Fearon Hay Architects

Imperial Buildings

Sweeping changes to the Imperial Buildings between Queen St and Fort Lane have revealed the buildings' history and turned what was a drab service lane into one of the Auckland's most celebrated design successes.

Why open up a private building to the public?

The difficult thing about heritage buildings is that the public, generally, only interact with the facade, while the rest of the building is private. So the introduction of a public laneway through a privately held building was a significant commitment, but given the location of the Imperial Buildings between the High Street & Britomart precincts, it certainly felt like the right kind of gesture.

When maximum leasable floor space is the grail for standard commercial development, what's the incentive for developers to change?

The result is a high-quality character space in a building which offers many, if not more, of the practical features found in a modern building. The developers have attracted a desirable mix of tenants with a natural fit for this type of space - advertising agencies, economists, recruitment and software developers, designers, luxury brand headquarters, restaurants and a café.

What changes have you seen in Fort Lane since the project opened?

Linking Queen Street & Fort lane has really breathed life into the precinct, with pedestrian traffic in and around Fort Lane increasing more than threefold From what was a neglected and potentially unsafe service way, the addition of lighting, planter boxes and alfresco seating and the personality of the tenants has created a visible and active edge to the area.

The building that backs on to the lane is a scarred, brick and concrete patchwork with exposed pipes and derelict old fittings. Why not clean it up?

It’s important not to sterilize heritage building fabric or turn it into an exhibition or novelty. What excited us about keeping the façade intact was watching it become re-activated through new use and new occupation.

There's a little, accidental garden on the balcony overlooking the lane. It's nice to see it survived the renovation, I really like it. What are your favourite bits of the building?

Glad someone noticed - we were pretty adamant that it was saved. It’s hard to pick a favorite moment but we’re excited about the basement tenancies coming to life.

—Jeff Fearon, Fearon Hay