Changing Commercial Development

With a career spanning thirty years, specialising in commercial buildings,
Alan Palmer’s design flare, experience  and empathy with the ever changing commercial development  is positively huge.
His attention to detail and the use of a variety of materials, in combination with metal claddings, caters for individual identity, functionality and variety of the occupant’s business. The accent, for Alan Palmer, in this market sector is  designing for sustainability.
In the following article he shares his insight on the dynamics of commercial design with a variety of examples from his extensive portfolio.

Whilst considering the content of this artlcle I became aware of the differences in the dynamics of the design and construction phases of the building process between commercial and industrial projects and some other types of building.

A residential or institutional type project tends to be fairly static in its design dynamics. The design solution is a response to a specific brief provided by the client, who usually has definite ideas of what they want or don't want, and to the particular features and constraints of the building site, aside from compliance issues, which are common to most building types.
In the commercial field numerous parties can be involved, each operating with a different agenda in relation to the project. Any one of, or all of, these parties may, and often will, have an influence in the decision making process in the design and construction of a commercial building.

One of the aspects of designing  buildings of this nature, being buildings for business, reflects the evolution of that business so the building requirements vary. This is also true of other building types but I believe is more so in the commercial field. As businesses grow, take over other smaller companies, retrench or refocus their activities in different areas, so their building needs change. More or less space may be required, company identities morph over time as takeovers and mergers occur.

As more companies lease rather than own the buildings they occupy, the building ownership may also change. Add to this the fact that many buildings are often commissioned by developers, whose objectives in the process are often at variance with those of the investor or the end user or occupier, and a extremely dynamic process exists which can make life interesting for the architect. 

Having specialized in this type of building over a period of some thirty years and having witnessed and been involved in the evolution of many buildings to the specific requirements of new occupants or owners. It has been evident that aside from the obvious aspects of architectural design, which are usually to achieve attractive, efficient and cost effective buildings, which are safe and user friendly for the occupants, another important and usually unstated design criteria is flexibility. Flexibility to accommodate evolving needs.

In commercial building terms:

Designing with site area capable of accommodating future growth, either in floor area, staff numbers or both.
Designing to enable aggregation of initially separate tenancy units into larger units to enable floor area to be increased or to subdivide larger areas into smaller tenancy units incorporating self contained office and amenities facilities.

Designing to provide the ability to subdivide initially single ownership multi-tenanted developments into unit titled separate ownership units enabling part of a larger development to be sold or refinanced. 

Designing with the potential to accommodate changes of use.

In other words designing for sustainability.


Building materials used in most of the buildings featured have been selected with the criteria of
attractiveness, durability, quality and cost effectiveness. Large roof areas utilize roll-formed lightweight Zincalume® steel roofing and external wall areas similar roll-formed Colorsteel® metal cladding.

Roofing generally is 0.55 mm deep profile trapezoidal section over double sided foil insulation on galvanised wire netting on cold rolled galvanised steel purlins. Translucent rooflight strips are matching in profile to the roofing material. 

Wall cladding is 0.40 mm medium profile trapezoidal section Colorsteel® on cold rolled galvanised steel girts. Gable and eaves cladding is 0.40 mm corrugated profile Zincalume® steel on timber framing. The horizontal break between wall and gable areas is intended to reduce the mass of the gable end of the building which is usually facing the street and to mitigate the “shed” look which would otherwise be apparent. 

Office façades are clad predominantly with prefinished composite aluminium panels fixed over fire retardant breather type building wrap on timber framing. Panels joints are sealed with Silicon sealant.

Small areas of selected stone veneer are utilised at some entries to provide a feature material in relatively small quantities to achieve maximum cost effectiveness and yet achieve a high quality appearance with low maintenance. Other feature materials used in detail areas include curved corrugated profile Zincalume® canopy roofs on roll-formed, zinc spray finished, steel pipe frames; corrugated profile perforated Zincalume® screen fence infill panels on galvanised steel pipe frames and shiplap profile clear finished Rimu boarding to entry canopy soffits.     


Emerald Foods is a typical example of the evolution of a project. Initially designed as a front site, spec. development commissioned by Synergy Properties Ltd. A general purpose spec. building of  2,547 sq.m was designed to achieve approximately 57% of the ultimate site development potential with emphasis on quality in both design and construction.This created the potential for either securing a sale or lease of the initial unit to a company looking to provide for future growth or enabling a second unit to be built on the remaining undeveloped site.The building was bought on completion by a family trust and leased to Chateau Ice Cream Ltd. who had secured the licence to manufacture Movenpick ice cream in New Zealand in addition to their own Chateau product range.The initial shell building was then fitted out to accommodate the new production facility, a warehouse area for storage of packaging materials etc. and the addition of a 977 sq.m freezer store with an environmental load out facility. The planning,design and construction of the fit out and freezer extension was completed within 6 months.  Subsequently Chateau Ice Cream Ltd. was sold and the company is now Emerald Foods Ltd. Recently the freezer area has been almost doubled to 1,884 service increased export production.


