Buchan-designed Invercargill Central transforms regional city’s CBD

The transformational redevelopment of a CBD block in the New Zealand regional city of Invercargill has brought people back to the city centre and boosted economic growth.

Invercargill Central, designed by global firm Buchan, is an ambitious project that occupies an expansive 15,137 sqm city centre block bordered by active streets on four sides. The entire site has been redeveloped as a cohesive, masterplanned precinct with curated retail, hospitality, civic, entertainment and commercial zones, connected by new and existing pedestrian links.

In prior years, the area had been in decline. The existing buildings varied in age and condition and were tired, unappealing and increasingly vacant, with little to entice visitors.

Invercargill Central has turned the tide. The new development comprises 47 retail tenancies, a childcare centre, five restaurant tenancies, four office tenancies, and four levels of parking. An integrated, nine-storey commercial office building, known as 25 Esk and located on a prominent corner, adds nine stories of prime commercial office space and creates a new landmark on the skyline.

Buchan’s project leader, Daren Alderson, said Invercargill Central has reimagined the city centre as a dynamic, walkable community hub and has restored a sense of civic pride.

“Our priority was to create a great experience for the community and bring people back to the city, day and night, whilst respecting the history and integrity of the wider neighbourhood.”

Alderson said the challenge was to sensitively integrate the large-footprint development into the city’s existing context and retain a sense of place. Urban planning examined how the city is experienced at every scale, with attention to character, service provision, walkability and wayfinding.

The design team analysed all the site’s existing buildings, looking at massing, floor heights, boundaries and heritage protection. This informed the scale and rhythm of the new builds, which sit respectfully alongside retained heritage facades to merge old and new seamlessly within the existing city fabric. The result is a mix of richly layered architectural forms and materials that create interesting and engaging streetscapes.

A main objective was to reactivate Esk Street. Here, three heritage facades have been retained and restored, maintaining a strong connection to the site’s past. 11 separate facades replicate the scale and diversity of a traditional high street, reinstating Esk Street as a prime retail destination.

On Tay Street, a dynamic car park screen was inspired by the Aurora Australis, a shimmering curtain of colour and light that naturally occurs in the night sky. The screen is made from Kaynemaile, a bio-circular, polycarbonate mesh designed and made in New Zealand. It provides good ventilation and is the canvas for colour-changing lighting that mimics the Aurora in a captivating night-time display. The Buchan team worked closely with the lighting engineers and Kaynemaile to test and perfect this feature.

With the demolition of 43 existing buildings came the opportunity to salvage, restore and re-use. The clock from the NZIC building was refurbished and installed in the interior, along with leadlight glass panels and heritage verandah posts. Bricks recycled from the demolition have also been re-used in the new build, connecting past, present and future.

The scheme is mindful of the unique climatic conditions on the southern tip of New Zealand.

To offer shelter from Antarctic winds, laneways are internal, yet designed to feel as if they are outdoors by repeating elements from the facades, the use of skylights, and floor finishes that imitate external paving.

Invercargill’s low winter daylight hours mean lighting plays a big role in creating a safe, warm and inviting environment. Lighting accentuates architectural features, notably on the heritage facades, and is carefully tailored for different activities and times of day, with attention to glare control for visual comfort.

Scott O’Donnell, the chair of client Invercargill Central Group, described the project as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deliver New Zealand’s most southernmost city “a bright and bustling city centre and give Invercargill its heart back.”

The new development will bring economic benefits to the community and the wider district. Construction created over 400 new jobs and a labour spend of $80 million. Now the project is complete, more local employment opportunities have opened, and increased spending and visitor numbers will provide a further boost to the local and regional economy.

Alderson notes that Invercargill Central shares similarities with Buchan’s precinct design work in Ipswich in regional Queensland, where a staged revitalisation has brought people of all ages back to the city centre. “Quality precinct design is an investment in social, cultural and economic sustainability. Invercargill Central has given the community an exciting, new place to gather and a renewed sense of optimism, and the positive impact will be felt well into the future.”

Lead consultant: Buchan – masterplanning, heritage salvage strategy, architecture, interior design and brand experience
Client: Invercargill Central Limited
Project Manager: Invercargill Central Limited (Cronos Projects)
Builder: Amalgamated Builders Limited
Structural engineer: Lewis Bradford Consulting Engineers
Civil engineer: Bonisch
Fire Engineer: Holmes Group
Electrical, mechanical and hydraulic engineers: Cosgroves
Quantity surveyor: WT Partnership
Size: Site: 1.5137ha (15137m²)
(total development footprint of approximately 19,365 sqm)
GFA: 44,202 sqm (including carparking; vertical circulation and service areas)

Invercargill Central was awarded a 2023 IES (Illuminating Engineering Society) ANZ NZ Chapter Award of Commendation for lighting.

Photography Dennis Radermacher, Lightforge