University of Auckland: Symonds Street Merchant Houses, Condition Assessment

In 2013, Salmond Reed was commissioned to investigate issues of dampness and associated defects to these three historic houses located along the eastern side of Symonds Street within the University of Auckland campus. Originally homes to some of Auckland’s merchant families, they have in more recent years been used as faculty offices and teaching rooms. As well as addressing the ventilation concerns affecting the health of staff and students, the University also needed to undertake major seismic strengthening of the buildings.

The mid 1880s houses were designed by the noted Auckland architectural firm, Edward Mahoney & Sons, in an Italianate style much favoured in the 1870s and 1880s, particularly among merchants, whose commercial premises were often erected in a similar style.

Designed to follow the steeply sloping site, each comprises two upper storeys with a basement level below the road, a rear yard and multi-storeyed rear verandahs affording distant views to Grafton Gully and the Domain. No 12, known as “Belgrave” was constructed from mass unreinforced concrete, and is a very early example of this type of material. Nos 14 and 16 are of similar appearance but have an asymmetrical frontage that includes a projecting bay and a short verandah and were built of durable materials, incorporating rendered brick walls and a slate roof.

Recognition of their contribution as part of the outstanding historical and cultural landscape of the lower Symonds Street area is evidenced by their 

Heritage NZ Category 2 listing. They are also protected by an Auckland Council Category B listing.

Although their recent use by the University had involved some minor alterations, much of the original material was intact and there was a real desire to enhance rather than detract from this character despite the comprehensive extent of the works. Therefore any remedial and seismic strengthening measures needed to be carefully tailored to mitigate any possible effects on the heritage status of the buildings.

As a background to the works Salmond Reed prepared Heritage Assessments for the three houses and a detailed review of condition – in particular the extent of dampness within the unusable basement areas. Salmond Reed was also responsible for the master specification of repair and refurbishment, incorporating the seismic/structural work by Structure Design, re-servicing by Mott Macdonald and IT Strategy by Division 27 Ltd.

Strengthening methods included new foundations, installing steel connections between walls and floors, reinforcing wall plaster and installing floor and roof diaphragms. Dampness was addressed with a specialist plaster system, together with the installation of a new fanned air circulation system to take air from the basement level of the buildings.

A complete retrofit and refurbishment, including interior/exterior redecoration and restoration of the garden areas completed the upgrade, ensuring that these buildings continue to be effective facilities for the University while retaining their valued heritage significance. 

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