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Past meets PRESENT

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The lively mix of heritage buildings and new developments, and the central downtown location all helped influence Westpac's move to the revitalised Britomart precinct

Past meets PRESENT

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There's a limited number of businesses that can claim to be a founding member of Auckland's business community. For starters, they need to have been around for a minimum of 150 years.

Westpac is such a business – and it was the bank's long-standing presence in Auckland that helped influence the decision to move the head office to the revitalised Britomart precinct.

Roger Butcher, Westpac project director for the move, says the heritage location reinforces the bank's 150-year involvement with the community.

"In the 1880s, Britomart was Auckland's principal business area, and many of those original buildings remain, making it a very significant historical precinct," Butcher says. "We could see it would be the ideal location for Westpac's new home. As well as the heritage connection, Britomart is a transport hub, making it easily accessible for staff and clients – we have direct access from the building to the train station beneath. This also fits with Westpac's drive for sustainability."

Butcher says Cooper and Company's vision for the precinct was another compelling drawcard.

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"The mix of retail stores, food and beverage outlets and commercial premises brings life to the whole area. There are also scheduled events in the square, such as the Farmers' Market and outdoor cinema screenings that provide added value to our staff. And we appreciate the fact that the precinct is so closely connected to Queen Street, Auckland's Golden Mile."

Butcher says creating a strong identity for the bank was another key reason for the move to new premises – and the subsequent office design.

"Even though Westpac has been in New Zealand for a century and a half, many people still think of Westpac as an Australian bank. We felt there was a need to cement our local identity. For this reason, we wanted a uniquely New Zealand look and feel to the office. This formed part of our brief to the design team at Jasmax."

Butcher says the bank put together a team to oversee the Westpac on Takutai Square project, with core members Paula Whiteacre in charge of change management, operational set-up and logistics, and David Misselbrook overseeing IT and audiovisual works.

"The move to Britomart was a way to consolidate our business, bringing together staff from several bank locations and call centres. This sense of connection extended to the office design. Historically, multiple levels of security have stifled interaction and communication among bank staff. Here, we have introduced swipe cards, and most areas on the 23,000m2 floor plate are open to all staff. Just three areas are sectioned off, as required by law."

Staff communication and interaction is enhanced by the transparency of the interior, both horizontally and vertically. Glazed walls to the atrium and open staircases allow staff to see what is happening on other levels. The glazed bridges linking the building in the first stage of the development with the newer building fronting Takutai Square reinforce the sense of connection.

"We have also provided staff breakout spaces that can be seen from the circulation pathways through the building," says Butcher. "These areas can be used for informal meetings. They provide another way for staff to interact on a casual basis. We have focused these breakout areas in the centres of each floor, with the quieter work spaces out towards the perimeter of the building. The large size of the floorplates means we have been able to allocate a lot more space to staff areas, such as the kitchens. This is a big point of difference from many other workplaces."

Butcher says there are no partitions more than 1200mm high, so it's possible to see right across the floor plate to the outside of the building. The clear roof of the atrium, and the vertical garden ensure this area is perceived as an outdoor space, one that provides plenty of natural light and a fresh, lively outlook.

The uniquely New Zealand theme is reflected in the decor. Each floor of the bank references a different geological strata layer, from the tectonic core of the Earth up to the forests, mountains, foreshore, dunes, sea and sky.

"It's a warm, natural colour palette that makes for a very comfortable, homely workspace," says Butcher. "This is in contrast to the former Westpac office, which was a lot more sterile and corporate."

Another key change from the former building is the hospitality suite on Level 9. Westpac can now hold large functions on the premises, which have full catering facilities.

"We can entertain clients in our own home, so to speak, which has many advantages, including financial benefits," says Butcher. "There is also a new training floor."

In keeping with the bank's green philosophy, the interior fit-out has been designed to meet 5 Green Star-Office Design criteria. Materials are from sustainable resources and incorporate recycled content, and low-VOC finishes were specified. Daylight harvesting with energy-efficient lighting control systems also helps to minimise energy consumption – artificial lighting is automaticallly reduced when there is sufficient natural light.

For more information, contact Westpac, phone (09) 367 3999. Website:www.westpac.co.nz .

First published date: 09 June 2011

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