BNZ Harbour Quays bites the dust.
You may not have noticed the gradual reduction in size over the past few months, but the former BNZ headquarters down on the waterfront Quay has been steadily chewed up over the last wee while, without any celebration or fuss. Remember when we imported a giant set of Christchurch munchers to eat some buildings, back in – ooooh, about 2011 maybe? It was on the news every night.
This time – not so much. It’s still impressive though, watching a hydraulic set of teeth bite into a concrete column and exert enough pressure onto it until it crumbles into dust. And then repeat, again and again, until the building gets down to ground level. And now it’s gone.
The BNZ are not wasting any time though. Well, that’s not entirely true – they wasted a huge amount of time over the last 10 years. But I mean to say, they are already building a new head office in Wellington, although not on the former waterfront site. BNZ has had a (mostly) impressive track record over the years in Wellington, and it has to be said, they have built so many offices that a fair chunk of the city can be attributed to them. (By fair, I mean fair, not large). There’s the Old Bank Corner which I think was three different bank buildings, one after another. Executed by some of the best classical architects that NZ had to offer back then, they do make up a lovely cityscape, sitting on what was former beach, at the bottom of the hill, next to the wreck of the Inconstant. They built one – swiftly outgrew it – built another – outgrew that too – and then a third, but left all the previous buildings behind.
I’m sure that there must have been an interim step of a building between 1900 and 1970s, although I’m not 100% sure where it was. I do recollect that the building on the corner of Taranaki and Vivian, currently being laboriously transformed into a Ramada hotel, used to be a BNZ as well. That building deserves a blog post all of its own, as it was also the site of New Zealand’s first drive through bank – perhaps NZ’s ONLY ever drive through bank. More on that later, I’m sure, another day perhaps. I have photos of it, somewhere!
The big Bank story of the 1970s – and 80s – and 90s probably too, was the building of the BNZ bank tower on the corner of Willis and Lambton. The big black one. Darth Vader’s pencil case. Wellington’s tallest building, possibly New Zealand’s tallest building for a while too. You know the one – the one where the steel frame was left rusting for 9 long years, unclad, unfinished, unhappily shouting out to the world that we had a problem with our building industry. Such a big problem in fact, that the entire industry abandoned the use of steel and moved into reinforced concrete instead. Fun Fact: you can date the year of a building’s construction reasonably well by looking at its structural skeleton. All steel beams and columns: pre 1975. All concrete beams and columns: post 1980. Even more fun fact: I’m not 100% certain that is true, but it’s a start. It’s 90% true I think. Maybe 80%. True enough. OK, moving on now…
Anyway, I’ve never been up it, although I hear that it moves around a bit in a strong wind. Must have been rocking back and forth like crazy over the last week or two then. I don’t know if that was the reason that BNZ moved out of it – then it became the State Insurance building and then it sold again – who knows who to? EY? IAG? AIG? Someone with big initials anyway. And no matter who is in the building now, I’ll still call it the BNZ tower. But for whatever reason they moved out of it, the next building that BNZ moved into was the new ground-scraper designed by Jasmax down at Harbour Quays. It was good for a few years maybe, with three giant wings and 2 giant atriums splitting the space up. I really like the atria – one was sort-of-public, the other mostly private. There was a Museum in the ground floor, which I always meant to go to. And all went well, until one day:
Earthquake. It was during the earthquakes down south that the BNZ discovered just how wobbly was the jelly beneath their feet. One of those first earthquakes – perhaps the 2011 one that destroyed Christchurch? It also shook up the BNZ horizons. Re the ceilings: it all fell down. They waited a while, moved out, spent millions more, and tried again, this time with new, improved ceilings and services. Come the 2016 Kaikoura quake, with multiple faults in the South Island lining up and pointing straight at our tub-full of jelly, all hell broke loose in the BNZ Harbour Quays, and the ceilings etc all fell down again. It seems we had not learned our lesson well enough.
After that, no one wanted to go back there. Was the building munted, or just haunted? Essentially being sited on a site that until relatively recently was still the ocean, clearly the building site was never going to behave like a nice flat piece of granite. And so now the workers have been spirited away, working from home or from relocated offices, somewhere, while a new set of foundations rise again, on the other side of the road.
So: the question remains to be asked – does BNZ prefer to live in a tall building or a low-lying building? They’ve been low, low, low, high, low and now high again. Does this affect their ways of working? Does it affect profitability? Their latest (as yet unbuilt) building will be by Newcrest, responsible for the Deloitte building just down the road, which is rumoured to be able to withstand virtually anything the world could throw against it. The Engineers are the same I believe – the famed Dunning Thornton team who love base isolation and external skeletons. BNZ should – SHOULD – be safe here for the next thousand years or so. And the Eye of the Fish will be watching closely, all the way…