived and worked across the globe, but is now based in Christchurch; his specialties include interiors, architecture, construction and urban planning

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