Take A Tour Of Arup’s Sustainable Aukland Offices By Unispace

Arup’s Aukland offices by Unispace uses 99% waste diverted from landfill, 90% materials toxicity-free, and 50% materials sourced from New Zealand.

Project Overview:

  • Design Firm: Unispace
  • Client: Arup
  • Completion Date: December 2022
  • Location: Auckland, New Zealand
  • Size: 6,673 sqft
  • Certifications: Living Building Challenge Interior

Global specialist engineering firm, Arup set out with a goal to create one of the most sustainable workplaces in Aotearoa New Zealand. Arup’s portfolio includes some of the most iconic architectural and civil engineering developments in modern history, including the Sydney Opera House, the Gherkin, London, and the tireless restoration of the La Sagrada Família, Barcelona.

Arup’s establishment in Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa (Auckland, New Zealand) is in response to their delivery of a transformational transport infrastructure development for the country. Arup engaged Unispace to create a workspace that attracts, retains, and supports a specialist workforce to aid in delivering these works.

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An organization deeply committed to sustainable development, Arup set out to target the most comprehensive sustainability accreditation in the world, the Living Building Challenge. Living Buildings are regenerative and positive, requiring a progressive and thoughtful approach to design and construction to achieve net positive carbon, water, and waste targets. The first interior project of its kind in New Zealand, Arup’s workplace sets the benchmark for responsible corporate environments and has reshaped the way Unispace and their suppliers approach project design and construction, positively impacting the wider industry.

Housed within category-2 listed heritage architecture, the workplace is the result of co-creation with local Māori iwi (New Zealand’s indigenous people), honoring the unique Aotearoa heritage and creating a spiritual connection between the history of place and a regenerative future.

The workplace has been an immense success. Post occupancy data shows average utilization is at 95% – a rate higher than pre-pandemic. To accommodate the increased demand, Arup and Unispace are working together to expand the workplace into the building’s sub-tenancy area.

The result is a workplace that Arup’s people consistently want to come back to, it provides value to employees, beyond what they can access at home and enables them to do their best work.

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Project Planning

Arup’s project team were involved in the project planning from the start. The team ran workshops that included Unispace design leaders from across the globe, leadership visioning workshops to set the vision for Arup’s workplace, engineering workshop with Arup’s in-house engineering team and a co-creation workshop to determine the design outcomes based on strategy recommendations. Unispace also ran a functional briefing survey with each of Arup’s departments to ensure complete understanding of each team’s requirements/ways of working. Arup took part in a ‘UNImmersive’ day where a selection of Arup’s employees worked from Unispace’s agile workplace for a day to experience a different way of working with a variety of amenities, work settings and staff gave feedback to help craft their new workplace.

Integrating the cultural heritage of New Zealand into the workplace was of importance to Arup and a cultural engagement framework was developed across several workshops with local Maori iwi (New Zealand’s indigenous people), Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei.

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Decision to target Living Building Challenge – put together a Unispace and Arup driving team, giving each person specific responsibilities to ensure all areas of accreditation were covered and complied with. Several requirements required significant research e.g. sourcing requirements – is it possible to source 75% of the materials within a 2000-9000km radius from New Zealand. The team had to avoid of materials on the Institute of Living Futures Red List – researching new suppliers and material options that were free of toxic chemicals.

Project Details

The brief involved building pride in the hearts of Arupians, paying respect to the unique Aotearoa New Zealand heritage while pushing the boundaries of sustainable design and construction.

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Cultural engagement with Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei informed the design concept: Mai i ngā maunga ki te moana – the flow of the space represents a journey from the mountains (Mt Eden) to the sea (Waitematā Harbour). This design concept creates a spiritual connection between the history of place and a regenerative future. It is important that Te Ao Māori (worldview) is meaningfully felt by all who inhabit the space.

The zoning approach is anchored by the three hearts (baskets of knowledge):

  1. Pūmanawa: emotional body – arrival experience
  2. Mānawa: physical body – Hui gathering/collaboration space
  3. Whatumana: spiritual body – retreat space for thinking, calm, recharge.

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This concept is manifested through materiality – humble, natural materials are used as a base palette to create a grounding sentiment.

