Sylvia Park – building from the ground up

Sylvia Park was already carrying the title of New Zealand’s largest mall before the expansion that is the Galleria opened in October 2020. Adding a second storey to the existing structure, all while remaining an opening and functioning mall was no easy task.

The impressive Level 1 Galleria expansion was recently unveiled, revealing over 20,000m2 of additional retail space with a price tag of $227 million. It takes the total retail space to over 90,000m2, well and truly securing its title as New Zealand’s largest shopping mall. Harrows caught up with Robert McFarlane, Principal and Anna Hill, Associate from Buchan Group, the project architects, about the highlights and challenges of such a project.

“It was an amazing feat that the teams at Buchan, Naylor Love and Kiwi Property managed to do – to keep the existing tenants open and operational while adding a second storey.” says Hill.

While the long-term vision for Sylvia Park had included a second level from its inception, after a 10 year pause between stages a lot had changed and the existing structure needed a re-look. The Christchurch earthquakes saw revisions to building codes throughout the country and strengthening work to the existing structure was required to support the new storey. It fell to contractors Naylor Love to phase the work in such a way that the downstairs could remain trading in a safe way while the strengthening work was undertaken. They built crash decks so that they could work on the upper level while remaining invisible from customers underneath, creating new voids and building the new roof with impressive skylights overhead.

“The shoppers downstairs didn’t have an inkling, it was done in a very clever manner by the contractor” reflected McFarlane. “With any project that spans 4-5 years, it changes all the time. From the brief to the personnel across the whole project team from clients to consultants and you just have to run with it. To quote an ancient Greek philosopher – Change is the only constant in life.”

At the beginning of the project, McFarlane recalls there were two different design options running in parallel, and after a slight hiatus in the project, the team looked fundamentally at other options including ones that didn’t feature a second storey. When the timing was right and the client was ready to proceed, a third option was produced by the Buchan team, which is what has eventuated into the finished development.

The Terrace is the new dining precinct unveiled with the opening which it also underwent a number of design changes and iterations over the project span, being a major project in its own right. The idea was to produce a timeless space that draws the occupant into a large yet intimate dining space.

“The dining precinct draws inspiration from the Architectural design with its juxtaposing soft curves and imposing angles. The curved timber ceiling and high gloss faceted columns create a uniform language throughout the space. Each area is defined by materiality, colour and texture, to align with the division of tenancies.” described Hill. “The handmade forest green glass mosaic tile curves around the backside repeating the modulated language derived from the faceted columns and curved ceiling.” The timelessness is enhanced through the textured yet refined palette of timber, brass, natural tones and stone look tiles combined with the high gloss and matt finishes that have been selected. Green tones are enhanced throughout the precinct in plush velvets, timber stains and mosaic tiles to enhance the living glass curtain wall. McFarlane commented “The timelessness of the space needed to balance to ephemeral nature of the shop fit outs, with shop fronts and units tending to change over time. The Terrace needed to have it’s own identity which would remain enduring.”

One of the biggest take-aways for both Hill and McFarlane has been the comradery and cohesive collaboration across the project. From the client to consultants, architects, engineers, contractors, project managers and local Iwi.

Life before retail…
The 24 hectare parcel of land in Mt Wellington was originally purchased in 1838 by a missionary named James Hamlin. By 1882 a stud farm of the name ‘Sylvia Park’ was established there, and went on to foal the 1890 Melbourne Cup winner ‘Carbine’. The site was purchased by the government in 1927 and during the second world war it was utilized by the United States Army to store meat and food supplies for the US armed forces. In 1992 the block returned to private ownership before being acquired by Kiwi Property (then called Kiwi Income Property Trust) in 1998. Kiwi Property and their contractors have worked with local iwi Ngati Maru to ensure the development incorporates and pays appropriate respects to the heritage of the site throughout the journey. A historic stream that ran underneath the site is reflected through the flooring around the centre, and blessings have been held at the site at different stages, including a sunrise blessing for the recent opening.

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