Commercial Bay enables an ambitious urban transformation that will create the centre of food, fashion and lifestyle culture in New Zealand.

Commercial Bay represents a wide range of ‘firsts’ for New Zealand. Never before has a single project brought together so many transformational elements - from public transport, international quality retail environments, and world class workplaces to far reaching urban design and sustainability outcomes.

Commercial Bay is simultaneously a destination for retail, food, entertainment & commerce; a transport node at the confluence of rail, bus and ferry infrastructure; an enabler of Auckland’s most transformative project in the form of the City Rail Link, a connector of the waterfront promenade, and a new symbol of Auckland’s emergent confidence.

Warren and Mahoney is proud to lead a design team which incorporates global expertise in the design of contemporary office and retail environments. Together with Woods Bagot (San Francisco), NH Architects (Melbourne) and the Precinct Properties team we have designed an environment which is globally aware yet expressive of Auckland’s unique identity.

The Commercial Bay development has been considered from the outset as a comprehensive site-wide precinct that delivers a new urban experience for Auckland’s residents and visitors. The central principle of the development is that the design should provide experiences that are authentic to Auckland and to our place in the world - a place of cultural richness, increasing desirability, confidence and relevance.

Commercial Bay enables an ambitious urban transformation that will create the centre of food, fashion and lifestyle culture in New Zealand. We have designed a vibrant, open, laneway based retail environment that acts as an extension of the city fabric – linking transport infrastructure, extending the CBD laneway network and framing a new civic space in Queen Street.

The redevelopment of the existing Downtown Shopping Centre provides the opportunity to seamlessly link the length of Auckland’s waterfront into a continuous high quality promenade extending from Wynyard Quarter in the West to Britomart in the East – a connected waterfront experience which will come to define the city.

The public retail levels of the project are conceived as an accessible landscape to be explored by the retail adventurer with unexpected releases into landscape, dramatic harbour views and city connections. High, multi-level entrances from all street edges lead to tightly framed retail laneways and high promontories over the harbour edge.

The project takes its primary design cues from the cliff edge landscape of Auckland’s harbours, the vibrant interconnecting laneway structure of the central city, and the powerful symbols and textures of New Zealand's famously beautiful landscape.

Commercial Bay will deliver an unparalleled workplace experience – providing open, flexible floorplates with dramatic views over the harbour and city. Glazed lifts ascend from a double height sky lobby – transforming the arrival at work from mundane to memorable.  By combining retail, food, transport and the workplace, Commercial Bay provides a total workplace experience that increases collaboration, promotes communication and encourages business innovation.

The tower is designed as a new symbol on Aucklands skyline. Its distinctive curved form gestures towards the Waitemata, while the sleek glazed skin is unique and identifiable in the city.

The expressed diagrid structure allows the tower to lightly straddle the City Rail Link while establishing a subtle resonance with our Pacific origins.

Auckland is recognised as a place of uniquely high quality lifestyle and is positioned to be the Capital of the Pacific and a global city. The Commercial Bay development is a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity for Auckland to join all of these threads together in a single, coherent project that redefines the experience of the city.

View a visualisation of the new developments at Commercial Bay here.

In 2013, Warren and Mahoney was commissioned by Precinct Properties to design a high-rise office tower at the foot of Queen Street, on the harbour’s edge.

Over the course of the design process, however, Precinct also aquired the HSBC Centre at Number 1 Queen Street (giving the project a boundary on Quay Street waterfront), and Queen Elizabeth Square, conditional on any new development enabling the new City Rail Link. 

The developable area grew to 1.2ha, and the project’s scale changed dramatically to include — in addition to the landmark 36-floor tower itself — the redevelopment of an entire city block, with 20,000 square metres of public retail space, and the subterranean infrastructure required below ground to accommodate tunnels for the city’s sorely needed underground City Rail Link.  

“Very few projects unlock as many opportunities as this one has,” says Blair Johnston, Warren and Mahoney principle, and the lead architect on Commercial Bay. “It’s easy to talk about architecture as an object, but when you look at what we’re doing here, it’s not about creating an individual, stand-alone building. This is a rare chance to re-imagine a whole city block in the heart of the CBD of a growing city. It’s far more powerful than a single building, and has the capacity to influence Auckland far beyond the boundaries of its actual site.”

