Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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A useful accessory: The use of lightweight replica ornament to manage the cultural heritage values of earthquake-prone buildings

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posted on 2021-11-15, 01:10 authored by Smith, Moira

In NZ, some earthquake-prone heritage buildings have, historically, been restored with lightweight replica ornament to reconstruct decorative features that have been damaged or removed over time. But restoration has traditionally been a contested approach to conservation, particularly when heritage values and authenticity are considered to be intrinsic only to original or historic built fabric. This problem leads to the central research question addressed in this dissertation: ‘Can lightweight replica ornament be used to manage the heritage value of earthquake-prone heritage buildings?’ The research draws on Critical Heritage Studies which challenges the conventional stress on the intrinsic value of tangible heritage objects, and argues that heritage value is found in the intangible cultural processes that surround things. Consequently, authenticity is seen as pluralised and dependent on the cultural concerns, and aspirations, of local stakeholder communities.  Using the theoretical framework of critical heritage and material culture studies, this dissertation therefore examines a technical aspect of conservation practice by re-theorising the concept of 'restoration'. The research methodology employs an adapted model of Action Research to investigate current professional practice. After analysing the historical context of earthquake-prone heritage buildings in the first chapter, in chapter two qualitative interviews are conducted with professionals who have an interest in the management of earthquake-prone buildings. Through the analysis and discussion of this data, a new actor network model is developed which shows the wider context of the resolution of the earthquake-prone status of heritage buildings.  The findings suggest that professionals believe that heritage value is intrinsic to built fabric, and that the repair of existing built fabric is generally achievable. This means that replica ornament should only be considered for situations where reparability is unfeasible, and that lightweight substitute materials should only be used where traditional materials and technologies can longer be reproduced. Within these constraints it is possible to use lightweight replica ornament where it can be justified as a contributor to cultural heritage values. Furthermore, where professionals can reconcile the varying concerns of stakeholder communities in terms of safety and heritage value then lightweight replica ornament has the potential to add meaning to buildings and to become part of the narrative of place.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Museum and Heritage Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Museum and Heritage Studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


McCarthy, Conal; McLean, Robert