  • Arrival/gathering zones: richer in texture and color, reference to volcanic land
  • Retreat: reflects the moana (sea), space to pause and reflect at the end of floorplate.
  • Biophilic design: flowing carpets, organic shapes/forms, drawing on Māori culture’s interconnected relationship with nature, Earth as the most important stakeholder.

The Māori principal of kaitiakitanga (guardianship; our responsibility to sustain and care for the land so in return the land can care for us), guided the design process. Considering minimal impacts to nature, re-use, upcycling materials to reduce waste and supporting local businesses/suppliers.

The Living Building Challenge encourages regenerative and positive buildings, requiring a progressive and thoughtful approach to design and construction to achieve net-positive carbon, water, and waste targets.

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Key achievements:

  • 99% waste diverted from landfill:
  • No waste/offcuts allowed to remain onsite – required meticulous planning and management to ensure all materials are cut to length so there is no extra waste.
  • Dust from site was collected and recycled – sent to compostable toilets
  • 90% all materials free of toxic ingredients – vet all materials that come onsite, fostering an environment free of toxins and harmful chemicals (avoiding Living Futures Institute Red List)
  • 50% materials sourced from NZ – responsible sourcing to support local business and minimize transportation impacts
  • 100% carbon neutral through carbon offsets
  • 100% timber is FSC-certified
  • 95% workstations within 14m of windows-access to natural light
  • Developed Biophilic Framework – emphasize connection between people and nature: punga logs, reclaimed Kauri timber, river stones, native planting
  • Salvaged and recycled materials:
  • Kitchen counter bricks are salvaged from the restoration of the Basebuild
  • Benchtop material alone closed the loop for approx. 5,000 pieces of plastic waste
  • Recycled cut-off carpet to supplier for reuse
  • Electrical cable reels were reused at a daycare – children painted them to sit on and play with

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Intentionally located within the public transportation hub of Auckland, the workplace is accessible. Extensive end-of-trip facilities, bike racks and access to ferry, train, and bus routes, encourage alternative methods of transport, in an effort to minimize environmental impact.

Living Building Challenge compliance is based on actual, rather than anticipated performance. All projects undergo a 12-month performance verification – once this is complete, Arup’s workplace will be the first interior to receive Living Building Challenge certification in NZ.

This project has brought awareness to all aspects of design and construction and educated the project team, suppliers, and trades to reflect on how their actions impact the wider environment and what changes they can make to create positive impact.


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Overall Project Results

The resulting workplace reflects Arup’s purpose to shape a better world, amplifying growth, culture, and meaningful partnerships to deliver tangible social good. Two examples demonstrate this: employee sentiment and wellbeing, and the construction industry.

Post-occupancy data – proof of how thoughtful and responsible workplaces positively impact employee’s attitudes:

  • 100% believe the office design supports good employee wellbeing
  • 97% feel a sense of pride (previously 79% felt disconnected to brand/culture)
  • 90% believe that the workplace demonstrates a responsibility to the environment
  • 80% agrees that office expresses Arup’s brand and values
  • 95% utilization rate (previously at ~20% utilization rate)

To accommodate the increased demand, Unispace is currently working with Arup to expand into the sub-tenancy area.

This project addresses Arup’s and Unispace’s joint desire to improve today’s design/construction industry and the wider social landscape. With climate issues dominating headlines, the team set out to change the approach and increase awareness in how suppliers, trades and project teams can operate in a more sustainable and thoughtful way.

Significant social impact as suppliers/trades have been educated and up-skilled on LBC processes, creating a new best practice standard in the industry. LBC projects are rarely done locally and globally, and our suppliers/trades now can transfer their knowledge and experience to other projects and team members, reshaping the way they work.

Arup Auckland has made waves within its wider global operations, setting the standard for their future workplaces. The workplace embodies Arup’s values, solidifying their position in the industry as leaders in sustainability, attracting existing and emerging talent.

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Project Summary

Unispace were engaged as the workplace strategists, designers, project managers and site managers. Arup provided engineering and sustainability consultancy. The cultural narrative was integrated through a co-design partnership with local iwi – Dane Tumahai and Paora Puru of Te Manu Taupua Ltd

Design Team


  • Lawrence Anderson and Unispace

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