Editorial: Civic Building prime target for demolition

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Asbestos-ridden history likely to deter investors.

Pavers being taken up at Aotea Square. Photo / Natalie Slade
Pavers being taken up at Aotea Square. Photo / Natalie Slade

Inevitably, there will be opposition to the demolition of Auckland's Civic Building. Some see the Aotea Square structure as one of the country's finest modernist buildings.

If that is the case, it speaks volumes about the architectural shortcomings of the vast majority of the buildings constructed during that era. Certainly, far more people regard it as an eyesore. And it is especially disliked by many of the thousands of council staff who have worked in it since 1966 and the 560 who are in the process of vacating it as they shift to the former ASB Bank Tower in Albert St. The Auckland Council's decision on what to do with it should, therefore, be straightforward.

That much is underlined by the latest advice about the 19-storey building, hailed on its construction as the country's first skyscraper. Council property officers say the estimated $70 million-plus cost to refurbish it is double the cost of replacing it with a building twice the floor size.

That cost relates to the asbestos still present on every floor, water damage caused by leaks, and the need to strengthen the steel frame and reclad.

The council has no need for the building. It has decided, therefore, to seek investor interest in refurbishment. Failing that, the building will be demolished prior to the redesign of the sizeable corner of Aotea Square that it occupies.

The latter course is by far the more likely. Asbestos damns a structure as much as the construction techniques of more recent years that point to the possibility of a leaky building. Three hundred and fifty tonnes of asbestos was removed in 1989 but it remains in service areas, ducts and around the external facade, beams and columns.

There will always be question marks about its complete elimination, just as there are often queries about reclad leaky buildings. It seems unlikely that an investor would be willing to foot a bill of at least $70 million to bring the building up to modern office standards, knowing that prospective corporate tenants and their staff might well be deterred by the building's history. Further, the noise of events in Aotea Square is a discouragement for developers who, otherwise, might see potential in converting the building into residential apartments.

Auckland has, of course, been guilty of bulldozing too many buildings of heritage value. Those who oppose the Civic Building's demolition say it is as important to save modern structures, not just those built in the city's formative years, and that these buildings are, in fact, more at risk from the wrecking ball.

Notably, however, the Civic Building was not scheduled in the Auckland District Plan, although a council heritage consultant says it merits a Category B listing. That assessment is pertinent.

It provides more flexibility to upgrade it than a Category A listing, which would prohibit demolition and make it difficult to remove asbestos without affecting heritage elements. But it also raises the issue of why a building of such supposed architectural merit and heritage value has never been deemed worthy of Category A status.

The council is right to test the market for investor interest. Nothing will be lost in this process except, in all probability, a little time in confirming its fate. But the council must not shy away from the obvious solution if this comes to nought. Much could be done with the ground on which it stands isolated and soon to be bereft. The options will be examined in a Regional Facilities Auckland review of the Civic/Aotea Centre precinct.

None of these possibilities could be as jarring as the unloved and unlovely structure currently occupying part of that space.

- NZ Herald

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