Auckland, chimed as one of the most livable cities in the world (Wilson et al., 2022), has had a dark, kept secret under its bridges and on open streets for the longest of times. The grim reality of living expenses, housing affordability, and average household income has made this homelessness crisis a catastrophe (Corlett, 2022).  With a vision to end chronic homelessness in central Auckland, Auckland City Mission – Te Tāpui Atawhai has opened HomeGround, a centre for integrated health and community services alongside residential accommodation. An ardent social services agency, a dedicated architecture practice, unswerving funders, and accomplished construction specialists have headed this dream project.

Auckland City Mission - Te Tāpui Atawhai - Homeground by Aecom - SHeet1
Main Entrance-Hobson Street_©Photo: Mark Smith

A Philosophy of Living Building Challenge (LBC)

Every building rests on a foundation built on firmness, strength, and precision, and every design is built upon a concept, story, and philosophy that connects with its living environment. The design of home ground as envisioned by Stevens Lawson Architects and brought into reality by AECOM, an American multinational infrastructure consulting firm, aligns with the principles laid out by Living Building Challenge (LBC) an international green building certification program and sustainable design framework developed by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). It is considered one of the world’s most strenuous and ambitious green building standards (, n.d.).

Permanence for an existing site

The former Prince of Wales Pub had housed the Auckland City Mission for 38 years, but the small and ageing building was no longer considered fit for purpose (RNZ, 2018). In response to the outdated and inadequate condition of Te Tāpui Atawhai’s previous facility, the organisation’s board decided to commission the construction of a new facility at 140 Hobson Street in Auckland City. This purposeful initiative addressed the growing demand and provided a more suitable space to meet the community’s needs. Three low-rise buildings were demolished to optimise the site and maximise the available space. This site intensification effort enabled a seamless integration into the surrounding urban environment.

Auckland City Mission - Te Tāpui Atawhai - Homeground by Aecom - SHeet2
Auckland City Mission_ ©Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Support and a prototype

Covering an expansive area of 12,500 square meters, the facility comprises three distinct components: a new eleven-story tower, a podium, and a meticulously restored heritage building. Notably, the City Mission has expanded its capacity to provide permanent accommodation, offering 80 studio and one-bedroom apartments to individuals experiencing chronic homelessness or those on the social housing register (Stevens Lawson Architects, 2016). Though compact, these apartments are self-contained and feature access to various communal areas and secure private outdoor terraces designed to create a safe environment for individuals who have experienced trauma.

The facility includes a fully equipped commercial kitchen, a welcoming community dining room, and public showers and toilets. It also houses a public medical centre and pharmacy, addiction withdrawal services, and dedicated activity spaces for art, carving, music, and drama classes and workshops tailored to the homeless community and residents. Additionally, the facility boasts a rooftop garden and a sacred space, providing tranquil settings for reflection and solace.

Auckland City Mission - Te Tāpui Atawhai - Homeground by Aecom - SHeet3
Haeata-Community Cafe_©Photo: Mark Smith

The on-site healthcare centre, capable of serving up to 3,000 patients, is not only accessible to Mission clients but also available to nearby residents and city workers, further enhancing the facility’s role as a valuable resource for the community at large.

Alongside the private areas dedicated to clients and residents, the building features rentable public spaces that generate supplementary income. These versatile spaces encompass conference facilities and community enterprise areas, providing various events and collaboration opportunities.

The context in design

The architectural design of HomeGround incorporates gabled roof forms, reminiscent of a spacious house that symbolises a welcoming “home” for Auckland’s homeless population. This distinctly New Zealand building draws inspiration from Māori wharenui (meeting houses), with the crowning gable evoking the patterns found in Māori weaving, tukutuku (latticework), and Pacific tapa (barkcloth) (Anon, n.d.). These geometries align with the neighbouring St Matthew-in-the-City, a neo-Gothic Anglican church built in 1905, creating a harmonious contextual relationship.

The site features large entrances that create a permeable and inviting environment. The ground floor revolves around a central covered laneway, seamlessly connecting the bustling Hobson Street with the serene Federal Street, providing convenient access to the comprehensive social and health services available on-site.

