IT MAKES sense for a government department focused on New Zealand's building and housing to occupy a building that is itself a standing testament to our architectural history. An important aspect of a fit-out, however, can be finding a balance between celebrating the past and introducing contemporary, comfortable office architecture.
The owners of Wellington's historic AMP building recently undertook a building upgrade that re-emphasised its architectural origins as well as bringing it up to speed with current architectural safety standards. At the same time, the new principal tenant, the Department of Building and Housing, made a similar move to clear out the architectural insertions within its tenancy that had accumulated since the building's 1920s construction.
Architectural firm Custance stripped back the upper five floors of the eight-level building, leaving only original or accurately sympathetic features. The brief also called for the creation of a lively, forward-looking office environment within this context. Designer Steve Toomath says there were several facets to the job, from three levels of new office space, to the sixth-level meeting rooms and reception area and the reinvented cafeteria on the top floor.
"The move to these offices involved a coming together of disparate groups, and a sense of collective identity for the client was important. Throughout these five floors, design emphasis was given to reflecting the department's industry role," says Toomath. "With timber a major construction element in New Zealand, this is used in a number of creative, linking forms throughout, including perforated plywood panels, a woven ply feature wall, hard flooring for the cafeteria and veneer table tops."
In addition, original wood panel doors were removed when the spaces were cleared then reinstated. A feature retractable wall on one of the sixth-floor conference rooms also uses timber to particularly striking effect.