Auckland Harbour Board Workshops (Former)

204 Quay Street, Lower Hobson Street And 85-89 Customs Street West, Auckland

  • Auckland Harbour Board Workshops (Former). From:
    Copyright: craigsyd - flickr. Taken By: craigsyd - flickr. Date: 21/07/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2649 Date Entered 23rd April 1992


City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)


Auckland Council

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 183125 (CT NA114A/611), and Lot 2 DP 197735 (CT NA126D/792), North Auckland Land District



The Auckland Harbour Board workshops (completed in 1944) provided modern centralised accommodation for staff which had previously maintained the port's property, plant and equipment from temporary and scattered premises.

The design was formally approved by the Board in July of 1938. It had been decided as early as 1927 to remove the Board's workshops and stores in Hobson Street to a less valuable but more accessible site on the eastern reclamation within the viaduct basin. Breastwork and reclamations undertaken between February and June 1938 provided the building site.

Tenders called for the work closed on January 30, 1940. The contract was awarded to Fletcher Construction Ltd. Shortages of skilled labour and supplies of imported materials, brought about by the Second World War, seriously delayed progress. By February 1942 the northern portion of the workshops and stores building was complete. The Commissioner of Defence Construction suspended the contract in May 1942, however, when only the floors and lower portions of the external walls had been constructed on the building's southern portion. Work resumed in March 1943 and the building was completed a year later.

Dredges, tugs, launches, cranes and all types of cargo handling plant were surveyed, overhauled, and repaired at the premises. Separate workshops were provided for the different trades. Based here also was the stores branch which had responsibility for the purchase and supply of materials and tools necessary for various works. Although the principal duties of the workshops were maintenance and repairs, a considerable amount of new work was also carried out. The machine shop was able to deal with most work except foundry work, and even in this it did its own pattern making for castings to be made by other firms. In the blacksmiths' and boilermakers' shop all classes of structural steelwork were carried out. A workshop was later built at the slipway at Beaumont Street to accommodate shipwrights and slipway workers. The modern demands of containerisation in shipping associated heavy equipment also eventually necessitated the provision of facilities elsewhere. However, the workshops continued to serve the purpose for which they were built until late in 1989. Since that time they have provided predominantly studio space for a variety of designers involved in the visual arts and media. The workshops were an exciting performance venue for Inside Out Theatre's production of Thomas Mann's The Holy Sinner in October 1990.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

For almost fifty years the workshops housed trades which played a material role in the development and day-to-day maintenance of Auckland's ports. The building is of historical significance to Auckland, a maritime centre.


The Harbour Board Workshop buildings is a simply executed industrial structure in the Modern Style. The horizontal emphasis and curving facade on the Hobson Street/Quay Street frontage portrays a unity of purpose and architectural sophistication reflecting the important role played by the workshop in serving Auckland's ports. The building with its simple detailing enhancing contrasts of light and shadow is virtually unaltered.


The structure's low profile makes it unobtrusive in the townscape. Its streamlined appearance, flag pole and octagonal windows at the main entrance have parallels with nautical motifs favoured on buildings of the "Streamlined Modern" style and allude to the workshops' maritime associations. The building fits well with its waterfront location. Its emphasis on the horizontal contrasts with other buildings in the general vicinity and provides an elegant introduction to the entrance of the viaduct basin from Quay Street.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Fletcher Construction Company

Fletcher Construction Company was founded by Scottish-born James Fletcher (1886 - 1974), the son of a builder. Six months after his arrival in Dunedin in 1908, Fletcher formed a house-building partnership with Bert Morris. They soon moved into larger-scale construction work, building the St Kilda Town Hall (1911), and the main dormitory block and Ross Chapel at Knox College (1912). Fletcher's brothers, William, Andrew and John joined the business in 1911, which then became known as Fletcher Brothers. A branch was opened in Invercargill.

