ASB Waterfront Theatre Hero

ASB Waterfront Theatre

Comprising a 668-seat, international-standard theatre, bar, café, gallery space and lounge, the ASB Waterfront Theatre is a purpose-built venue that will provide a state-of-the-art performing arts facility for such groups as the Royal New Zealand Ballet, the Black Grace Dance Company and New Zealand Opera – along with the Auckland Theatre Company (ATC) which will make the theatre its home.


A place to call home had been a long-held dream for ATC, says general manager Lester McGrath. “We wanted to create an open, inviting environment that would encourage people to utilise the street-level areas of the theatre outside of show times – something that would add to the invigorated Wynyard Quarter, which would in turn invigorate the theatre company and the way we make theatre,” he adds.


What we did:

With such a confined footprint for the building and restricted access, innovation was at the forefront of every process. The column-free auditorium is supported by massive cross-beams and columns, with Grayson Engineering providing the trusses and steel bracing – all prefabricated offsite and trucked in during night-time deliveries.

The roof too was prefabricated over the road on the vacant site for the Park Hyatt. Constructed in three 20 tonne sections, the roof was lifted into place during one day-time closure of Halsey Street. Such innovation has been recognised with a nomination for an NZIOB Award for Excellence

And in a first for the Southern Hemisphere, the theatre is on track to be the first to achieve a 5 Green Star rating – a feature in keeping with the Wynyard Quarter’s sustainable development framework.

“Given that theatres are not generally particularly energy-efficient facilities, a lot of work has been required to achieve this,” Project Manager Alun Larsen notes.

“We employed high standards of waste and environmental management during the demolition and construction phases, and we have used durable and, where appropriate, environmentally friendly materials that are suitable for a public building.”

Unique Challenges:

Hawkins worked extensively to find workable solutions within the very tight budget. For example, the ground for the site was contaminated reclaimed land, so the piles from the old Moana Pacific Fisheries building were reused which cut down the costs for the foundations.

Constructing the auditorium was a massive challenge. Structurally, it’s very difficult to build a theatre which isn’t on the ground floor, especially a hollow one. Essentially, we had to create a rigidly braced box that would provide an intensely flexible open space. A lot of temporary bolting was used – which is normal in a building of this size – but then onsite welding, rather than just bolting, was used to ensure rigidity.

Another problem was getting all the materials into the building. With the project starting to run over time, Alun and the team hit on the idea of constructing a hung ‘birdcage’ scaffold gantry around the upper levels of the auditorium which meant the materials for the various services (lighting, air-conditioning, sound and power) and ducts could be lifted in using a 10 tonne winch and installed at the same time as the theatre floor, stage and risers for the seats were being installed.

“We spent lots of time on detailed planning and strategizing on how to make sure optimal work was achieved within the confined working space,” Alun says. “We craned 16,000 m of timber into the building before the tower crane was dismantled. This saved subcontractors a substantial amount of time and avoided the potential for damage as the materials didn’t have to be carted through the building.”


The Outcome:

The ASB Waterfront Theatre includes an enormous level of detail and an extremely high finish. The overall look is ‘sophisticated industrial’ with extensive use of polished aggregate and concrete, natural timber cladding and exposed services. Architect Gordon Moller calls the auditorium his ‘cedar crucible’. Even the bathrooms are beautiful. The theatre is on the first floor, suspended within a glass box, and the ground-floor foyer opens up onto a courtyard shared with the adjacent ASB headquarters.

Alun Larsen attributes the successful outcome of the project to the collaborative approach by all parties which was adopted right from the start. “It takes a community to build something like this, and this project truly relied on a community of stakeholders, as well as a huge amount of community funding.” 

In a touching gesture, the names of the 1200 contractors involved in the construction of the theatre will be commemorated on glass panels lining one of the staircases in the theatre.