Māori built dwellings, marae and pātaka (storehouses) from timber. When European settlement of New Zealand began, builders were needed to construct houses, shops, and public buildings such as post offices, pubs and churches.
Building boomed as towns grew. Most builders worked on contract, but some bought land, then constructed houses and sold them. As suburbs expanded in the 1920s many small building companies were set up – but most went out of business during the 1930s economic depression. After this, the government developed large areas of state housing, providing more work for builders.
Commercial construction companies
Commercial construction involves large companies with specialist skills and huge resources. New Zealand companies include:
- Fletcher Construction, which began in 1908 when James Fletcher and a partner built a wooden house in Broad Bay, Dunedin. By the 1930s Fletcher’s was one of New Zealand’s largest building companies, and built many state (government-owned) houses. It became a huge multinational.
- Chas S. Luney, set up in Christchurch in the 1920s to construct commercial buildings. It built cool stores at freezing works, and well-known buildings such as the Dunedin dental school and Christchurch library.
- Naylor Love, which was formed in 1969 by the merger of two building companies. Both had been set up in 1910 in Dunedin.
Early house-building companies used materials such as kauri timber. In the 1920s costs of labour and timber rose, so simpler houses were designed that were cheaper to build. After the Second World War companies produced prefabricated houses.
- Lockwood produced kit-set wooden houses. It was set up in Rotorua by two Dutch immigrants to use the exotic pine timber of the central North Island.
- Keith Hay Homes developed a method of moving buildings in large pieces. The company produced prefabricated houses cheaply and quickly from radiata pine.
The building profession
The building industry has boom-and-bust cycles – sometimes there is little work, and sometimes there is too much. Young people can enter the industry through apprenticeships. In the 2000s more apprentices were women, although the industry was still largely male.
The building process
When clients want a new house built or alterations done, they get an architect or draughtsperson to draw up a plan. This must be approved by the local council, which sends a building inspector to make sure the work meets the standards in the Building Code. Builders may subcontract work out to other tradespeople such as electricians and plumbers.