The 1980s saw Auckland’s city centre change considerably. It was then that much of Auckland’s architectural history was demolished, with many of the towers that dominate the skyline today sprouting up in their place. Of course some sites, like that of the old Royal Hotel, are still empty to this day.

This video from 1985 is a fascinating look at the city’s tower developments from the middle of the boom.

In this 1985 Kaleidoscope edition, reporter Terry Carter meets many of those behind Auckland’s 80s construction boom, and examines a cityscape where old landmarks are rapidly being demolished and replaced by mirror glass high-rises. Interviewees include property developers of the day like Mainzeal and Chase Corporation’s Seph Glew; a councillor who argues that commercial interests are dominating; and architect Ivan Mercep and interior designer Peter Bromhead, who critique the buildings’ architectural and civic qualities and their “Dallas TV set” aesthetics.


Some of the things that stood out to me included:

  • Some great old shots of many of the buildings that Auckland lost during that time period
  • Through debates like the Unitary Plan I’ve never quite understood why some, mainly older people, have such a loathing for property developers. After seeing this it’s given me a much greater understanding of why this is. The developers behind many of the projects appear much more arrogant and smug than those we see today. They show only a thin veil of concern for the public realm, treating it mainly as something that gets in the way of their profits.
  • Further, hindsight is a wonderful thing and knowing, as we do, that just a couple of years later the stock market and economy would crash makes the developers comments even more interesting.
  • The design community were calling for an urban design panel to improve the quality of designs but the council’s head of planning was not keen because developers wouldn’t like it.
  • It’s mentioned that the council wanted to see more residential developments in the city but that other than a handful of penthouse apartments, developers refused to build any apartments.
  • A lot of the developments included substantial carparking with at one point the narrator saying

Car parks are something Aucklanders will see more of in the future, an indication of the city councils decision to back the private car as the major means of commuter transport. Earlier schemes of rapid transit and the upgrade of public transport, for the moment anyway, have been set aside.

If you’re interested in Auckland’s urban history and have a spare half hour I’d definitely recommend a watch.

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36 comments

  1. The biggest change since 1985 is they stopped making good television. Somewhere along the way they decided that shows should all be aimed at stupid people.

        1. If so, it shows how our aspirations have slipped over the years. Once we dreamed we were Ilona Rogers or the dastardly Rex, ruling over the destruction of Auckland with a velvet gloved fist: now we want to be a nurse in charge of bed-pans, having a quick snog behind the bike sheds. Tawdry and sad. Gloss. and then Dross.

  2. A lot of unreinforced masonry buildings, which are relatively small being replaced by much larger high rises. Some wooden buildings at the top of Queen St.
    A lot of people who don’t like a particular style.
    Private property rights.

    1. “Private property rights” ??!? Not so much disliking the style, as disliking the destruction of heritage (often illegally) and the crap standards of design (Chan Glossop haven’t exactly stood the test of time for quality buildings). Most people active in that era are very very quiet and hang their heads in shame. No need for you to stand up for them.

  3. Thanks for finding that – great to look back at that time. Hopefully we have improved a little since then (realistically though, not much). Chase Corp were a terrible, terrible force in NZ property development – I wrote a paper on them a few years ago and was amazed at how much destruction they caused, both on the way up the ladder (vast swathes of NZ destroyed), and also on their rapid descent back down (taking all our hard-earned cash with them when they crashed). Crap designs and bully-boy tactics. I’m glad they’ve gone.

  4. Great find Matt. So much there. Chase Corp have a lot to answer for, not so much in what they demolished but the vileness of they built, and which we still have to suffer.

    I love the planner at the end predicting the end of the office, lol, ‘everyone working from home’… this has a modern parallel in the absurd argument that driverless cars mean the end of the need for spatially efficient transit systems. Beware all new technology based claims about the future.

    NZI destroyed the High St hinterland and built nothing but a parking stump, thankfully they weren’t able to destroy the South British Insurance Company building, which is a ripper…

    I would love to meet, and kick, the planner that decided that city buildings should be rotated on their site to turn perfectly a decent built row of street elevations into a terrible mess by making them diamond-shaped in plan. I understand the thinking, light and air, but just compare the order and consistency of the Terrace side of Lambton Quay with the dogs’ dinner that is Queen St, and you can what an appalling idea it is in practice….

