New Zealand has only 6 buildings that can be classed as skyscrapers. All of them are located in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland. By comparison, Australia has 133 skyscrapers.

The New Zealand Express Company, a nationwide road carrier, was a pioneer in the construction of reinforced concrete office blocks. In 1907 it completed the tallest building in the country. The 7-story Dunedin head office, rising 41m (135ft) was designed by brothers Alfred and Sidney Luttrell who pioneered the use of precast concrete slabs cast off-site. Because it was built on reclaimed land it features a reinforced concrete raft foundation. Architectural historian Peter Shaw considers the Express Company building ‘fully deserves its reputation as New Zealand’s first skyscraper’. Except for the Corinthian capitals on top of each column, it closely resembles Chicago office buildings of the period.

By January 1910, when five of the seven floors had been completed, 35 of the 37 rooms on these floors had been occupied. The Otago Daily Times reported that the building’s flat roof ‘provides a breezy promenade’, boasting that the view was ‘unsurpassed anywhere else in the city’.


The building has an interesting history. The Dunedin Stock Exchange was a long-term tenant, and well known publisher A.H. Reed had rooms in what he called ‘the Dunedin Sky Scraper’. Reed chose rooms on an upper level to utilize the views, the fast lifts and the fact that his stock of books was free from the dust thrown up by passing traffic.

The historic building had a minor fire in 2001 and has had several changes of name in recent years – becoming first the MFL Mutual Fund Building and then Consultancy House. In contrast to the dreary 1960s office buildings of nearby Princes Street, it has always had tenants. Today, the old New Zealand Express logo can still be seen on the southern face.


With a population of 128,000, Dunedin is the 6th largest city in New Zealand. It is no longer one of the country’s ‘main cities’ but it is the country’s most popular ‘University Town’ with students. There are only a handful of multi storied buildings in the city. Located in the very centre of town, the 10 story Forsyth Barr Tower is 39m (128ft) high. The 12 floor Commerce Building on the University of Otago’s campus is 40m (131ft) tall. The ugly John Wickliffe House has 12 floors rising to 45m (148ft). The more attractive Otago House in George Street is 51m (167ft) tall and is currently the tallest building in Dunedin.


Auckland’s Sky Tower was built in 1996. Standing 328m (1076ft) the Sky Tower is 8m (26ft) taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris and 24m (79ft) taller than Sydney’s AMP Tower. In fact, the Sky Tower is the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere.

Auckland with a population of 1.7 million has many multi storied apartment and office towers in and around the CBD. Today, apart from the Sky Tower, the four tallest buildings in the central city are all above 155m (509ft) and include the recently completed PwC Tower at Commercial Bay which dominates the waterfront area. Nearby, the Vero Centre is topped with a distinctive wonky halo which is lit at night and adds to the city’s cosmopolitan looking skyline. Also recently completed, the Pacifica Tower with its stylish ribbon of blue glass snaking up the side of the 57 storied structure is currently the tallest residential tower in New Zealand surpassing the beautifully designed Metropolis with its pretty bee hive cone topping the 40 storied building. Rising to a height of 187m (614ft) the Seascape, featuring a striking design of angular glass and lattice brace, will soon be the tallest (and most striking) apartment tower in New Zealand.  However, all these buildings are babies compared to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. This magnificent building which dominates the centre of the city is 828m (2,717ft) tall. I was working in Dubai when it was being built. By the time I left the city, it was two thirds completed. Even not fully finished, it was a super impressive structure. It is currently the tallest building in the world.

In 1907, Dunedin’s 7 storied Express Company building set the ball rolling for multi-storied buildings. It is edifying to see the building is still in its original state and still attracts tenants who appreciate the beauty and strength of the country’s first ‘skyscraper’.

Ceidrik Heward

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