Monier terracotta tiles revamp Wellington hospital

Monier terracotta responded to the hospitals urban environment and maintained its rich sense of history with its iconic 1928 red brick & rendered façade.

Since the mid 1800’s New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, has been home to the region’s largest public hospital, and although it has seen many incarnations since its opening back in 1847, its most recent redevelopment draws on its iconic 1928 red brick & rendered façade, to deliver a modern day aesthetic that responds to both its urban environment and its sense of history.

Planning for this development began more than a decade ago, with the relevant district health authority engaging Australian hospital specialists, De Carlo Potts (known today as Rice Daubney) to complete the health planning and design work, and NZ based architects Craig Craig & Moller (CCM) to take over as the principal consultant and see the project through to completion.

The hospital’s redevelopment includes the construction of a new 48,000m² building, the refurbishment of over 15,000m² of existing space, and extensive earthworks; including the demolition of the familiar Riddiford Street façade, part of which was relocated on the site as a tribute to its architectural heritage and place in local history.

It’s this relationship with place and community that contributed to the facility’s overall exterior design. Its articulated façade allows the high-density elements to be set back on the site, while the building’s lower levels engage directly with the immediate streetscape. These lower levels feature Monier terracotta roof tiles in a unique vertical application that was specifically designed for the project, providing a contemporary response to the original structure.

As John Rogers from CCM Architects points out, the brickwork of the old entrance and administration building was such a recognisable landmark, that they wanted to retain its essence in the new construction, but were obviously mindful of the impracticality of using conventional brickwork in an earthquake prone region like Wellington.

A range of alternate options was considered for this application including, prefabricated reinforced brick panels, engineered masonry wall systems and the Monier Nullarbor terracotta roof tile system. Each option was subjected to an onsite trial, with massive 4x4 metre sample panels constructed in-situ and tested for structural stability and water penetration. Interestingly, the Monier roof tile system outperformed even the highly regarded engineered option, and when considered as part of a complete cost benefit analysis, it proved to be the most cost effective solution as well.

Over 38,000 Nullarbor terracotta roof tiles were used in the construction, with each tile meticulously laid onto a timber matrix consisting of 75mm x 50mm battens mounted to a series of 150mm x 50mm vertical studs, and spaced at 400mm centres. To ensure the system’s longevity, each tile was individually fixed at three points using 316 grade stainless steel screws and storm clips.

In addition to the standout performance of the Monier system, the Nullarbor tile was also selected because of its natural ‘earth’ colour, which added warmth and texture to the streetscape. This, coupled with the lapped stretcher bond pattern used in the installation, gave the façade a sense of depth and movement, which John explains would not have been achievable if a one dimensional engineered system was selected.

The Wellington Hospital redevelopment was completed almost 5 years ago and since that time the region has been subjected to numerous earthquakes of varying intensity, including a quake registering 5.4 on the Richter scale in 2013. During this entire period the Monier terracotta roof tile system has proved to be a durable, functional and aesthetic addition to this most impressive civic building.