The commission for the design and construction of new headquarters for Stihl NZ Ltd. came by way of the exposure and recommendations generated by other previous high profile projects such as Yamaha and Movenpick and is one of the most recently completed projects. Designed in conjunction with the German based chief design engineer responsible for overseeing all company projects worldwide, the building is the most highly spec'd project undertaken to date and has  received very favourable comment from management, staff and visitors. The building accommodates showroom, administrative offices, training  room and acoustically insulated workshop, meeting rooms, staff amenities and high stud warehouse incorporating the latest computer operated spare parts carousels for high efficiency picking and distribution of parts orders. The site area will allow for future expansion of the warehouse area, which is fully insulated. The building is designed to cater for all potential means of transportation of products, both inward and outward, incorporating a ramped truck dock with scissor lift and dock leveller bays, as well as side loading and end loading level entry doors.


The brief for the project encompassed the design of a total site development concept, maximising the development potential of the 6,836 sq.m site. Buildings were to incorporating a new factory, administrative offices and staff amenities for Turnco Engineering Ltd. totalling 1,750 sq.m in area, as well as a future warehouse for steel storage and a second separate tenancy unit initially for lease and for company expansion in the longer term. The initial office and amenities facilities have been designed to allow for the addition of a future first floor to accommodate expansion of the offices and amenities. To service the proposed future site development, 75 carpark spaces will ultimately be provided.
The nature of the work undertaken by Turnco Engineering Ltd. necessitated heavy duty, high capacity material handling equipment covering the entire area of the factory floor. The scope of work included design and installation of two gantry cranes running the full length of the factory area. The main gantry hall houses a 15 tonne capacity crane and the lean-to roofed side hall is served by a 5 tonne crane.

The main gantry hall component of the building, housing the 15 tonne gantry crane was purchased by the owners, dismantled and transported from Huntly to the Takanini site. The portal frame columns which were originally 7.0 metres long, were lengthened by 3.0 metres to increase the maximum hook height of the crane to 8.0 metres. Each column sits on a 2.5 metre x 1.5 metre x .5 metre reinforced concrete foundation pad and is stiffened by concrete encasement to a height of 3.0 metres above floor level.

The greatest challenge in the project was to design sliding doors which would allow the main gantry crane to travel out beyond the front end wall of the building to allow for loading and unloading of equipment in the front yard area. This was achieved without a top guide track by cantilevering the top support for each door panel from the adjacent door and wall panels. The resulting doorway provides an 8.00 metre x 8.00 metre clear opening. The steel RHS section door frames were fabricated by Turnco Engineering Ltd. and are clad with powder coat finished corrugated profile Zincalume® steel.


This project began as a general purpose investment building comprised of 315 sq.m Offices, 101 sq.m Staff Amenities and 1,980 sq.m Factory- Warehouse. The brief called for the building to present an attractive, high quality facade to the street which would appeal to a prospective tenant company and would reflect and express their character and focus.

Vidak Davies Ltd. a company highly focused on innovation and quality entered into a lease agreement during the early stages of construction. In addition to the administrative facilities offered in the building, Vidak required a dedicated showroom area and an additional area to accommodate future office expansion. This was accomplished by creating a mezzanine floor within the factory - warehouse with the area below forming the  showroom adjacent to the reception. This provides visitors direct access to the showroom from the reception. The original open office area was subdivided to provide a meeting room and several individual executive offices.
The mezzanine floor was constructed using Speedfloor, a floor system which consists of a reinforced concrete slab, poured in-situ, over temporary plywood form work panels supported on removable steel bars. A suspended ceiling system was installed to the perimeter of the showroom, the central area being left open, exposing the Speedfloor system as a feature. The staff cafe opens onto a courtyard which is screened from the carpark with perforated metal panels fixed to tapered, galvanised mild steel angle posts.
Externally colours are predominantly neutral, in tones of grey, expressing the inherent nature of the materials used and while internally, strong feature colours are used against a white background to create a stimulating working and display environment.


Designed as an investment property for a family trust, the plan,  on a corner site of 4,012 sq.m. was designed in consultation with the leasing agent to achieve a mix of individual floor areas as well as maximising the road frontage exposure for each unit. Unit 1, fronting Cryers Road is 1,024 sq.m. in area , units 2,3 and 4 fronting Echelon Place are 480 sq.m : 219 sq.m and 279 sq.m in area respectively. This allowed  the units to be marketed to suit varying tenant requirements and created the potential for some of the tenants to take up a larger or smaller or even an additional unit in the future if circumstances allowed.
This project incorporated the use of a new reverse profile ribbed Colorsteel® wall cladding, which has received favourable feedback.

Architect: Alan Palmer
Telephone: 522 4324
Mobile: 0274 769 673

Feature materials :
Painted rolled steel portal frames.
( Interior ).
Corrugate Zincalume® steel gable and eaves cladding.
Colorsteel® metal wall cladding.
Zincalume® steel canopy roofing.
Painted, zinc sprayed rolled steel canopy frames.
Powdercoat finished galvanised steel roller shutter doors.
Composite aluminium panels to Office facade.
Galvanised steel courtyard screen fences.