Working on the build of The Hotel Britomart has given this apprentice at Bracewell Construction an appreciation for both old and new building techniques.
For Ben Ngawaka, an apprentice builder on the team at Bracewell Construction, working on The Hotel Britomart building site in busy downtown Auckland was an eye-opening experience, though not just because of the demands of the job. “I've never had anything to do with traffic my whole life, so it was a bit of a shock to the system,” admits Ben, who grew up on the isolated Great Barrier Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, working on crayfishing boats as his first job.
After deciding he wanted to learn a trade, Ben asked long-time fellow local Glenn Bracewell, owner of the company, to give him a chance. Three and a half years on, he’s looking forward to completing his apprenticeship soon. “It's been good. I’ve learned a lot, aye, especially on this building,” he says. “There's really no better company around than Bracewell. I mean, look at what we're doing. It's a pretty cool project, right?”
Ben has been working across both the new build of the 10-storey Hotel Britomart, and the restoration of the neighbouring century-old Buckland and Masonic Buildings, which will eventually blend with the completed hotel. The job has pushed Ben to level up his skills in response to the exacting standards of the work. “I like a challenge,” he admits. “This whole building has been a bit of a challenge. We basically get no tolerances with it. The main thing I've learned is how to control concrete – just look at some of the stuff that we've poured, the volume of concrete in those columns and beams. There's no room for error. So I've learned all about the power of concrete.”
He’s also learned about the beauty of working with the solid native timber beams that were preserved and restored in the Buckland and Masonic Buildings, which are being restored as part of The Hotel Britomart project. “I’d never seen anything like those. And then most of my tools weren't big enough to cut through them with. Jobs like this, you kind of have to take a bit of pride in what you do, because the finished product is what you see.”
He’s looking forward to working on the project right through to the end, gaining some more skills in the technical detail of finishing lines and seeing what the crafted fit-out of the interior looks like after months working on the structure into which it will fit.
That will take him through to close to the end of his apprenticeship, and the next job with Bracewell Construction – which as a long-term building partner of Britomart, could even be in the area. “I will stay on with the company when I finish my apprenticeship, yeah,” says Ben. “I will definitely stay on. I've got too much respect for Bracewell to leave.”