Rutherford House Extension

Project Summary

Client: Victoria University

Project Type: Education, University

Project Timeframe: 2020-2022; 2015-2017

Architects: Athfield Architects

Awards: 2018 NZIA Wellington Architecture Award: Education

Project Description

Twenty months’ work on the top five floors of Rutherford House was completed in August 2022, bringing to an end a seven-year work programme at Victoria University of Wellington’s Pipitea campus. Following a major extension in 2015-2017, fit-outs and strengthening had occurred on one floor a year to 2019. In 2020, well over 100 LT McGuinness staff and contractors began a concerted push to complete the job.

The fully encapsulated removal of asbestos took place on each level, facades were replaced and interiors fitted out. The crowning glory is the level 12 ‘penthouse suite’, a social hub with spacious meeting and kitchen areas. It features a 3500mm-high cherry beech barn door with a finish that blends into the timber walls and ceiling. The cherry beech finishings are visible from all around the floor and enhance the light from the morning sun shining in over Wellington Harbour.

When the work reached level 12 and an asbestos-contaminated roof system was removed, it exposed a concrete slab that let in a lot of water. It was a case of all hands to the pump as temporary VCL waterproofing, polythene, buckets, wet vacuums and spill kits were employed to keep people and materials below safe and dry. The completed, watertight roof features cladding with fascia boxes and the university’s signage.

The Rutherford House extension that began in 2015 had run across six floors. The major challenge was to allow normal classes and university operations to take place during construction. The work area was hemmed in by a three-lane road, a bus terminus, and subway tunnels where thousands of commuters walk through to Wellington railway station every working day.

The early piling works were a challenge on their own. Some major piles adjacent are adjacent to, or on top of, live subways, and have busy university classrooms next door. Noise and other activities that would disturb the campus were controlled by operating at agreed times or after hours. Working closely with the Wellington City Council, a traffic management plan was drawn up to manage loads and deliveries to site.

The completed extension created additional classrooms, theatre spaces and seminar rooms. Interiors of the ground and mezzanine floors were completely refurbished and linked to the extension to create a welcoming open plan layout with retail spaces, a café, informal meeting areas and information stations. These changes were well accepted by students and staff, and have now been capped off by the final fit-outs and strengthening of the top floors.

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