While holidaying in Auckland in 1916, James tendered for the construction of the the Auckland City Markets. By 1919 the company, then known as Fletcher Construction, was firmly established in Auckland and Wellington. Notable landmarks constructed by the company during the Depression included the Auckland University College Arts Building (completed 1926); Landmark House (the former Auckland Electric Power Board Building, 1927); Auckland Civic Theatre (1929); the Chateau Tongariro (1929); and the Dominion Museum, Wellington (1934).

Prior to the election of the first Labour Government, Fletcher (a Reform supporter) had advised the Labour Party on housing policy as hbe believed in large-scale planning and in the inter-dependence of government and business. However, he declined an approach by Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage in December 1935 to sell the company to the government, when the latter wanted to ensure the large-scale production of rental state housing. Although Fletchers ultimately went on to build many of New Zealand's state houses, for several years Residential Construction Ltd (the subsidiary established to undertake their construction) sustained heavy financial losses.

Fletcher Construction became a public company, Fletcher Holdings, in 1940. Already Fletchers' interests were wide ranging: brickyards, engineering shops, joinery factories, marble quarries, structural steel plants and other enterprises had been added the original construction firm. Further expansion could only be undertaken with outside capital.

During the Second World War James Fletcher, having retired as chairman of Fletcher Holdings, was seconded to the newly created position of Commissioner of State Construction which he held during 1942 and 1943. Directly responsible to Prime Minister Peter Fraser, Fletcher had almost complete control over the deployment of workers and resources. He also became the Commissioner of the Ministry of Works, set up in 1943, a position he held until December 1945.

In 1981 Fletcher Holdings; Tasman Pulp and Paper; and Challenge Corporation amalgamated to form Fletcher Challenge Ltd, at that time New Zealand's largest company.

Williamson Construction Company - main contract

Wade, Norman Edward Thomas

Norman Wade (1879-1954) was born in Auckland, the son of architect Henry Greensmith Wade (b.1835-d.1900). He received his architectural training in his father's office and was for some years in partnership with his elder brother Henry Logan Wade, also an architect. Henry had taken over his father's architectural practice in 1899. The brothers worked together for a time and around 1920 Norman Wade and Alva Bartley (son of Auckland architect Edward Bartley) went into partnership, a professional relationship which continued into the mid-1930s. The partners were appointed architects to the Auckland Harbour Board in 1927 and designed the Board's Ports Building (1930) in Quay Street. Jointly they were responsible for the design of several of Auckland's well-known city buildings including the Auckland Electric Power Board Building (1928-30) in Queen Street (now Landmark House); and the 1YA Radio Station Building (1934-1945) in Shortland Street (for a time the Television New Zealand Studios).

By 1936 Wade had recommenced practice on his own account. He continued as architect to the Auckland Harbour Board, designing the Harbour Board workshops in 1938-1939 in the Modern style. Auckland's first sizeable city building in this style was Broadcasting House (1ZB) in Durham Street (demolished 1990), designed by Wade's former partner Alva Bartley in 1939 and constructed in 1940-1941.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


The Auckland Harbour Board Workshops building is in the Modern style. The northern portion (which accommodated offices, stores department and the electrical, plumbers', painters' and carpenters' shops) has two storeys with mezzanine. The southern section (which housed the boilermaking, blacksmiths' and machine shops) is single storeyed but of similar height and treated in a similar manner to the rest of the building.

The Modern is a variation of the International style with much of that movement's starkness and commitment to the aesthetics of the machine age. The Modern style emerged in the United States after the Wall Street crash of October 1929 and survived unchallenged until the late 1940s. It was largely a reaction against Art Deco and what was perceived as the over-ornamentation and elaboration of the past. The new direction reflected the influence of the Futurist Movement in which the paramount concern was the exhortation of the modern age, movement, passion for the machine, mass production, modern materials, clean lines and aerodynamic curves. Ideally the style was stripped bare of all ornamentation.