    I could go on… (didn’t these men talk funny then?)

      1. I also don’t know how Peter Bromhead is still alive – he looked ancient already in that footage, over 30 years ago.

        1. Are you going out of your way to be offensive or does it just come naturally?
          I realise that these days the cult of personal appearance is paramount and that on this site it is fashionable to denigrate those born prior to 1964 but suggesting that you don’t know how he is still alive is wilful ignorance.

          1. I can’t speak for Brutus, only for myself. Tongue was in cheek.

            Lighten up, B never said that he thought Peter was dead.

            Finally, do you really think those on this site denigrate the over 50s among us? I see occasional denigration of engineers (regardless of their field), often by one person who is almost certainly over 50 (having met them), but I’m not aware of any particular ageist bent…

            FWIW, prior to watching that vid I only knew Peter as a cartoonist. Seeing that he is so much more gave me considerably greater respect for him.

    1. Speaking of autonomous cars and bogus claims, exactly the same claims were made by the salesmen for ITS technology in the 1990s. They were going to eliminate congestion by allowing cars to travel closer together in lanes. Rubbish. 20 years later the main use of ITS is incident management.

  5. Thanks Matt. I thoroughly enjoyed that video and record of the rape of the Auckland City, that I was brought up in.
    Once upon a time city buildings were commissioned by the owners of businesses for their businesses. And they were proud to make a contribution to the aesthetic ambience of their city. The legacy of of the 80’s developers is regretfully pitiful and with the great benefit of hindsight we were not well served by the City planners of the day. As Aucklanders, we as people, live with the 80’s rubbish that was dished up those developers, every day.
    I have only spent a relatively short time in Vancouver, but I was impressed with the outcome of the efforts they have made to retain human sized base platforms of two or three storeys, before set-back tower blocks are constructed. Tower blocks straight up from street level are not human scale.
    Therefore one would have to support the establishment of a suitably qualified aesthetic assessment panel for a long term better Auckland.

  6. I’m glad you didn’t bring up Chase demolishing His Majesty’s Theatre, Matt. That would have really upset me. There should be a law against that kind of action.
    Then they collapsed leaving an empty lot there.

        1. They claimed they were just removing seats but instead knocked it down on Christmas Eve when they thought people might not notice. I was at the Council then. The real shame is that it had been the best theatre in Auckland, not too big and not a strange shape. We suspected it had no protection as some councillors saw it as competition to their new Aotea Centre, but they were like chalk and cheese. Phil Warren was keen to see it come down. I will always remember it for Foreskins Lament, my girlfriend at the time (now we are married) got us tickets in 1985 or 86 but unfortunately we were in the middle of the front row. Still 10 minutes into the rugby changing room scene you sort of got used to the lack of clothing. Amazing how you get used to things.

          1. My mother is still bitter about how it was demolished in that way. I remember going there to see Marcel Marceau with my school.

            Developers often used Christmas to do things under the radar. Putting in an application for the first high rise apartment block in Kohi was done on Christmas Eve too, I believe. Indeed wasn’t the application for the EWL lodged in December? An old trick, but still a goodie.

  7. I am always in two minds when it comes to heritage building protection. On the one hand we want to protect our heritage (even if NZ doesn’t have much) but on the other hand it is their property and we want them to develop it as we do have a shortage of housing. I would rather have good education to show that good design can include heritage protections rather than regulation.

    It should also be remembered that if we regulate it will mean those awful buildings built in the 1980s will be protected – we don’t have to live with failed experiments.

      1. First, let’s put things in perspective. In Auckland we protect a tin shed on a wharf. The Colosseum was built a long time before anyone came to New Zealand. Second, Rome was first occupied in the 750s BC. How many buildings do you think have been built and knocked down over the years? A city where people live can’t keep everything.

        1. Agree, I think the colosseum has only had heritage protection on it for a relatively short period of it’s life. The main reason it survived was because people liked it, not because some committee decided that it was representative of some period therefore decided to restrict someones private property rights.

  8. That was a depressing documentary. I never knew the older Auckland, but I still mourn its loss! So much of the CBD is soulless.

  9. What is interesting is the culture of the Council has lasted all those years… They are still in the back pockets of developers.

    1. Only if the developer wants to do a parking heavy development with single level housing in a far flung suburb. If it is car lite multi storey apartment block in the inner city, see how much support there is.

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