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News Release


Popularity of character office space on the rise

More and more businesses are choosing to base themselves in refurbished character buildings



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Character office space GettyImages-503849251-min.jpg

Not so long ago, ‘character’ office space was a polite way of describing cheap, cold and ugly premises with minimal services. 

Not anymore. These days character buildings have all the fittings you’d expect and are particularly popular with tech and creative companies, according to commercial real estate company JLL. 

“More and more clients tell us they’re looking for character space, and it’s not just the creative companies. Even boutique law firms are looking at character buildings. Some clients tell us they’re not interested in looking at ‘traditional’ offices at all,” JLL commercial leasing​ broker Nick Theyers says.

“It was only three or four years ago that ‘character’ referred to some pretty undesirable properties,” JLL commercial leasing broker Tom Dixon says. “Now there’s no difference in terms of services between character space and traditional office space. Auckland’s character buildings have been refurbished to a very high spec.”

Some of the conversions that have happened around Auckland have brought industrial buildings up to high-grade office standards. 

“We’ve seen some incredible conversions around the bottom of Parnell, bringing a raft of character space onto the market,” Theyers says. “Clients who are looking at these kind of offerings want their office to be cool, they want it to be funky. It says something about their company when their clients walk in the door.”

There’s also been an increase in these kinds of spaces in downtown Auckland. 

“We’ve seen a shift in the CBD’s centre of gravity towards the waterfront in recent years,” JLL research consultant Adam Vodanovich says. “The popularity of Wynyard Quarter and Britomart as office locations continues to increase and both of these locations include refurbished character buildings.”

Often these character spaces are historic places or converted industrial buildings. 

The Lysaght building in Wynyard Quarter was once home to a steel company and is now an innovation precinct and co-working space that attracts tech start-up companies. 

The Imperial Buildings in downtown Auckland were once home to two picture theatres. They now feature several popular food and beverage operators at ground level in Imperial Lane, with office spaces above. The building’s heritage exterior is complemented by the semi-industrial feel inside, with exposed timber beams and large expanses of brick and concrete. 

The Nathan Building (1903) and Australis House (1904) on Britomart’s Takutai Square are being refurbished to house luxury retail at ground level, with premium office space in the floors above. They will retain their rough-sawn timber ceiling beams and herringbone pattern bracing. The original brickwork will be exposed to form feature walls. Both will have all of the high-spec amenities you’d expect in a modern office. 

The Kauri Timber Building at 104 Fanshawe St was completed in 1882 and was the head office of some of the most important timber companies in the country. As part of its refurbishment, a contemporary building was added next door, with viewshafts into the heritage section. These structures are home to several businesses and ground-floor retail. The heritage spaces retain their original brick walls, reconditioned kauri tongue and groove flooring and exposed kauri beams and columns while the contemporary spaces have exposed concrete surfaces. 

Auckland has several examples of industrial buildings that have been converted into office space. A prime example in the city fringe is the old Kiwi Bacon factory on New North Road in Kingsland, which was been occupied by Fairfax Media for many years and has just been vacated. The spaces retain a semi-industrial feel, with concrete floors and pillars throughout the ground floor. 

International examples reflect the same trend, albeit on a much larger scale. The new headquarters of the social media company Pinterest is in San Francisco’s popular South of Market district. It has taken a 5,574sqm industrial building and converted it into open plan office space. The headquarters of Twitter, AirBNB and Adobe are all located nearby. 

Interestingly, all of these high-tech companies have chosen character space. Adobe is in a landmark 1904 building made of red brick. Twitter’s home is in a grand 1937 art deco building, and Airbnb is in a 6,689sqm 96-year-old warehouse that has been extensively renovated but includes refurbished historic elements such as the original 1917 president’s office. ​

JLL’s Project Management team have managed the delivery of an increasing number of office fitouts in character buildings. 

“We see a wide variety of different businesses choosing to occupy character space. The heritage and feature elements of the space, often with a higher ceiling height, is certainly a much more popular choice than it was a couple of years ago,” JLL’s Director of Project Development Services Ben Dalton says. 

“We recently completed a high quality office fitout for NPT with all new exposed ceiling services and features throughout the open plan office areas.”

“Getting modern services and finishes into a character buildings can be complex, so it’s important to get a professional project manager and design team involved to ensure that everything is fully coordinated and the space is maximised. However these projects are particularly rewarding and the results are always very impressive.”