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No expense spared on $15m council chambers and fire station conversion

20 Dec 2016

If the walls could talk, there would be a lot of stories to tell.

This spectacular new penthouse in the former Mt Eden Borough Council building in Auckland was once the council chamber where councillors met to debate every decision pertinent to the borough for more than 60 years.

But the building itself is more than 100 years old. Built in 1912, it was joined 12 years later by the fire station next door.

As with most old buildings, these two have been through numerous additions, alterations and alternative uses, but none as dramatic as the most recent $15 million refurbishment.

Project director Nigel McKenna of development company Templeton Limited and an investment group led by Warwick Goldsmith and Jackie Gillies have completely refurbished both buildings to provide six luxury apartments.

And the creme de la creme of the Chambers & Station redevelopment is this first-floor penthouse within the original chamber. The only apartment yet to be sold, the penthouse has just come onto the market.

McKenna says right from the outset the team, with A Studio Architects, have tried to respect all the spaces, retaining the original scale and proportion and returning each space to its full grandeur.

"Most of the original ceilings were 4m high, but at some point there was some 'modernisation', which saw these changed. We uncovered four false ceilings in one space on the ground floor. After we had pulled out three, we thought we had found the original ceiling, but no, we had to remove yet another one."

The project director also says the fire station building had become a mass of little offices and corridors. "It was hard to see the original dimensions of the space. We even discovered two key structural columns had been removed to open up a wall. The engineers said it must have been 'luck' holding up this part of the building."


McKenna says much of the refurbishment has been crafted by hand. "We had an plasterer working on the interior fibrous plaster restoration for nine months, and another plasterer working on the exterior for a whole year."

The original windows have been retained, but the glass has painstakingly been replaced with double glazing, with every pane needing to be worked on by hand.

Structural elements have been exposed where appropriate and incorporated into the aesthetics of the apartments. The 1912 building is double brick with a solid plaster exterior and timber windows, while the fire station building reflects later construction techniques and is built from reinforced concrete with steel windows.

An L-shaped bay was added to the council building in 1943 and this has been defined in the redevelopment. The master suite of the penthouse within this addition exposes the cornices of the original building – a long skylight enhances the sense of an "add-on".

McKenna says the entire building has undergone seismic strengthening, so the cornices won't fall during an earthquake. "We have spent over $1 million on seismic strengthening alone."

Other key features of the penthouse include a rooftop terrace with outdoor fireplace. A green roof now covers the car park, which was dug out through basalt from ancient lava flows. 

The structural engineer for the project was Brown & Thomson and the main contractor was Watts & Hughes.

The penthouse is being marketed by Barfoot & Thompson, with tenders closing on January 26, 2017. The agency says the property will not be sold in advance of this date.


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