South British Insurance Building (Former)

5-13 Shortland Street, Auckland

  • South British Insurance Building (Former), Auckland. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Taken By: Phil Clark . Date: 31/12/2017.
  • South British Insurance Building (Former), Auckland.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 31/10/2001.
  • South British Insurance Building (Former), Auckland.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 31/10/2001.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 121 Date Entered 17th July 1985 Date of Effect 17th July 1985


City/District Council

Auckland Council


Auckland Council

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 20508

Location description

Postal Address: PO BOX 305417 Triton Plaza Auckland 0757


The former South British Insurance Building is a fine example of a 1920s 'Chicago-style' office block in central Auckland, complementing the nearby General Buildings. Such high-rises marked a considerable shift in design and business organisation from the smaller, single-tenancy offices used in the mid to late nineteenth century. The change is exemplified by the South British Insurance Company, which transferred its headquarters into this building from its smaller chambers in nearby Queen Street (see 'Blackett's Building') in 1929. The Auckland-based company had been founded in 1872, but expanded its international operations significantly in the early 1900s.

The new building was one of the tallest structures in Auckland, and of self-consciously 'modern' design. The South British company offices were prominently located at street and first floor level, separated from the company boardrooms at the top of the building by several floors rented out to other firms. Although the design was heavily influenced by American prototypes, the British connections of the company were reflected in its employment of English stone cladding and the re-use of a statue of Britannia, which had surmounted the previous South British headquarters in Blackett's Building. The architects - Grierson, Aimer and Draffin - were also involved in the contemporaneous construction of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The South British occupied the offices until 1982, when the firm was amalgamated with the New Zealand Insurance Company.

The South British Insurance Building is significant as the largest and one of the finest 'Chicago-style' high-rises in Auckland, which reflects the prosperity of one of the city's most prominent financial institutions. It is particularly valuable for its location next to Blackett's Building, showing important changes in commercial architecture and business organisation from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. Its interiors include some of the finest Art Deco ornamentation in the city centre, and it makes an important contribution to the urban streetscape. It is additionally significant as one of a group of buildings in the commercial district that show Auckland's prosperity as a financial centre in the 1920s.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Grierson, Aimer & Draffin

Hugh Cresswell Grierson (1886-1953) was practising as an architect prior to the First World War. He served in the New Zealand Army and remained overseas to continue his studies at the Architectural Association in London. He became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He returned to New Zealand and went into partnership with Kenneth Walter Aimer (1891-1960), a fellow student in London.

Aimer was educated at Auckland Teachers' Training College and Auckland University College. He became a registered architect in 1918, and later travelled to England to continue his studies. He became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1925.

Malcolm Keith Draffin (1890-1964) was in partnership with Edward Bartley and his son Alva when the First World War began. Draffin served in the army and was awarded the Military Cross. He remained in London after the war to study at the Architectural Association, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Following Edward Bartley's death in 1919, Alva Bartley and Draffin dissolved the partnership.

The Auckland Institute and Museum complex was the major work of the firm, for which they were awarded a Gold Medal by the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1929. The firm's other work includes the South British Insurance Company, Shortland Street and a number of cinema's including the Capitol, Dominion Rd (1922), the Rialto, Newmarket (1923), the Collosseum/Majestic, Queen Street (1924) and the Edendale cinema (1926). They were one of the first Auckland firms to adopt the Art Deco style popular in America, as can be seen in the Gifford's Building (1929), and they also designed in the Stripped Neo-Classical style as seen in the Northcote War Memorial Pavilion (1922) and the Parnell Library (1923).

The Depression halted most building activity and as a result the partnership was disbanded. Draffin and Aimer practised separately while Grierson took up farming.

Additional informationopen/close

Notable Features

Registration covers the building, its fixtures and finishes. It includes recent modifications. The structure lies on the site of an 1842 homestead, and a number of early colonial, commercial buildings.

Construction Dates

1842 -
Site of homestead

1874 -
Site of commercial premises

Original Construction
1927 - 1929
Construction of South British Insurance Company Building

1958 -
Internal alterations

1962 - 1968
Internal alterations

1982 -
Removal of statue of Britannia

2001 -
Extensive refurbishment

Completion Date

12th December 2001

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Vennell, 1972

C. W. Vennell, Risks and Rewards, A Policy of Enterprise 1872-1972: A Centennial History of the South British Insurance Company Limited, Auckland, 1972

Conservation Plan

Conservation Plan

Dave Pearson, 'South British Insurance Building, Auckland: A Conservation Plan', Auckland, 2000 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Other Information

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.