08 JAN 2017

The Civic Administration Building – An Ugly Masterpiece

The Civic Administration Building by celebrated architect Tibor Donner is consistently voted one of Auckland’s ugliest buildings by the general public.


Words and Photography by Dan Eagle

When the Auckland City Council moved out of the Civic Building to a larger premises in 2014, there were cries of delight when it was suggested that the building was on the cards for demolition.

Fortunately for anyone interested in history and character buildings, the destructive joy was short-lived. The Council has since decided to list the building as a category ‘A’ heritage listed building, scheduled to be sympathetically restored and repurposed as an apartment block.

Here’s a short history of a building that was once considered a skyscraper and a cherished symbol of progress:

/ The Civic Administration Building sits on a site previously known as Auckland's Chinatown. The council progressively bought all the rundown low-rise buildings next to the Town Hall to create the public space now known as the Civic Centre.

/ Celebrated modernist architect Tibor Donner designed the Civic Administration building in the mid-1950s. The brief was to create a grand statement that would showcase the council’s desire for Auckland to become a modern, internationally focused city.

/ Donner traveled extensively in the mid-1950s to study the work of leading architects in Europe and the United States. The design Donner settled on is a brilliant example of kiwi ingenuity, taking cues from the best international buildings and adapting them to the local environment.

/ The building pushed the boundaries of the local construction industry. The steel had to be imported, migrant Pacific Islanders were trained as welders, and decorative glass aggregate was produced in the architect’s own shed from used whiskey bottles.

/ On its opening in 1966 it was New Zealand’s tallest building. Locals considered it a skyscraper with its 19 storeys towering over Auckland city. The building quickly became an icon of progressive local government and an inspiring example of international style architecture.


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