8: Re-purposing the aging mid-rise buildings of midtown


What if the aging midrise buildings of midtown became model mixed use mash ups?

There are quite a high number of aging mid-rise office blocks in the city centre, particularly in the midtown area, which are in need of redevelopment and are often no longer viable in their earlier roles in providing high value commercial office space.

Often further development opportunities on these sites are limited under the district plan. Some of them may get redeveloped, possibly through amalgamation with neighbouring sites allowing for larger scale redevelopment opportunities. For others this won’t be possible.

This should be seen as a positive. These buildings, built in the 1960s and 1970s and typically between say 8 and 15 storeys in height, actually make quite an important contribution to our cityscape. They play a mediating role between the proper high rise towers of more recent decades and the much lower, sometimes only 2 or 3 storey scale of many heritage buildings. They are also often structurally sound and have medium-sized floor plates suitable for residential conversion.

So there are many reasons why retaining these structures but re-purposing them for a new future makes sense. Wouldn’t it be great if in doing so, we could develop a new building type for Auckland that provides some flexible ways of achieving vertical mixed use rather than always separating residential from office space in our city. Such a strategy could guarantee a vibrant future for midtown.


 Aging mid-rise buildings such as these on Victoria Street have good potential to adapt to a new flexible mixed use building typology (Image credits: Craig https://www.flickr.com/photos/craigsyd)


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  1. I have been saying this to planners for 20 years but it seems that planners cannot see the big picture. You have to wonder if planners on their combined salaries are actually the problem /impediment to providing liveable cities. The fiasco created by the unitary plan with all its subjective rules will lead to more red tape not less. Thank god the Government have made a submission which hopefully will clear the decks of all the crazy rules and get rid of the planners

    1. Yes because no planning is the best way to get a city anyone would want to live in.

      Regardless, repurposing old commercial buildings is already something that’s happening, examples can be seen on Vincent Street.

      1. You do realise don’t you ,that architects and designers are the innovators who come up with the ideas that make a liveable city while planners find the rules to stop them.

          1. And yet you are quite happy the planners allowed housing right on the motorway as at Manukau city centre while industrial areas are further from the motorway. It was all paddocks so wonder what the planners excuse was. Youre being a bit naive arn’t you sailor Boy

          2. Thats my point, planners are responsible for shit planning and architects and designers and individuals are much better ( although not perfect ) at making liveable cities. All the best cities in the world were built without town planners…new york .paris….My point is well recognised by academics and there have been many books on the subject ….the failure of planning….Even this blog is testament to my point..All those who contribute on transport issues… although many are not traffic experts have a far better idea of how to make a liveable city than the so called experts working for AT and Land Transport. I say fire the lot of them and give the funds to those who can make a difference. Same with the planners. After watching them for 30 plus years make a complete mess of our city, and seeing what a joke the unitary plan is it is time to get rid of the whole lot of them and start afresh with a new model.

          3. You do realise that the founder of this blog and some of the contributors are planners right?

            Don’t tar us all with the same brush, yes there are officious unimaginative statutory planners out there whose job it is to enforce district plans. However for the most part those plans are devised by local politicians. You’ll find that the Unitary plan was devised by council planners to release the various constraints on getting a vibrant city… Then it was taken to with a hatchet by councillors who were terrified of screaming grey haired nimbys, and watered down and bled out.

            I’m kinda sick of hearing about planners and engineers and whatnot as the scapegoats for our cities ills, they usually don’t have the deciding vote. It’s like blaming architects for the shitty town blocks on Hobson St, like the architects every had a chance to do anything better.

            On New York: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commissioners'_Plan_of_1811

    2. Yeah right; just like Hide did when he was appointed to do just this by National? We’re still waiting.
      It is an election distraction by the Nats to help disguise the fact they have so little policy; it’s not going to happen.
      Anyway, I did live in the Guardian building for a while. It left a lot to be desired as a conversion, although I suspect it was done on the cheap. I’m now in a purpose built apartment building which is much more salubrious.

      1. Try actually reading the Governments submission to the unitary plan and you will see that it is primarily aimed at removing the subjective ( ie planners discretion ) and to make it easier to intensify . You are so sure it will not happen????

    3. planners aren’t stopping this kind of thing happening, in fact they have enabled it through various plans. Its the buildings owners who determine how they are used or potentially retrofitted. The type of development proposed is pretty much permitted within the CBD (save for a few issues about access to daylight, private/ communal open space etc).

      1. 30 years ago planners prevented apartments in the city on the basis they were preserving commercial space. It was only the efforts of pioneering architects and individuals defying the planning rules that forced the planners to change the rules. Planners get in the road of innovation so I do not get, when you say they enable.Most of their rules are behind the times and the current unitary plan is a mish mash of compromises which will lead to poor urban planning.
        Examples of planning lead disasters ( enabling ) Manukau city ( a planning mecca )where planners had full control of barefield development, yet none of manukau’s huge planning team lived in manukau preferring the leafy trendy ( and non complying ) suburbs of ponsonby.freemans bay etc. which even under the new unitary plan we can not replicate.
        We need to unleash the creativity of architects and designers by unshackling them from the control of planners who for too long have stifled our city.

  2. Building owners maximise value. Usually either residential or commercial is “in the money” so they go with one or the other. Why would anyone fill half their building with a landuse activity that makes less money than they could otherwise get?

    1. To hedge their returns and ensure a constant revenue stream. Right now commercial is going gangbusters, but in two years it might be residential or retail. Having the mix means you don’t have all your eggs in one basket! finding your building 50% empty because the X market is lagging.

      1. You hedge by buying bonds not by leasing half your building for less than the going rate. If the market changes in a few years you convert the building, not part of it but the whole thing.

        1. So you start with a commercial building. The returns on office space drop. You convert the entire building to residential. Then the market swing back towards commercial space again. Are you going to reconvert the residential apartments back into office space?

          1. No because by that time you have unit titled the whole thing and the body corporate will spend all of the owners money, you will never get agreement ever again.

  3. The problem is that no A Grade commercial tennant wants to share a lobby and lift with food smells, people going to/from the gym and bring their rubbish down. This then requires two lobbies and two separate lift cores.

    1. Personally I am sick of the A graders and their sterile values. A far more interesting city would have lots of B and C graders and frankly thats where we as an economy have the edge anyway.

    2. Yeah Stuart isn’t talking about the swinging dick skyscrapers, he’s clearly talking about older midrise stuff that isn’t attracting the high profile tenants anyway.

  4. You are right Paris was planned …by a politician empowered directly by the government to change land tenure which restricted making a liveable city. New York was designed by a statesman, a lawyer and a surveyor. My original point that the current system doesnt work is supported by your comments that the power structure prevents your good efforts and frustrates designers and architects. The RMA needs to be completely rewritten and the process of designing our cities given to those with vision. The planners on this blog included.

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