Model offers a glimpse into the past

Victoria Master's of Architecture student has spent the summer creating a scale model of Greytown for an upcoming exhibition celebrating Greytown's history.

Thomas Nieuwenhuis sits with architectural model of Greytown he has created
Photo credit: Illya McLellan/Stuff

A summer spent creating a scale model of the main street of New Zealand’s oldest planned inland town for a museum is a far cry from working at an abattoir.

Architecture student Thomas Nieuwenhuis has spent the past 10 weeks recreating 140 miniature buildings for Cobblestones Museum in Greytown using old maps, photographs, computer programmes and laser cutting equipment.

Nieuwenhuis was selected from a group of applicants to do the work as part of the Victoria University of Wellington Summer Research Scholarship.

The quiet room he has worked in at the back of the Wairarapa museum is quite a scene change to last summer and his job working in maintenance at a meat works in Central Hawke’s Bay.

The 1/250 scale architecture model of Greytown’s central area from the year 1918 will go on display at the museum later this year along with an audiovisual accompaniment telling the stories of the buildings and the people who lived and worked in them.

The model will be the centrepiece of an exhibition that will place a spotlight on Greytown 100 years ago and its social history at that time.

Nieuwenhuis says he enjoyed using skills honed over his time studying and as he continues towards his masters he thinks the experience will only help that goal.The project was time consuming because of the intricate nature of it. The entire model has 140 buildings with most made of laser cut cardboard and some more notable buildings made of see-through acrylic.

‘‘In the past few weeks I’ve been working 70 hours a week, just because there are so many buildings to do. It is an architectural model rather than a diorama so it will not be painted.

‘‘It will show the detail of the buildings, the dimensions and style and have them as close to where they actually were as possible through the research I did at Wairarapa Archive and with records provided by Cobblestones.

‘‘Greytown was perfect for [this project] because about 50 per cent of the buildings still exist. It’s been a good experience, the staff here have been very supportive and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Wairarapa a bit better.’’

Cobblestones Museum’s Annabelle O’Meara says Nieuwenhuis has brought a level to the project that it would have struggled to find without the help of Victoria University.The museum is staffed entirely by volunteers from a range of backgrounds but no-one would have been capable of producing something like what Nieuwenhuis has, she says.

‘‘Thomas has met the challenge really well. He has given the place a bit of an injection of youth, amongst the baby boomers who make up the bulk of the staff.

‘‘We gave him freedom to move on the project and he has managed to put together something really impressive. We are thrilled with the result.

"Greytown was perfect for [this project] because about 50 per cent of the buildings still exist."

This article was originally published in the Dominion Post on 14 February 2018