Models that Feel Like Home

One exhibition we put on in 2019 at Ashburton Museum proved to be close to the heart of many locals. It was titled ‘Ashburton: Feels Like Home’ and included all kinds of quirky and iconic items and images that are a reminder of why this place is special to so many people.

Among the exhibition were models of both the clock tower and an imagined city centre of the future. Both these models are interesting in their own right.

The model of the clock tower is a remarkably good rendition, hand made by John Corbitt in 2003. Being a scale model, it gives a really good sense of the size, structure and detail of this distinctive architectural feature located in the center of Ashburton.

Also featured in the exhibition was original film footage of the clock tower under construction, showing a scaffold surround and how sections were lifted into place.

Looking rather risky to today’s viewers, was seeing men working on the construction scrambling up and around the scaffolding, with apparently little or no fall protection.

The real clock and tower

The real clock face dates back 1904, when it was housed in the tower of the old Ashburton Post Office, erected in 1901.

Due to new earthquake regulations, during the mid-twentieth century the old tower was removed and the clock put into storage, until being restored in the 1970s by the Ashburton Lions Club. Ralph Crum was instrumental to this project, with members assisting at Mr Crum’s home workshop every Monday night for a year. The museum holds a record of the many hours they logged on this project.

The timing of the restoration worked well, as the newly restored clock became a centrepiece for the County Centennial in 1976.

A new clock tower was designed by Warren and Mahoney Architects, with contractors Bradford Construction Ltd working on the build, and the clock itself being installed into the tower by Horrell Engineering. In 2011 the clock tower underwent further earthquake strengthening.

Shortly after Mr Corbitt made his model, in 2004, the New Zealand Institute of Architects recognised the significance of the clock tower structure by awarding Warren and Mahoney with an Enduring Architecture award for their now-iconic design, which had earlier won a New Zealand Institute of Architects Local Award in 1978.

Ashburton 2000

The second model in Ashburton: Feels Like Home was a table diorama – a special type of model presented flat, like a table, and designed to show what a scene or area, when reproduced in three dimensions, looks like.

This model shows Ashburton in the year 2000 and beyond as imagined by the Borough Council planning staff in 1964.

In its own tight the model is an elegant object, with wide streets of perfect proportion, all painted in a range of then highly fashionable tempera-like colours, in a pastel rainbow.

The model was made over six weeks by Mr TG McPherson, the Borough Building Inspector and a group of helpers. It was made in response to a suggestion by Councillor MG Wall, who “felt that a model of the square depicting the proposed lay-out to town planning ideals, would more readily be appreciated by the man-in-the-street”. It was thus intended as an informative model showing how a future civic centre might look.

Today some features of the imagined town are recognisable and others were fantasy. We won’t reveal here what was the most distinctive change was to the proposed town centre layout, as that would best be discovered by checking out the photographs for yourself.

This article was originally published on the 9th of October 2019 and has been modified for this blog.

By Tanya Zoe Robinson


  1. One of a set of 25 photos of the clock tower taken at time of Borough Centenary.
  2. Detail of model that shows Ashburton in the year 2000 as imagined by the Borough Council planning staff in 1964.
  3. Model, made by John Corbitt in 2003, of the new clock tower as designed by Warren and Mahoney and erected in 1976.
  4. The town centre and clock tower as featured on Ashburton: Feels Like Home Poster. Image: Connor Lysaght and Crispin Design.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: