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Practical application – BRANZ renovation

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BRANZ headquarters refurbishment by Warren and Mahoney

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Many companies and organisations grow in an ad hoc manner. Work spaces are added with no thought to an overall plan, which invariably creates a rabbit warren of offices that has little relevance to 21st-century work practices.

The Building Research Association of New Zealand (BRANZ) headquarters near Wellington has undergone an extensive refurbishment designed to address precisely this problem. Ewan MacMaster and Ralph Roberts of Warren and Mahoney say approximately 70% of the original buildings on site were remodelled during the project, with the recent final stage being the refurbishment of the Totara building, which accommodates the reception area, administration offices, library, and publishing and education departments.

"This building was particularly challenging, due to its 40m x 40m square, pyramid shape," says MacMaster. "The building was very closed in. There was no natural light in the centre and everyone was locked up in little offices. BRANZ wanted the refurbishment to reflect the different, more collaborative nature of the modern workplace. The design needed to open up the space and bring everyone together. It was also important to make the interior easier to navigate – people would get lost trying to find their way in the original space."

To bring natural light into the centre, a large atrium was cut right through the middle of the building and skylights added. The architects also introduced a wide, campus-style street on a north-south axis and lined this with a bank of clerestory windows running the full length of the walkway.

The entry, which had faced west, was moved to face south, giving a direct frontage to the street.


"We positioned the reception area at the south end of the internal street, which runs right through the centre of the building and has open-plan spaces off either side," says MacMaster. "The street forms a strong and readily identifiable central access route, connecting to the other buildings and opening to shared staff amenities, including the library, central meeting rooms and staff common area. It also leads to a large, new seminar space that improves the BRANZ capacity for holding educational events on site. The street then continues past the cafeteria, which is within a new building that links the Totara building to the Rimu building housing laboratories and research staff. As the key circulation route, the street greatly increases the opportunities for staff interaction."

MacMaster says sustainability was another key design driver, and it was important that BRANZ be seen to lead by example.

"The Totara building not only embraces the latest innovations in office planning, but also serves to enhance and promote BRANZ leadership in the built research field."

The association opted for a passive heating and cooling system, which includes a thermal chimney. Positioned in the centre of the building, beyond the reception area, the chimney utilises the stack effect to remove hot air from the top of the building, while simultaneously pulling cooler air through the space. Doors within the chimney open automatically when the system needs to operate – it is connected to the building management system (BMS).

"For optimum efficiency, the chimney needed to be right in the middle of the main circulation spine, and therefore became a highly visible element. To screen the operational components, a layer of New Zealand-grown eucalyptus timber battens was wrapped right around the outside."

To contrast the visual weight of the chimney, the design team created transparent, glass-walled meeting rooms beneath the chimney, at either end of the central core. Decorative film on the glass walls references local flora and fauna – the site has a rural outlook with trees, bushes and a stream.

The palette of materials throughout the building is predominantly light, natural and neutral. Building materials are frequently exposed, reflecting the nature of the BRANZ operation. However, the neutrals are punctuated with bright accents that help to define the different zones – the colours were inspired by the locality. As well as colourful bench seats and chairs in the staff common room, there are tall cabinets covered in grass-green carpet recycled from the original space.

"We also provided black cabinets finished with chalkboard so staff can write up their pool scores," says MacMaster. "These cabinets form part of a series of mobile units that incorporate bench seats and have library shelving on the reverse side. They can be moved aside to create a much larger space for educational events."

Workstations are placed on the perimeter of the building to enable staff to appreciate the attractive outlook and to make good use of natural daylight. The workstations are set back a small distance from the windows. This provides a circulation and informal meeting zone, and also provides a buffer between staff and the most variable temperatures, which are encountered nearest the windows.

Other sustainable design initiatives include large, automated louvres on the 40m-long west face of the building. The louvres shade the direct rays of the sun but still allow plenty of light inside.

The building also features automated windows at high levels, which are controlled by the BMS, a wood pellet-fuelled boiler, solar water heating and sensor lighting. In addition, dark floor tiles were specified to increase the thermal mass flywheel effect, resulting in a more stable building temperature, and aiding efforts to reduce energy use.

First published date: 09 September 2012

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Credit List

Location BRANZ refurbishment, Porirua, Wellington
Mechanical and electrical engineer; fire consultant Beca
Quantity surveyor Rider Levett Bucknall
Architect Warren and Mahoney, Wellington – Ralph Roberts, Ewan MacMaster and Denise Healy
Structural engineer Aurecon
Construction company Fletcher Construction
Security system Advanced Security
Heating and air conditioning NME Electrical
Workstations Aspect Furniture Systems