$80m hi-tech tower to replace Wellington's BP House

A proposed new office block at 20 Customhouse Quay, Wellington will replace quake-prone BP House.
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A proposed new office block at 20 Customhouse Quay, Wellington will replace quake-prone BP House.

A new $80 million office block is set to replace the quake-damaged BP House on Wellington's waterfront.

A resource consent application has been filed by 20 Customhouse Quay Limited Partnership to build the new 14-level block on the Johnson St corner site.

The partnership is a joint venture between Wilton Capital and the Auckland-based Newcrest Group.

The former BP head office will be the first Wellington modern high-rise to be demolished in the wake of the 2013 Seddon earthquakes.

The 10-storey building, which was built between 1968 and 1970, had to be vacated after its stairs were severely cracked in the quakes. BP, which had the head lease, moved its head office to Auckland.

Newcrest development manager Lincoln Fraser expected demolition work would start in May and construction should start later this year.

The new building, expected to be finished in 2017, will be known as 20 Customhouse Quay.

The five-green-star tower will have 15,000 square metres of prime CBD office space and will be the first modern commercial building in Wellington to be built on base isolators.

These absorb earthquake energy and reduce the transmission of ground movement into the building.

Engineer Alistair Cattanach of Dunning Thornton Consultants said these would make it significantly safer than equivalent office buildings and reduce the potential for business interruption in the event of a major quake.

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It was quite tall for a base-isolated building - the tallest in New Zealand to have this technology - but this was compensated for with the triangulated perimeter steel "diagrid" frame.

Its high seismic specifications were targeted at the post-Christchurch and post-Wellington quake market, said Cattanach.

Studio Pacific architect Nick Barratt-Boyes said the glass tower would be a significant contribution to the CBD waterfront with its "striking crystalline and sculptural form coupled with its innovative seismic design".

It would provide an outstanding and highly efficient contemporary workplace with good natural light and views.

The site is owned by Steve Owen's Wilton Capital Group.

Owen, who grew up in Wellington, said he was pleased to be involved as a joint venture partner in such a prominent capital project: "There is a shortage of modern, high-quality office space in Wellington and we are excited about the opportunity to create much-needed premises that will be occupied by the leading businesses in Wellington.

"I see this as a very valuable investment both for us as owners of the building, and also for the future of this prime part of Wellington's CBD. We believe in the future of Wellington and want to be part of it."

Fraser said it was an exciting project.

"This new building will provide the quality of office accommodation that corporate and professional firms aspire to and its large rectangular floor plates will allow for more efficient, modern working practices within a five-star-green rating environment.

"We are seeing a very strong level of interest from potential tenants."

Owen was not prepared to indicate who the building's new tenants might be or whether there were any firm commitments to lease space.

However, he said some space was still available for lease.

Colliers International leasing agent Jim Pinson, who has the agency, said there had been a major shift in tenants' expectations in the Wellington CBD.

"Wellington has always suffered from an undersupply of quality office towers, hence the extremely low vacancy rates in our existing A grade stock.

"This building will offer a completely new level of efficiency, seismic resistance and comfort for occupiers in the capital and will help to redefine the skyline.

"We are fielding inquiry from all sectors and will be offering a full range of space options from individual suites of 400sqm."

Efficient floor plates in the new building would enable tenants to accommodate more staff than they might in their existing premises.

"This will be a totally new look and feel for offices in Wellington."

BP House was purchased by Loris Properties, a company linked to Wilton Capital, in 2009 for $26m.

Three years later, when it still had tenants, its rating value was assessed at $21.5m of which the freehold sold was assessed at $10m.

After the 2013 quakes it was declared earthquake-prone as it was assessed as below 33 per cent of new building standard.

The building, designed by Stephenson & Turner, was described by former Victoria University dean of architecture David Kernohan as an example of one of Wellington's high modern buildings and part of the city's streetscape.

Stephenson & Turner principal Dennis Chippindale said it did not have the significance of earlier modern buildings, such as Shell House on The Terrace.

"We would be sad to see it demolished because it was a building we were very proud of and one we looked after over the years.

"It was a groovy building in its day but it's probably getting to the point in its life when people start questioning a lot of things about it.

"A good shake has thrown a few of those things up."

Special features of the building included the public engagement spaces on the ground floor and the 148-seat BP theatrette, which was very well used. Elements of this were lost in later modifications when the entrances were split and a gym was put in, said Chippindale.

It was also a forerunner of a lot of modern buildings with its cybernetic office design where the concept was to have everyone out in open office space to improve communications and express a more egalitarian attitude.

 - The Dominion Post

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