Documenting one of the largest heritage restorations ever undertaken in Christchurch has been a long and satisfying process for local photographer Olivia Spencer-Bower.
She was hired by Hawkins Construction to photograph and record time-lapse video footage of the massive $167 million project to repair and restore the earthquake damaged Christchurch Town Hall, starting almost five years ago in September 2015.
The Town Hall reopened to the public in February 2019 after it had been repaired and strengthened to 100 per cent of the New Building Standard. The James Hay Theatre, part of the Town Hall complex, opened three months later.
For three-and-a-half years Spencer-Bower visited the Town Hall each month to take photos of developments on the site, and two time-lapse cameras took photos every 10 minutes during construction hours. Late last year she finished editing the thousands of images into an impressive 10 minute video which can be seen here for the first time.
Being involved in such a huge project has been an incredible opportunity, she says. “I feel really proud to be part of a project of this significance. Knowing these images will have an enduring quality is the most exciting thing for me. Looking back in 40 or 50 or even 100 years, people are going to be able to see what our city has been through.”
Her work is inspired by black and white photos of the 1930s New York construction boom and says her aim was to capture an equally vivid snapshot of an emotionally powerful place and time.
Spencer-Bower grew up in Christchurch and feels a strong connection to the Town Hall. “I had school balls and Coast to Coast prize givings there so it has a lot of resonance for me personally.
“My photos were exhibited inside the Town Hall during the public open days when people explored the reopened building for the first time, and I think it was really important to show the phenomenal and meticulous work that went into restoring the Town Hall while maintaining its historical integrity.
“The images helped people appreciate the complexity of the work that was undertaken, like the massive jet grouting rig imported from Germany that moved around the main auditorium creating new concrete piles to stabilise the building.”
Spencer-Bower, who is the great niece of celebrated Canterbury artist Olivia Spencer Bower, says the end of her work at the Town Hall left in a big gap in her life after visiting there every month for so long. However, she now has a four-month-old son to look after, so she has a new ever-changing subject to document photographically.