Catalina Workshops

The site is on the historic apron and wharf area on the north east corner of Hobsonville Point, an area being redeveloped as Catalina Bay. Existing buildings, originally constructed as seaplane hangars and workshops on date from 1930. The seaplane landing and support base were used for military operations originally then shared with Tasman Empire Airways Ltd (TEAL), until the final seaplane flight in April 1967. Recently, as part of the wider redevelopment of Hobsonville Point, the defence force moved off site leaving the hangars and workshop buildings empty.

A comprehensive redevelopment plan is underway at Catalina Bay and one of the first buildings to be completed and reoccupied is the Catalina Workshops. Originally a hangar and workshop for Catalina flying boats, the building is defined by its diagonally braced hangar doors and the large double height interior entry volume formed in raw concrete and riveted steel roof trusses above. The building contains office uses with a single tenant occupying the southern half.

An important conceptual element and key challenge in the re-occupation of the building was retaining the original steel framed diagonally braced hangar door frames, removing their asbestos cladding and applying a new glazed façade over. The original sideways rolling frames were cleaned and repaired before being fixed in place. The façade uses a carefully detailed clamp supported silicone sealed double glazed construction reusing the hangar door frames as structure. The effect is of a highly transparent glass skin suspended in front of the old riveted steel frames. A specially designed clamp plate and domed fixing allows the glass skin to be in dialogue with the original retained fabric.

A new recessed and glazed entry has been formed centrally on the east elevation. This opens up the façade as the sideways sliding hangar doors did originally. Within, a new mezzanine has been inserted into the entry volume to create extra occupiable floor area while maintaining double height space for the entry and lobby. The new lobby joins the two original side by side hangars through raw openings cut in the concrete dividing wall. A central stair is threaded through openings cut in this wall, the stair and mezzanine balustrades use a vertical steel rod with large nut fixing to maintain the openness of the original volume while referencing the workshop of the past.

The office fitout has a simple palette of dark steel and aluminium, glass and stained plywood. Services and structure remain exposed, echoing the rough edges of the original hangar structure. Subtle patterning is introduced in the floor covering and in the re-painting of existing painted walls, picking out old opening reveals in colour, while leaving the original unpainted concrete untouched.

The result is a successful re-occupation of the industrial / military character building. The enclosed hangar form has been opened up to the east providing a strong connection to the sea from which the Catalina seaplanes were winched, and a sense that the doors are still pulled back to welcome them inside.

Photography by Samuel Hartnett