The interior design prioritises natural light, warmth, and a muted colour palette, embracing organic shapes and using natural materials. Throughout the building, original artwork adorns almost every level, contributing to the aesthetic appeal and enhancing the overall ambience.

Biophilic design principles are intricately woven throughout the building, from its fundamental concept rooted in place, culture, and genealogy to the deliberate integration of natural light, vegetation, and outdoor spaces(Stevens Lawson Architects, 2016). This intentional approach creates a harmonious and nurturing environment, fostering a deep connection with nature and enhancing the well-being of all who enter the building.

Auckland City Mission - Te Tāpui Atawhai - Homeground by Aecom - SHeet4
Laneway – Central Spine_©Photo: Mark Smith
Auckland City Mission - Te Tāpui Atawhai - Homeground by Aecom - SHeet5
Rooftop Conference Space_©Photo: Mark Smith

Structural Expression and Programme

TSA Management, a management company based in Auckland, enlisted the expertise of AECOM to oversee the structural and civil design aspects and monitor the project’s construction. AECOM adopted the Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) structural solution based on the concepts developed by the project’s architect, Steven Lawson Architects.

Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) is a relatively new construction material for a building of this size in New Zealand. CLT panels are constructed by stacking structural lumber boards in multiple layers, with each layer oriented crosswise, typically at 90 degrees. These boards are then securely glued together, both on their wide faces and, in some cases, on their narrow faces (Sylvain Gagnon, Ciprian Pirvu, and Fpinnovations (Institute, 2011). Compared to traditional concrete and steel construction methods, CLT offers time-efficient construction, reduced building weight, and a minimal carbon footprint.

Covered courtyard_©Photo: Mark Smith

Innovation and integration

The refurbishment of the Prince of Wales heritage building, including salvaged materials, reduced the primary building’s embodied carbon impact by 6.8% (Stevens Lawson Architects, 2016).

Environmental strategies include sort-at-source waste management, rainwater harvesting, and using natural daylight and locally sourced non-toxic materials for a healthy interior environment. Passive design with overhangs, high-performance glazing, natural ventilation, and an efficient thermal envelope eliminates the need for air conditioning while ensuring comfort and reducing external noise. Vertical planting, urban rooftop food production, and a greenhouse bring green space to the city and enhance well-being. The facility promotes human-powered transportation with bicycle facilities, e-bike and e-car charging, and a shared bicycle scheme for staff and residents.

Through its user-centric approach and a commitment to addressing complex needs with dignity, HomeGround goes beyond being just an institutional building. It fosters meaningful social connections on an urban scale, emphasising the importance of human interaction and community. In addition to its social significance, the project also achieves a sensitive restoration of a heritage site, adding to its overall value and contribution to the cultural fabric of the area.

Reference List 

Anon, (n.d.). HomeGround / Auckland City Mission – World Buildings Directory | Architecture Search Engine. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jun. 2023].

‌Building a better world by connecting communities. (n.d.). Building a better world by connecting communities. – Auckland City Mission, Te Tāpui Atawhai, Homeground. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jun. 2023].

‌Corlett, E. (2022). New Zealand’s homeless have been moved off the streets, but the crisis endures. [online] the Guardian. Available at:

RNZ. (2018). Auckland City Mission: ‘This place has a lot of memories’. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jun. 2023].

Stevens Lawson Architects. (2016). HomeGround, Auckland City Mission – Te Tāpui Atawhai. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jun. 2023].

‌Sylvain Gagnon, Ciprian Pirvu and Fpinnovations (Institute (2011). CLT handbook : cross-laminated timber. Québec: Fpinnovations.

Wilson, S., Brown, D. and Muller, K. (2022) Homeground. the story of a building that changes lives. Auckland: Massey University Press.

‌ (n.d.). Living Building Challenge | BuildingGreen. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jun. 2023].


Afnan Ashraf is an artist, architect and an educator. She is the principal architect at TwoPoints ArtLab and a founding member of Coearth Foundation. Afnan excels in developing brand identities, conceptual storylines, and website content. She emphasises on a research based approach fueled through collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.