NZ PM Unveils Auckland Uni’s $200M ‘World’s Best Practice’ Campus

Backed by $200M from NZ Gov's Covid-19 Recovery Fund, the building is the fund's largest project and boasts a record 93 points – the highest ever awarded by the NZGBC

Thu 21 Sep 23


New Zealand’s greenest building ever constructed was finally opened on Tuesday with NZ Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, haling the new facility as “the most environmental building this country has ever produced.”

The University of Auckland’s Social Sciences building retrofitted during the pandemic, received $200 million through the NZ Government’s COVID-19 Infrastructure Recovery Fund – the largest project funded through the $3 billion assistance package.

“This building was a pandemic project, and now you can see the benefits of it,” PM Hipkins said.

The PM is in election mode with less than 30 days before the election; he was preparing for a debate against Nationals Christopher Loxon later in the night.

“This building is one of our legacies,” he said, “It was shovel-ready; it was a good investment for the university.” 

The entrance of the new building, with the glue-laminated atrium in front of the nine-storey building. (Photo Credit: Jamax)

PM Hipkins joined Vice-Chancellor Professor Dawn Freshwater, Ngati Watua Orkei members, construction team representatives, University staff and community members at the grand opening.

“One of the things we are proud of,” he said, “is that this is a repurposed building.”

The project saw the total refurbishment of the “brutalist 50-year-old building” and the installation of a spectacular glue-laminated timber atrium. 

New building will welcome Auckland students in 2024

Set to welcome thousands of educational and social students next year, the building is an ‘adaptive reuse’ project that has set new benchmarks for low-carbon Design and sustainability. 

It will cut the waste and pollution in the building’s operation, providing a healthy, comfortable, and functional space with easy access to public transport, bike parking, and end-of-trip facilities.

Designed by Jasmax, in collaboration with Māori design agency Haumi, engineered by Beca and constructed by Hawkins, the building cut carbon emissions in half by reusing and strengthening the existing structure.

It replaced concrete cladding with a new lightweight system that allowed for adding an extra floor area and installed a lighter curtain wall projected to make the building earthquake-proof for another 50 years.

The project took 3 years to construct and, in August 2021, was recognised as “World’s Best Practice” by the New Zealand Green Building Council – which awarded the project 93 points, the highest ever awarded to a NZ project.

NZGBC Director of Market Transformation Sam Archer and University of Auckland Waipapa Taumata Rau’s Chief Property Officer, Simon Neale. (Photo Credit: Supplied by the NZGBC)

Simon Neale, Waipapa Taumata Rau’s Chief Property Officer, says a 6 Green Star certification was a priority from the beginning as part of the University’s commitment to sustainability.

“This project highlights how we can avoid bowling our existing spaces and instead adaptively reuse them, massively slashing our carbon emissions while creating a space fit for the future.”

“While we targeted a 6 Green Star rating, we didn’t anticipate receiving the highest score ever awarded by the New Zealand Green Building Council at Design.” 

Mass timber roof was the “architectural hero” of the project

The visual highlight of the project, a new atrium and its glue-laminated timber roof, sits proudly above the existing podium space.

According to Hawkins, it is “composed of a series of peaks and valleys to reference the historical merchant houses alongside,” with the roof, “formed through a unique combination of heavy structural steel encased in glue-laminated timber.”

The steel-encased glue-laminated timber roof is under construction. (Photo Credit: Supplied University of Auckland Waipapa Taumata Rau’s Chief Property Officer, Simon Neale)

Red Stag Timberlab manufactured the roof at its Rotorua plant, the largest mass timber facility in the southern hemisphere in Rotorua. Offsite Design was responsible for the “complicated DfMA design,” Red Stag said.

Kobe Construction assembled the modular beams at Red Stag TimberLab.

“Kobe Construction completed offsite fabrication at the Red Stag Auckland facility,” they said, “with massive modules moved out and assembled on site thanks to Tutill Carriers.”

According to Hawkins, the atrium design and its use of low carbon mass timber provide natural ventilation and “showcases why the project was awarded a 6 Star Green Star Design and As Built.”

Modular beams craned into place by Tutill Carriers.
Material selection drives 60% reduction in embodied carbon

Richard Walsh, Beca’s Technical Director and Project Lead, said, “An assessment of the building’s life cycle has found emissions for its construction and operation over its lifetime will be almost 60 per cent less than an equivalent new build.”

According to Mr Walsh, the success was the “result of a whole-of-life approach to cost and carbon reduction, while improving health and well-being, supply chains for materials, construction practices, and environmental impacts.”

Andrew Eagles, the NZGBC CEO, said the project demonstrated the future of sustainable architecture.

“This project highlights how we can avoid bowling our existing spaces and instead adaptively reuse them – massively slashing our carbon emissions while creating a space fit for the future.” 

“To meet our climate change goals and create a zero-carbon future, we need more of the leadership and partnership demonstrated in this partnership,” Mr Eagles said.

(l-r) Helen White MP and Shanan Halbert MP (both members of the government’s infrastructure caucus) with Simon Neale.
The project is a thankyou gesture for the Auckland community

PM Hipkins used the opening ceremony to recall the early economic support decisions of the pandemic years and his last visit to the project in 2021.

He was to tour the site on August 17, but as he arrived, he received a call, as then Covid Recovery Minister, from then Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield alerting him to the outbreak of the Delta variant of the virus.

 He flew back to Wellington and soon after became what was the longest of the country’s Level 4 lockdowns.

With hindsight, he said the variant marked “the beginning of the end of our elimination of Covid. We then went through the bumpy process of seeing COVID-19 in the community and increasing our vaccination rates.”

The PM took the chance to acknowledge Aucklanders having handled the lion’s share of the burden during the August to November lockdown. 

“Thank you to Auckland.”

Former PM announced, in August 2021, the world’s strictest Covid lockdowns after the Delta variant of the virus was found to be circulating. Covid and recovery are among the hot-button political topics ahead of the NZ election in October 2023. Footage courtesy of @RNZVideo.

Professor Freshwater said the nine-storey, which includes a soaring glass atrium and photovoltaic panels, has exceeded all expectations.

“This is a stunning purpose-renovated and sustainable building to welcome the Faculty of Education and Social Work to the centre of Waipapa Taumata Rau and to connect the University precinct better,” she said.

“It provides opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration in a modern, uniquely New Zealand setting, and I have no doubt it will be a strong attraction for students considering studying here.”

Among many other notable features, B201 boasts dance and drama studios, a brand new, flexible lecture theatre, archaeology wet labs and, with teacher education in mind, specialist areas for cooking, timberwork, craft, painting and music.

From left, Professor Nuala Gregory, Dean of Creative Arts and Industries, Vice-Chancellor Professor Dawn Freshwater, Dean of Arts Professor Robert Greenberg, Dean of Education and Social Work, Professor Mark Barrow. (Photo Credit: Supplied by the Univerity of Auckland)

Professor Robert Greenberg, the Dean of Arts, said, “It’s wonderful that the University has committed to our disciplines with these amazing new spaces that will bring vitality to our respective faculties.”

Additionally, the building provides social work suites, a native plant roof garden and, on the upper levels, staff and postgraduate research offices that open onto attractive shared spaces with impressive views across the city.


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


Related Articles