HomeGround: new $110m Auckland City Mission HQ being finished, tallest NZ wood building

The new $110 million Auckland City Mission headquarters will be New Zealand’s tallest wooden block when it opens later this year, its chief says.

Tony McKee, project director for the newly-named HomeGround, said the 10-level block was built in cross-laminated timber, a lightweight system that was mostly pre-fabricated and relatively easy to build.

“It will be the tallest structural timber building in this country and one of the tallest in Australasia,” he said.

“The CLT system was manufactured and installed by Xlam using 40 per cent New Zealand and 60 per cent Australian timber, all radiata pine,” McKee said

“When the scaffolding came off in the last week, the building presented itself,” said McKee whose previous projects included Auckland’s new $300m waterfront Park Hyatt and Singapore’s striking Marina Bay Sands.

Eight of the 10 levels are timber.

“All the floors and the 20cm-thick walls are timber and this is one of the world’s tallest mass timber buildings developed in a seismic zone,” McKee said referring to earthquake risk.

HomeGround beside St Matthews in the City is only half as heavy as comparable steel and concrete structures, he said.

McConnell Dowell’s Built Environs won the construction contract, beginning demolishing three existing buildings on the site in 2019.

The mission has undergone a dramatic change, from a small, decrepit structure built around a green weatherboard 19th-century pub to the new striking tall red tower, wrapped around that precious old hotel, now restored.

HomeGround, crisscrossed by black diamond steel beams, was designed by Stephens Lawson Architects who topped it with the flair of a domestic pitched roof, presenting a more friendly or homely face on what is essentially a tower.

City Missioner Helen Robinson said the new building at 140 Hobson St would be opened in the third or fourth week of November and was the biggest change for the mission’s role in the city in its many decades of service.

“This has been based on the common ground model, particularly the Brisbane one,”Robinson said referring to service integration models on a single site in high-density, supportive living. The United States and Canada also have common ground or congregated housing with onsite support like the new Auckland one.

HomeGround has 80 new apartments of which 70 are studios without separate bedrooms and 10 are one-bedroom. All have balconies and 40 are for the chronically homeless and 40 for those on the social housing register waiting list.

“Eighty apartments will provide safe, permanent shelter. It’s a place where we can continue to support, share and connect with those who need it most, a place where low-cost medical treatment is offered including visits to the dentist and a place where new commercial kitchens will prepare wholesome meals and teach basic cooking skills,” the mission said.

A new commercial kitchen has two walk-in chillers and two combi-ovens which McKee said were similar to the Park Hyatt’s, able to cook huge amounts at once.

At Union St, only 30 people can be seated for meals at once and 230 meals are served daily. At HomeGround 80 people will be able to be seated at once and meal numbers will be expanded significantly due to the new facilities.

“The kitchen in the new building will have the same footprint as the entire mission building before,” a delighted Robinson said, expressing pleasure even at the temporary Union St premises which she said were a huge change from the old Hobson St base.

Two ground-level landscaped courtyards with outdoor seating expand dining capacity. Community rooms on the ground floor have been built for art, clay and drama programmes “as well as our ready-to-work programmes”, Robinson said.

Staff offices and a separate staff kitchen are on level one. Level nine at the top has a function room and residents’ lounge. Plants will be grown in a glasshouse room with skylights, also on level nine.

A medical centre, GPs, dentists, social workers, medical (needing health professionals) and social (not needing health professionals) detoxification units, meeting and conference areas, greenhouse space and rooftop and basement plant or equipment areas have been built.

Heritage architect Matthews and Matthews designed plans for the Prince of Wales Hotel to restore that to some of its previous grandeur after decades of alterations.

That two-level 1800s building has been restored and refurbished and was revealed only about a fortnight ago when scaffolding and building wrap was stripped away. Arches topping the street-facing windows were reinstated, exterior plaster was removed and the layout changed due to a new entrance via a centre laneway.

The hotel’s interior upper level was largely retained in its existing layout and design. The ground floor had been heavily modified and its layout has been designed to suit the new use of the building and integrated with the broader site development.

All up, 38 basement car parks have been developed under the tower with 13 two-level electric stackers to double capacity. Two electric vehicle charger ports and 20 bike storage spaces are offered.

Emergency services will be able to drive into that basement so patients can be transferred in beds from the mission’s new medical centre above directly to ambulances via a new service lift.

The new medical centre will have six consulting rooms, a resuscitation room, nurse triage station and, for the first time, dentists which Robinson said she was particularly proud of.

Ngāti Whātua o Ōrakei input was extensive and each apartment floor has a distinctive colour-based theme inspired by nature and with Māori kupu including moana (blue), ngahere (green), tātahi (gold) and whenua (brown).

McKee said a level-one floor connects Hobson St to Federal St, designed as a public laneway to welcome people into the new premises and encourage through-flow.

Where’s all the money coming from? The Government is contributing $53.8m and on December 15, the mission said it had “raised $107.2m … of the $110m”.

This month, Robinson said “essentially we have reached $110m and when I say essentially, I mean we have pledges for almost that amount”.

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