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8 Mahuhu gateway office building

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Gateway office building by Woodhams Meikle Zhan

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Over time, inner-city precincts can be subject to enormous change, and increasingly designers are looking to the past as they plan for the future.

For this new office building, AECOM House, the prominent location of the corner site and the historical significance of the Beach Road precinct were key influences for the design team at Woodhams Meikle Zhan Architects (WMZA).

Concept and project architect David Hargreaves says the site is on former railway land reclaimed from the harbour more than a century ago, and is the last to be developed within the Tapora block in the Quay Park Precinct.

"The council had already identified this corner as an important landmark for the central city approach, and wanted a suitable design response," he says. "As a gateway building, it needed to make a statement. It also had to reflect good urban design principles, such as maximising the active edges with a retail frontage and sheltering veranda. With pedestrian throughways on the north and west sides, enhancing the public realm was an important objective."

The building also needed to meet 5-Star Green Star As Built criteria, and provide large floor plates. In addition, the design had to accommodate height constraints and allow a degree of privacy for residents in neighbouring apartment buildings.

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Hargreaves says the importance of the corner site is reflected in the treatment of the facade and the choice of materials and finishes, many of which were influenced by the history of the site.

"We felt the building should both physically mark the corner, and visually turn the corner," he says. "So the majority of the curved facade fronting this aspect is glass, which brings plenty of natural light into the office. The glass is framed by polished stainless steel panels, and shaded by a series of glass fins. The colour of these fins transitions from blue to green as the facade wraps around the corner, much like the ocean changes colour as it disappears into the distance. The character of this elevation varies significantly according to the sun's position and the viewpoint."

The solid component of the cladding also references the harbour, with the team specifying distressed marine-grade stainless steel.

"We wanted this to be reflective, and to ripple in the sunlight, again like the ocean," says Hargreaves. "So we asked the supplier to throw away the rule book and exaggerate the distortion of each panel as it was applied to the frame."

To contrast with these more ephemeral elements, basalt was chosen for the stone-clad columns, or piers, on the eastern elevation.

"Basalt is used consistently on other buildings around the park opposite," says the architect. "It also references the volcanic heritage of Auckland. We chose polished Nero Bianco basalt with white veining to complement the stainless steel, and to imply movement and rippling. The white veining ensures the basalt doesn't dominate. "The polished granite columns continue the rhythm of the other buildings on the park, and are of a similar scale."

Above Level 5, the building steps back with a series of terraces that open to the Beach Rd elevation. The terraces minimise shading of the park, while allowing a visual connection for the occupants on these levels. They also help to bring a human scale to the building. Balconies on the other side of the building serve a similar purpose.

To signpost the entrance on Beach Rd, the design team introduced a soaring blade wall that extends above the mass of the building, helping to break the potential monotony of a continuous 30m roofline. The colonnaded entry is further marked by flanking granite walls. A continuous veranda and colonnades on the north and west sides of the building provide protection for pedestrians.

Another key feature of the exterior is a raked basalt column, which helps to visually acknowledge the step down in height from eight to six levels. "It helps to separate the elements into comfortable proportions," says Hargreaves.

ESD initiatives include a high-performance, low-e IGU double glazing system, extensive thermal insulation, bicycle storage, showers and changing facilities. Services engineers also ensured the internal environment allows low energy use and low water consumption.

Anchor tenant AECOM also wanted to recognise New Zealand's heritage and the connection to the city, says Michael Bilsborough, associate director architecture.

"The design evolved to reflect who we are, where we are from and what we see as one of our key strengths – global expertise combined with local knowledge. This is most easily seen in the reception area, where the ceiling references the traditional roofline of a marae. This is intended as an acknowledgment of our new location, and marks a formal welcome to ‘our house'."

The fit-out provides open, flexible work spaces that accommodate a wide range of diverse activities.

"Naturally, there was some apprehension at the prospect of moving to a new location," says Bilsborough. "This was combined with the challenge of implementing new ways of working. The shared spaces, team spaces and individual work spaces are much more open and informal, with a focus on the social areas. Our goal was to encourage movement around the space, to promote opportunistic ‘bump' meetings. We are already seeing the benefits of greater collaboration and integration across the business lines."

First published date: 29 November 2012

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Credit List

Location AECOM House, Auckland
Architect WMZA – project director Chris Meikle, concept and project architect David Hargreaves, with Julie Hannon, Campbell Adamson, Neda Milnovic and Lutao Cai
Interior architects AECOM
Structural engineer Aurecon
Geotechnical consultant Coffey Geotechnics
Environments consultant Coffey Environments Green
Star, hydraulic, fire, mechanical and electrical consultant Lincolne Scott
Acoustics consultant NDY
Electrical engineer Kern Consultants
Mechanical engineer Economech Quantity surveyor for
AECOM fit-out Davis Langdon
Builder Dominion Constructors
Precast panels Nauhria
Glazing Metro GlassTech
Stone supply Granite Workshop
Stone cladding system Design and construction by European Stone Masons
Facade Thermosash Commercial
Speedwall construction Speedwall
Podium and planter waterproofing Sealantz
Roof and deck waterproofing Boulder Enterprises
Entry doors Dorma NZ
Suspended ceilings Alpha Interiors
Operable walls Trans-Space Industries
Smoke curtain and mechanical louvres Colt Products & Systems
Blinds Landscape Sunscreen Rollershades by Luxaflex® Commercial from NZ Windowshades