Saturday, July 13, 2024

New heritage ceilings for Wellington town hall

Work is underway to restore and replace the heritage pressed metal tile ceilings of Te Whare Whakarauika, the Wellington Town Hall.

When the Town Hall was built over 120 years ago, the pressed metal sheets were manufactured as an elegant yet economical alternative to regular plastered tile. The sheets were made of zinc, stamped with designs, and painted with a lead-based paint.

The National Pressed Metal team’s work started back in 2019, when the tiles were removed to allow for work in the Town Hall roof. This is a piece of the Town Hall project’s wider commitment to restore and enhance one of the city’s most important Category one heritage buildings.  

“The team meticulously documented the placement of the tiles on the roof with a gridded code system, took down the old panels, and moved the intact ones into the Wellington Archives,” explains Justin Schipper, Site Foreman and Contract Manager for National Pressed Metal.

Samples of the damaged tiles were sent to the National Pressed Metal workshops in the Australian Distribution Centre in Adelaide, where they were replicated into new stamp templates using cutting edge computer technology.  

a contractor posing next to a pressed metal sheet
Andrew Britton with a sheet of pressed metal, replicated with computer technology.

To replicate these tiles, the team had to use an old system of measurements.

“To precisely match the original tiles, we’re had to use old imperial measurements instead of metric, with the biggest sheets we made being 6 foot x 3 foot,” says Justin.

“This change allowed us to get the measurements just right, as they had to be perfectly precise to the originals.”

The stamped sheets were then brought back into the Town Hall to patch or replace the original heritage tile. 

As the team restore the Town Hall roof, they’re also restoring a historical archive of pressed metal artwork.

“Pressed metal was very popular in the late 19th century, but a lot of it was confiscated to melt down for war efforts in World War Two,” explains Andrew Britton, Contractor.

“In the height of pressed metal history, there were about 2000 recorded designs in Australasia, where there are only about 250 now.”  

Through the restoration of the Town Hall ceiling, two new pressed metal designs previously lost have been recovered and added to the archive.  

Andrew, pressed metal contractor, pointing at a heritage tile
Andrew with a rediscovered tile design from the Town Hall.

But it’s not just new tile patterns the team are finding on the job.

“Throughout the works we’ve found some interesting things on the exposed timber of the roof, from old New Zealand pennies to handwritten notes from the original builders of the Town Hall.”

Justin and the team say the most rewarding part of the process has been putting everything back together, adding that the process is pretty similar to the original installation over 120 years ago– only this time without the lead paint!

“We are reusing a lot of the original screws and nails, but we’re also using some rivets and glue.” 

national pressed metal contractors reinstalling a heritage tile
The National Pressed Metal team reinstalling a heritage sheet.

“The workmanship of the handmade nails we found in the original beams is amazing, I get a buzz about of how all of this was installed with such quality, long before the equipment we have now.”

“It takes a while to find everything and put it back in the right place – like the biggest jigsaw puzzle you’ve ever seen,” says Andrew.

“But we just love the heritage, the history side of these things – we’re so passionate about it.”

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