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DoC urged to halt its Conservation Week vandalism

Institute of Architects urges DoC to halt its Conservation Week vandalism

It’s Conservation Week, and to mark the occasion the Department of Conservation (DoC) has begun to demolish a Heritage Category One listed building, the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre at Lake Waikaremoana.

Demolition workers have fenced off the building so they can start the eight-week wrecking job.

In response, the Institute of Architects has sent urgent appeals to the Minister of Conservation, Maggie Barrie, and Treaty Settlements Minister Christopher Finlayson asking them to intercede and stop the destruction of the building.

The DoC-owned Visitor Centre was designed in the 1970s by the pioneering Maori architect John Scott, one of the outstanding figures in twentieth century New Zealand architecture. It was funded by the government and a public subscription campaign.

“The Department of Conservation has been as eager to get rid of the building as it has been careless in looking after it,” said Institute of Architects President Christina van Bohemen. “For years the Department struggled to imagine any option for the building’s future other than its removal.”

“DoC has not valued the building or properly maintained it. What’s worse is that right up to this week it has refused to engage with anyone who does have the wit and the will to save Aniwaniwa, look after it and find a fitting use for it.”

Ms van Bohemen disputes the claim made by DoC and Minister of Conservation Maggie Barrie – who is also Minister of Culture and Heritage – that due process was followed in the decision to demolish the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre.

“Let’s look at that claim. The Department has ignored Aniwaniwa’s status as a Category One Historic Place. It has ignored conservation reports it commissioned that specified the remedial work necessary to maintain the building. It has wilfully misinterpreted engineering reports to assert that the building is an earthquake risk, when it is not. It has argued the building is insanitary, when it is the Department’s own neglect that has reduced Aniwaniwa to a shabby state.”

“DoC’s indifference to due process has been abetted by the negligence of Wairoa District Council which never got around to incorporating the Visitor Centre’s Category One listing in its district plan, and therefore robbed the building of protection.”

“The only process here seems to be one of running down the building to such to an extent that a case can be cobbled together to justify demolition.”

Ms Van Bohemen said DoC’s latest argument for the destruction of the Visitor Centre is that timber from the ceiling of the building is required as flooring in a new facility the department and Tuhoe are building at Lake Waikaremoana.

“So, despite DoC’s claim that the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre building is essentially rotten, it can still provide tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of viable native timber for a new building.”

“DoC’s hypocrisy is astounding. It says that taking materials from John Scott’s Visitor Centre will ensure the spirit of the old building – which DoC has never liked or valued – is brought into the new one.”

“This is vandalism disguised as nonsense metaphysics.”

Ms van Bohemen said that numerous individuals and organisations, including the Institute of Architects, have offered to help find ways to preserve the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre.

“For example, when DoC said native timber from the Visitor Centre was needed for the new building we offered our help in finding an alternative supply. Disappointingly, and predictably, our offer received no reply.”

“What DoC’s actions have revealed is that a Category One Heritage listing means nothing unless a building or place is protected by inclusion in the local council’s district plan.”

“I think New Zealanders will be surprised to learn that this country’s highest heritage category provides no guarantee of heritage protection. This must be addressed. But first, government ministers should step and stop a government department destroying a significant part of our heritage – an important public work by a unique New Zealand architect.


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