Character space is prized for company branding

5:00 AM Saturday December 10, 2016 True Commercial

The character Kauri Timber Building at 104 Fanshawe St was completed in 1882 and has recently been refurbished.

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

No longer. These days character buildings have all the expected fittings and are particularly popular with tech and creative companies, say JLL commercial leasing brokers Nick Theyers and Tom Dixon.

“More and more clients tell us they’re looking for character space,” says Theyers.

“Even boutique law firms are looking at character buildings. Some clients tell us they’re not interested in looking at ‘traditional’ offices at all.

“It was only three or four years ago that ‘character’ referred to some pretty undesirable properties,” JLL commercial leasing broker 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 specification.”

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 on to the market,” says Theyers.

“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,” he adds.

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

JLL research consultant Adam Vodanovich has observed a shift in the CBD’s centre of gravity towards the waterfront in recent years.

“The popularity of Wynyard Quarter and Britomart as office locations continues to increase and both of these locations include refurbished character buildings,” Vodanovich says.

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,” Vodanovich says.

Dixon points to The Imperial Buildings in downtown Auckland as another example, which were once home to two cinemas. 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,” Dixon says.

“The Nathan Building (1903) and Australis House (1904) on Britomart’s Takutai Square have been refurbished to house luxury retail at ground level, with premium office space above. They retain their rough-sawn timber ceiling beams and herringbone pattern bracing.

“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 view shafts 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,” Dixon says.

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 R d 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,” Dixon says.

International examples reflect the same trend, albeit on a 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 5574sq m industrial building and converted it into open plan office space. The headquarters of Twitter, AirBNB and Adobe are all 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 6689sq m 96-year-old warehouse,” Dixon says.

JLL’s Project Management team has 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 director of project development services Ben Dalton says.