NZ Blood Atrium

NZ Blood
Project Value
GHD Woodhead Architects, GHD Structural Engineers
Best Design Awards, 2021 - Finalist - Repurposed Spaces. Excellence in Steel Awards, 2020 - Supreme Winner and winner of the Under $500K category

The challenge

Ask the project team what the key challenge was in delivering the atrium structure for NZ Blood’s head office and a common theme emerges: working within an occupied building.

The atrium is the centrepiece of NZ Blood’s new headquarters and part of a five-year project to consolidate the organisation’s core operations under one roof.

Imagine a square internal courtyard, surrounded by offices on all four sides yet open to the sky. The job was to transform the large external area of the existing building into an internal space by covering it with a roof. The atrium was to become the heart of the building with branches leading away to the offices.

Most strikingly, perhaps, is the seamless aesthetic on show inside the atrium. Looking up from ground level, the view is of an intricate latticework of steel triangles. Connections for the architecturally exposed structural steel feature hidden bolts so that all the joints appear slick. A portion of the services are fed through the interior of the rectangular hollow section members to contribute to the clean aesthetic.

How we made a difference

Originally planned as a timber structure, the design changed to structural steel. The team had to choose between either using timber and changing the aesthetic, or changing the material and keeping the aesthetic. It came down to material properties.

Timber would have required large member sizes, which would have altered the aesthetic substantially. By using steel sections, the design could achieve the required strength and stiffness, and retain the look and feel of the original concept.

The use of steel allowed the team to achieve the atrium’s complex geometry, which consists of contorted load paths. The biggest challenge for the team was trying to thread through the structure’s hidden supports.

There were very narrow architectural envelopes to get to the existing structure, so all of the exposed steelwork had to be as thin, and look as clean and simple, as possible. The most difficult thing was working to strict height limits and trying to find a solution where the steelwork could all be threaded through without letting on that it was actually supported further out.

About 25 percent of the support structure is hidden in the existing gutter islands, which form part of the existing structure. A 1.5m ‘eyelid’ wraps all the way around the building, as the gutter is artificially wide for aesthetic purposes. The structural steel supports drop down inside the eyelids, out to the main grid lines where the primary steel for the main structure is.

Where the steel goes down through the eyelids, there is a structural depth of only 200mm – trying to slot down inside that was quite challenging.

The existing building envelope was neither plumb nor square. To address this, additional tolerances were built into the structure. The engineers also worked closely with the steel contractor. They exchanged the fabrication model dozens of times to ensure that any changes between the as-built drawings and the physical building were accounted for before fabrication started.

Having a local structural steel contractor on board allowed the engineering team to respond fluidly to issues as they arose. Working with locals meant that the team could visit the factory during the fabrication process and inspect subassemblies – specifically a couple of the centre nodes – before they were welded onto the main members. It wouldn’t have been possible to do so had it simply been received as fully fabricated elements.

Structural steel contractor Global Engineering conducted a trial assembly of the atrium in its workshop, which the engineer was able to inspect. With an overseas’ supplier, there wouldn’t have been an opportunity to check the final product and make sure that each party had understood the other correctly.

The details

The NZ Blood Donor Centre has taken residency at the 71 Great South Road Building. A change in leasing provided an opportunity to expand and modernize their existing laboratory and collection centre.

NZ Blood’s Epsom facility, the largest donor centre in the country, conducts whole blood and apheresis processes. They wanted to move away from a clinical environment where possible, making donor’s experiences welcoming to increase donor retention. Their vision was to enhance the existing spaces and develop a facility that provides an enriching space for the donors and staff helping to save lives every day.

Our design team provided end to end services including architecture, engineering, space planning, full design and fit out management. This one-stop shop approach has meant that design and construction are truly collaborative, resulting in a high quality and thoughtful fit out. The project was carefully delivered over several years in a staged delivery to maintain vitally important blood donation and affiliated services throughout the construction period.

One of the themes that emerged during the design process was the concept of weaving, connecting to NZ Blood’s organisation, people, and knowledge. Interior finishes such as light shades, ceiling fittings, and furniture were selected around this theme. Strong colours based on the client’s corporate palette are mixed with a more residential / homely aesthetic. Textured fabrics and feature lighting have been incorporated into the reception, waiting and recovery areas.

The refurbishment presented an opportunity to convert the buildings existing, virtually un-used, outdoor courtyard into a usable covered atrium space. Now, with works complete, the atrium is now the heart of the building with the architecturally designed tree in the centre a unifying feature, both visually and functionally. The conceptual name for the tree is called the ‘weave tree’, relating to the ‘leaf’ shapes in the ceiling structure. The tree has biophilic origins, an extension of nature that fosters happiness and wellbeing, providing acoustic, lighting, and visual separation within the space.

New offices have been built around the atrium, creating a central hub for staff, with various breakout areas and community spaces split across two levels. The highest medical standards have been maintained in the various consultation rooms and in the donor suite.

Donors are provided with Electrical Vehicle Chargers located in the visitor’s carpark and a new service lift has been installed to connect all three floors. An internal staircase provides access to the previously inaccessible outdoor deck, which is now a kitchen and café space for all staff. Lobbies and internal stairs have all had a substantial aesthetic upgrade. Further upgrades include easier access for trucks for blood collection, gas, and logistics deliveries.
On the ground floor, what was a small, cramped ground floor room has been transformed into a large open space where the new donor beds look out on to the green fields of Dilworth College grounds. Providing an elevated natural outlook.

Ultimately, this large ‘collection centre’ has accommodated new medical requirements, state-of-the-art processes and the latest technology within a relaxed but appropriate framework.

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