It’s largely forgotten now, but Tāmaki Makaurau has a curious history as a place of villages. For centuries, a complex patchwork of gardens and interlaced iwi affiliations dominated the region; in the 20th century, the place was run by small borough councils, each with a highly evolved sense of self-importance – and, naturally, a council chamber.
In 1927, the Mt Albert Borough Council built one on New North Road in Morningside. It was designed by Daniel Boys Patterson, known for banks, churches and fire stations. The council offices were downstairs, with the vaulted chamber and the borough engineer upstairs. An extension to the rear – concrete, more prosaic – was built in the 1970s as offices for the mayor and councillors.
In 1989, the city’s various councils were amalgamated into seven (and then, in 2010, one), and the building was leased out to various health organisations. Over coming decades, Morningside as a distinct place seemed to disappear. By the time Harry Gould bought the chambers four years ago, the elegant propositions of the building were covered by dropped ceilings and cheap partitions; the portico had been replaced with a sort of steel-and-glass conservatory.
Gould liked the building, and he liked the suburb too. Morningside has become increasingly popular with young businesses as the city’s creative quarter spreads west along the rail line, a trend that will only accelerate when the City Rail Link is completed in 2024. “I’ve always liked this area,” he says. “I’ve always felt it was under-appreciated.”
Working with Fearon Hay Architects on early concepts, and then with Rufus Knight on communal interiors, he built a sort of laneway through the ground floor that connects to the rear building. Contractors stripped away layers to reveal the bones. “He wanted to do it right,” says Duncan Greive, tumu matua of The Spinoff, whose multivarious enterprises (website, creative agency, publisher, podcast studio) occupy the top floor, including the original council chambers which now function as a common area.
A new steel structure with lift and stairs connects the two buildings; pale pink plaster and terracotta tiles line the laneway. In places, large windows have replaced more cluttered openings, offering a glimpse into the reworked spaces. “We had an idea there might be something in behind all the walls, but we weren’t sure,” says Gould. “So it was a bit of a punt.”
From there, he set about creating a mix of tenants that felt right – including The Spinoff, Ārepa and Pocket Square. “We were quite deliberate,” he says. “We said no to quite a few people – it was just important to have a relationship with our tenants and find some common ground.”
Downstairs, in what used to be council offices, you’ll find Baina, known for organic cotton towels. Their space is long with tall windows, divided into three areas with floaty curtains – gallery in the front, studio and storage to the rear. Co-founder Anna Fahey originally heard about the building when Gould approached her to discuss putting Baina towels in the bathrooms, which feature brass fittings, green tiles and plaster walls. “It was really important that the space was reflective of who we are,” she says: the brand wanted somewhere that already had texture and history. “It was important that the space had that polished touch to it, rather than trying to layer onto something that didn’t have the bones in place.”
The Spinoff was by then bursting at the seams in digs around the corner. Greive wanted to stay local: within a few hundred metres there are other media organisations, plus a recording studio and venue owned by producer Joel Little called Big Fan; craft brewer Urbanaut is a few doors up and many staff live in the area. “The whole dynamic of this part of the city is going to change quite profoundly,” he says. “That’s the community we want to serve as a media organisation – it felt like a place we could put down roots.”
For Greive, it also marks a curious sort of return to prominence for an area long disregarded. “It feels like there are threads back into Auckland’s past as a city of villages and fiefdoms, the internecine rivalries of it all,” he says. “There’s a little bit of magic in that.”
615 New North Road,