Residential construction is dominated by small building contractors and companies or franchises. Commercial construction involves larger companies with specialist skills and huge resources in terms of equipment, workforce and access to capital.
James Fletcher pioneered the New Zealand use of electric winches to get bricks and other materials to the upper storeys of buildings. In 1937, with George Winstone, Fletcher introduced ready-mix concrete to New Zealand – years before it was available in Australia. He was also the first to use the tubular steel scaffolding system.
Scottish immigrant James Fletcher arrived in Dunedin in 1908 with his carpentry tools. He set up a company with Englishman Albert Morris, building a wooden house for a storekeeper at Broad Bay. The profit was only three shillings and sixpence ($26.15 in 2009 terms) out of the total price of £375. Morris soon left and Fletcher found more profitable contracts. Within three years the company took on bigger local projects such as a town hall, municipal baths and a three-storey office block. At the other end of the country it built the Auckland city markets. James and his son Jim (who took over the company in the 1940s) continually looked outward for construction opportunities.
By the 1930s Fletchers was one of the country’s biggest construction companies. During the 1930s and 1940s it built more than 6,000 out of a total 30,000 state houses. It became a public company in 1940, and diversified into pulp-and-paper manufacturing in the 1950s and civil engineering in the 1960s. The company grew into a huge multinational with increasingly diverse interests, yet in the early 2000s it still retained its commercial building interests as a division called Fletcher Construction.
Downer Construction began as a civil-engineering firm established by contractors Arnold Downer and George McLean in the early 1900s. In the 1950s Downers was mainly involved in earthworks, tunnelling and heavy concreting. From the 1970s it diversified into commercial building. The company completed Hutt Hospital’s clinical services block in 1980. In the early 2000s it was known as Downer EDI Engineering and still had a commercial building arm.
The long commute
Christchurch builder Charles Luney never had an overdraft facility. It probably helped save him from going under during the 1930s depression – as did his willingness to travel. Luney took on a Nelson job as Canterbury contracts dried up. He would leave the Nelson building site at 6 p.m. on Saturday after working six days, arriving home at 2 a.m. He spent Sunday with his family, attended to Christchurch business on Monday and then drove to Nelson that night, arriving early on Tuesday morning.
Chas S. Luney
Charles Luney started his Christchurch building company in the late 1920s, focusing on commercial rather than residential building. Over the 1930s his company won contracts to build cool stores and other buildings for freezing works. It went on to build many well-known buildings such as the Dunedin dental school and Christchurch’s town hall, public library and Princess Margaret Hospital. Some large projects such as Christchurch’s Parkroyal Hotel (now the Crowne Plaza) and the Christchurch Hospital refurbishment were conducted as joint ventures with Fletcher Construction.
Mainzeal Property and Construction was established in 1968 to work on Auckland Harbour Board’s redevelopment of the downtown area. In Auckland it built structures such as the Vector Arena (now Spark Arena) entertainment centre and the Botany Town Centre shopping precinct. In 2009 Mainzeal constructed new departure lounges at Wellington International Airport.
Hamilton carpenter Fred Hawkins opened for business in 1946 with partners Bill Nash and Cliff Thompson. The company took on commercial jobs building dairy factories, and in 1950 was successful in its tender to build a pulp and paper mill at Kinleith for New Zealand Forest Products. In 1951 the company listed on the New Zealand stock exchange. It moved its head office to Auckland in 1988, the same year it built the Auckland International Airport terminal.
In 1910 Hugh Naylor and James Love each set up building companies in Dunedin. The two companies constructed many commercial buildings in the southern South Island including the Dunedin town hall and the Evening Star building. They merged as Naylor Love in 1969. In the early 2000s the company employed some 350 staff and had an annual turnover exceeding $160 million.
Australian-based construction company Multiplex established an Auckland office in 1997. It changed its name to Brookfield Multiplex in 2008. The company managed several big Auckland projects and has worked on constructing Pegasus, a new town north of Christchurch. In 2009 Brookfield Multiplex was building the Deloitte centre, a 23-storey office building in Queen St, Auckland.