Commercial Bay and Shortland Street, Auckland, 1841 Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-9089
Commercial Bay and Shortland Street, Auckland, 1841 Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-9089

Background

The project takes its name from the area’s first European inhabitants. In 1840, Governer William Hobson selected the land as the site for the capital of New Zealand, at the invitation of Ahipahi Te Kawau, the chief of Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrēkei. Merchants set up raupo huts and tents to begin selling their wares on the foreshore, and called the area Commercial Bay. 

This became the birthplace of the city as we know it today. By 1912, when the Central Post Office (now Britomart train station) was constructed, Lower Queen Street was cemented as the social heart of Auckland.

However, in the 1960s, this turn-of-the-century urban fabric was demolished to make way for a proposed “modernist utopia”of towers and plaze. Fortunately, only one building (1 Queen Street, formerly Air New Zealand House and HSBC Centre) was built. The new public plaza, Queen Elizabeth Square, drew criticism from day one for its windy, unwelcoming micro-climate.

In 1975, the boxy, low-slung Downtown Shopping Centre opened. Underperforming and underdeveloped, it was essentially a three-storey mall without a supermarket, covered in huge exterior billboards. When Precinct Properties purchased the site in 2012, its demise was not far off. 




The Foundations & City Rail Tunnel

One of the long-term legacies of this project lies in the way it supports the new underground City Rail Link, which will extend Auckland’s passenger rail system past Britomart to connect to the regional rail network at Mt Eden. Rather than the terminal point it is now, Britomart will become a stop on the line, along with new stations near Aotea Square and Karangahape Road. 

“The way this deal was done really unlocks that wider, infrastructural project,” says Johnston. “It will enable a radical shift for Auckland which will be completely transformational.”

This project will enable a radical shift for Auckland which will be completely transformational Blair Johnston

Warren and Mahoney, which also designed the train station beneath its Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) building, already has a solid track record in public transport. 

In the case of Commercial Bay, the approach required was slightly different — instead of a station, there are two relatively shallow, curved tunnels that travel immediately underneath the tower.

However, says Johnston, the presence of that rail line fundamentally determined the other outcomes that followed. “It dictated where we could build a tower, and how we threaded the supporting columns for that tower through and around the rail tunnels. We found one location on the corner we could land a column, and then the next minimum distance we can land another: that kind of calculus has ended up determining the size and shape of the floor plate of the building above it.”




laneways

Rising three storeys from ground level, the new retail spaces were specifically designed as the antidote to the faceless, monolithic building that existed previously. 

“We banned the word ‘mall’ from our lexicon a long time ago,” says Johnston. “There are no glass sliding doors or air-conditioning. This is an urban outcome, where a network of open-air, public laneways has been stitched into the established city fabric. The ambition is to create a seamless experience where you can cross the threshold into Commercial Bay, but still feel like you’re part of the city rather than in a separate building.”

The three levels will focus on food and fashion retail, with approximately 20,000 square metres of leasable area, and two terraces facing the northeast and northwest views across the harbour. The bottom three floors of two existing office buildings on the site are also being integrated into the project to enable this seamless flow between Commercial Bay and the city at large. 

The internal lanes, including the 95-metre long, six-metre-wide laneway that runs along its east-west axis, travel through an internal landscape that has been conceived as eight separate buildings, each from the same family but responding uniquely to its particular street context. 

The lanes are sheltered by a glazed roof, but otherwise open at either end, and are overlooked by building facades and windows that all use exterior finishes — limestone cladding, black steel and planting — to create a typical outdoor, laneway setting that Auckland, with its wide, car-friendly streets, has historically lacked. 

Johnston’s team responded to Auckland's natural landscape, choosing forms, materials and patterns that reference the cliffs and headlands of the Waitemata Harbour. "We agreed at the outset that we would have failed if it looked like it could be in Shanghai, San Francisco or Sydney. It had to be deeply embedded in Auckland,” says Johnston.

In many ways the tower which will dramatically change the city’s skyline is the simpler aspect of the development, he says. “The harder part is how the street edges on all four sides of the block relate to Auckland's emerging sense of being a laneway city on a bay, in a manner that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago. The importance of this project lies in the building’s ability to continue and eventually complete the laneway circuit that includes Britomart, Wynyard Quarter and other pockets of the CBD.”



The Tower

A 36‑level commercial workplace tower effectively, configured. In terms of a tower component what's unique about that is it's configured as a side core floor plate.

What that means is that all of the lifts and vertical transportation are removed from the center of the floor plate, which is where they typically sit, to the external face on the south side, and glazed. They have glass lifts that access you up to the floor plate.

What it means is that when you lease your floor you have unlimited flexibility over how you use that space, rather than having a large, concrete obstacle in the middle of the floor plate.