André Lovatt’s decision to return home after the Christchurch earthquakes to help rebuild a national treasure has been invaluable to the healing of the city’s cultural heart and reviving an even wider community.
The Blake Leader brought home with him a wealth of engineering know-how, leadership, management and communication skills, honed through working on multi-billion dollar building projects in Singapore. But as his latest assignment has burgeoned, André’s other attributes have come to the fore – energy, attention to detail, innovation, honesty and enthusiasm among them - and have helped to win the trust of Cantabrians in what is a very emotional endeavour.
In 2012, André was appointed the Chief Executive of the Arts Centre of Christchurch - charged with leading the seven-year $290 million restoration and repopulation of New Zealand’s largest collection of heritage buildings, which had been extensively damaged in the quakes. It is classed as one of the largest heritage restoration projects in the world.
The role was a natural fit for André, who grew up in Christchurch; a student at Shirley Boys’ High, he went on to become a Master of Engineering from the University of Canterbury. But after spending most of his working life in South East Asia, André wanted to return home with his wife and young daughters, and use his skills to help restore the Arts Centre – with the goal of doing the best job he possibly could.
For almost a decade, André was based in Singapore, where he led operations for international design giant, Arup. He held key leadership roles in the successful delivery of some of the largest building projects in the world – most notably, the Marina Bay Sands waterfront resort, and the Singapore Sports Hub, with its 55,000-seat sport stadium and moveable roof.
He also attained an MBA degree from the National University of Singapore to enrich his business acumen.
A member of Heritage New Zealand, André has a long-standing professional interest in conserving heritage buildings, which drew him to the Arts Centre project.
One of the most significant clusters of heritage buildings in New Zealand, the Gothic Revival architecture stood proudly at the heart of the city’s arts, culture and creativity precinct. All but one of the 23 heritage buildings were substantially damaged in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. André saw the opportunity to not only rebuild the bricks and mortar, but to restore a foundation for arts, culture, heritage and education and make it even stronger than before.
André sees beyond the bricks: he spear-headed fundraising campaigns for the Art Centre and Rutherford’s Den - the rooms where Nobel Prize-winning scientist Ernest, Lord Rutherford, once worked – which will be recreated as an interactive experience for the next generation of scientific explorers.
Through his leadership, open communication, and readiness to engage and listen to others, André has captured the imagination and trust of the people of Canterbury – not a simple task in a community repeatedly rocked by trauma, chaos and upheaval. Those around him say he has quietly and confidently delivered where others haven’t – his team have advanced the Art Centre’s restoration further than any other major rebuild activity in the city.
On site, where his office is alongside stonemasons and carpenters, André has high expectations of his team, but is quick to ensure everyone is valued for their contribution.
André has also emerged as a promising leader for the city as it regrows, and is now a director of the Christchurch International Airport.
Outside of work, he has lent a hand to other rebuild projects and community groups, and mentors other young leaders in the city. He initiated and led quake repairs at the South Brighton Surf Life Saving Club, where he regularly does beach patrols. In his youth, André made national squads in surf life saving, and was a competitive swimmer – winning national age group medals. He helped to set up the Lower Cashmere Residents Association, and has been a member of the board of trustees at his children’s school.
Family is equally important to André, who endeavours to spend as much time as he can with his wife Kate, and their daughters Noor and Kiri. Together, they share interests in travel, cooking and supporting each other in their sporting passions.