How the Kiwis do it – Chris Moller

How the Kiwis do it – Chris Moller

We take you over the ditch to look at real estate New Zealand style when we catch up with the host of Grand Designs New Zealand, Chris Moller.


Kevin:  I’m delighted to say our next guest is the host of a great television franchise called Grand Designs, only this one comes out of New Zealand. We’ve seen Grand Designs UK, we’ve seen it in Australia, and now it’s in New Zealand. If you’re a regular viewer, you’ll be aware that we’re just about through season one in Australia right now. Joining me now is the host of that, Chris Moller. G’day, Chris. Thanks for your time.
Chris:  Hi, Kevin. Thanks for having me.
Kevin:  Congratulations on a great series, too. We can see the uniqueness of properties… As I said in the introduction, we’ve seen it in the UK, then in Australia and New Zealand. The thing that struck me about New Zealand, Chris, was that you have some pretty difficult terrain to build houses on there.
Chris:  Yes, that’s true, being on the edge of so many big challenges at the moment. As you’re well aware – and I’m sure your listeners are – dealing with the earthquakes in Christchurch, it’s a massive transformation not just of Christchurch itself but of code compliance across the whole country now. Likewise, leaky buildings. Huge challenges dealing with moisture control and all of that. Of course, I guess the east coast of Australia is quite similar in many ways. The deluge that hit New South Wales recently was pretty shocking, even by Wellington’s standards.
Kevin:  I do want to talk to you about leaky roof, earthquakes, and the general terrain, but we’ll do that later in our chat if we could. First off, I wanted to talk to you about how you went from being Chris Moller, architect, to Chris Moller, the host of Grand Designs New Zealand.
Chris:  Good question. It took me a while to really get my head around it. Initially, they were pursuing all sorts of different, interesting, strange designs generally. I was one of the people they approached because I’d developed this rather unusual construction technique, which I call Click-Raft, and they thought I might have a house that they could put on the show. At the time, I didn’t, but they were really fascinated by it, and so they kept ringing me back and asking me if there would be any possibilities. Apparently, they also asked me whether or not I would be interested at all in being the host, because they had been exploring different options for the host, which I didn’t know anything about. Obviously, I missed it altogether because they rang back a week or two later and just said, “So have you thought about it?” I said, “Thought about what?” Once I got my head around the opportunity – initially, I just thought, “This is crazy. I’m not up for anything like that” – it was wonderful.
Kevin:  Has it changed much of your lifestyle at all? It has to be very demanding to do all that filming.
Chris:  It is, and in a way, it isn’t. I don’t know whether in Australia you have an equivalent show to the one that we have here.
Kevin:  Yes, we do.
Chris:  We have a wonderful tradition in New Zealand of Country Calendar. It’s almost like a documentary of people’s lives in the countryside, especially farming and meets and so on, when you get around all of the local places where people do things in the local community. I think that the way we’re handling Grand Designs in New Zealand is very much in that spirit. Of course, it’s spread across a huge period of time – one and a half to two years to put a series together.
Kevin:  I wonder if you see any similarities in the stories that you’re putting together. I certainly do as a viewer. I notice that timeframe is one thing that people totally miscalculate, so too is their budget, and also their grandiose expectations. Are they the three main areas that you see some uniformity in where people may just go wrong?
Chris:  Sure. They’re the classic things that both the UK series and the Australian series handle brilliantly. Of course, one of the big reasons that everybody loves watching it is to see how those things unravel, but at the same time, how people manage to transcend those challenges. Each place and each community has its own difficulties. I think it’s really intriguing at the moment dealing with two things. One is all of the new requirements to meet much stringent building codes.
Kevin:  Yes, of course.
Chris:  Secondly, the tendency that things are becoming much more standardized because of that. If you look at other areas, for example, what’s happened with car design, so many of them have become more and more similar and, if you like, the huge research and development that goes into safety and compliance. Now those kinds of are happening in the construction industry, as well. So to deal with all of that, is there still space for people to have their own individual grand design or to be exploring things that are very personal to them in terms of realizing a dream?
Kevin:  Another area that I notice some people go wrong in is that they tend to think that they can become the project manager themselves – in other words, roll their sleeves up and become very, very involved in the building. Are you a great fan of people doing that?
Chris:  Both of our two countries have very strong DIY traditions – do it yourself, roll your sleeves up, and give it a go. I think that’s a wonderful thing to do, albeit with a good support team around you. I would always encourage people to have a go, but it’s like going bush or going to sea. Preparation is everything, and that is really, really crucial. Whether they listen to me or not is another story.
Kevin:  They normally don’t. In fact, if they listened to you, we probably wouldn’t have a show, so it’s good to see people making those kinds of mistakes. Can I take you back to what we talked about right at the start? That was leaky roof, earthquakes, and terrain. Tell me about leaky roofs. That seems to me to be a big difference between Australian architecture and New Zealand. You virtually don’t have any eaves. Is that what creates leaky roof?
Chris:  It’s not leaky roofs; it’s leaky buildings, generally. It’s become an issue to deal with a number of things. One is almost an unfortunate combination of events that happened particularly in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the style of buildings changed quite a lot. A lot of people decided that they didn’t want big roof overhangs anymore. They wanted things that were more crisp, more of a celebration of the wall. People were plastering surfaces at the same time that there was a building boom on, so they were missing good skills and competent workmanship, together with a change in code around timber structure. The timber was being explored in a way to be much greener and to try and remove all these very heavy, toxic chemicals that we usually impregnate timber with. The combination of those things meant that there has been a huge amount timber rot, particularly inside walls. It’s less about roofs and more about walls. If things are too tightly sealed up, then all of that moisture stays inside the wall and it isn’t able to breathe or release it. It’s the perfect storm, really.
Kevin:  I know it’s been a big issue, one that you’ve come to terms with, no doubt, as you would have too with earthquakes. I know that you’ve been very aware of the earthquake threat right throughout New Zealand for quite a long time, but it must have been heightened with what happened in Christchurch recently.
Chris:  It’s funny because that history of earthquakes has been around in New Zealand for a long, long time. We had the Napier earthquake back in 1931, which was a huge event. Basically, the whole town was destroyed. Now it’s quite famous as a place to go to see very early 1930s architecture, which is even more consistent than Miami.
Kevin:  Yes, art deco. It’s just beautiful, isn’t it?
Chris:  Yes, exactly. It’s well worth going to visit for that very reason. Who knows? Maybe Christchurch will end up with similar kinds of qualities because of what’s coming out of it. The phoenix, in a way, is an opportunity that comes out of deep tragedy. Kevin:  We lived in Christchurch for about three years. It’s an absolutely beautiful city, and let’s just hope that it does regain some of that beauty back. Chris, we’re out of time, unfortunately. I’d love to be able to talk to you for a lot longer, but all the best with your series. Are you into series two?
Chris:  We’re into series two and even three. You have to look forward. It’s really, really exciting. I think it’s awesome that we have this kind of tradition, and it’s connecting Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and who knows where else.
Kevin:  Yes, and it’s giving us great history, too. We’re watching these great ventures unfold. Chris Moller, thank you so much. Chris is an architect and host of Grand Designs New Zealand. Thank you for being our guest this morning in the show, Chris.
Chris:  You’re very welcome, Kevin. Thank you.

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