While industries and corporations in the United States during the 1930s embraced the Modern style as symbolising progress and a promise of a better future, the style was slower to be adopted in New Zealand. In Auckland it made a tentative appearance in Commercial/Industrial buildings at the end of the thirties. However, the following decade marked by restrictions on construction brought about by the Second World War, inhibited new work.

The corner site allows full play of the style expressed in the building's curve, rendered walls and low horizontal profile. The exterior utilises metal, glass and concrete, products of the machine age. Where timber does occur, for example in window joinery on some internal partition walls and for stair rails, this has been used sparingly with simple profile. Internal walls are free of mouldings and cornices.

Ornamentation is provided solely in the pattern of fenestration. Windows have been used for decorative effect enhanced by plain individual elements which stress the horizontal and intensify the contrast of light and shadow. The massing of these elements is all important. Entrances on the street facades are articulated by variations in grouping of windows, each grouping being different. The building's main entrance on Hobson Street, (emphasised by a taller section of parapet over the main gates and a flagstaff) is distinguished by the use of five octagonal window, a form not found elsewhere in the building. This is entirely in keeping with the Modern style where circular windows were occasionally used to balance rectangular elements and emphasise the horizontal aspect of a design.

In plan the building is almost "E" shaped, opening onto concrete yards adjacent to the eastern side of the viaduct basin, allowing pontoons, launches and floating plant to lie alongside. Areas accommodating the larger work spaces required for machine shop, and blacksmith's shop have pitched roofs of corrugated fibrolite, a contrast to the flat roof of the building's northern section. The machine shop has gable roof (hipped at the southern end) with rounded central monitor. The boilermaking and blacksmiths' shops have sawtooth roofs although as a concession to the Modern style, the form is rounded along the ridges and provides a convenient location for continuous ventilators. The steel truss roof of the machine shop ensures a work space uninterrupted by structural pillars. Banks of windows on the shop's eastern and southern walls provide a measure of natural light. As a result of care taken in the design and appearance of the rear of the building it presents a pleasing aspect when viewed from the west (the viaduct basin side).



internal alterations first floor providing additional office accommodation


freestanding cafeteria constructed on roof at the building's northern end. (This structure has flared walls and shallow gabled roof and is constructed in corrugated steel.)

Date unknown:

internal stairway removed adjoining main entrance at Hobson Street (south-western corner of the building's northern section)

removal of internal wall, first floor opening out workshop area in electrical department

small addition made adjoining the rear, central wing of the building (addition single storey, concrete block with mansard roof of long-run steel)

Notable Features

Fenestration and associated horizontal concrete "ledges" used as ornament.

Lettering on main facade.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1940 - 1944

Construction Details

foundations - reinforced concrete piles

reinforced concrete with plaster finish

roof - gable and saw tooth sections - corrugated fibrolite

flat section - reinforced concrete with metal waterproof covering

Information Sources

Wises Post Office Directories

Wises Post Office Directories

(Trades section [Architects] 1909-1936)

Leighton's Auckland Provincial Directory

Leighton's Auckland Provincial Directory

(Trades section [Architects] 1935/6-1954)



P Shaw, 'Lively Arts: The Capacity to Startle', December 1990, pp186-7

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.

23/12/1939 4(8)


Architectural Drawings/Plans

A473/1-4 - AHB: New Workshop - Lower Hobson Quay Street 1940 & 1946 (Held by Ports of Auckland).

University of Auckland

University of Auckland

Sheppard Collection (Architecture Library)

-B291al, Bartley A M

-W41, Wade T E N

Porsolt I V 'Broadcasting House in Durham Street', 1988, NZHPT, (Ak Office), Bldg 031.

Obituary Scrap Book

Obituary Scrap Book

October 1954 p119 (Auckland Public Library)

Bush, 1975

D J Bush, The Streamlined Decade, New York, 1975

Grief, 1975

M Grief, Depression Modern: The Thirties Style in America, New York, 1975

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.