A Tip Top job

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View of Factory from Southern Motorway.

View of Factory from Southern Motorway.

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The building's reflective facade.

The building’s reflective facade.

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Building facade.

Building facade.

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The administration building of Tip Top's iconic Auckland factory has had a makeover. Progressive Building gets up close.

Security was tight when I visited the Tip Top factory recently to meet with Graham Yukich, project manager for Cassidy Construction. All that was missing was a retina scan and having my fingerprints taken but it was comforting to know the ice cream was safe. I was meeting with him to talk about the new façade he and his team worked on.

The Tip Top factory has been there since 1959 and everyone in Auckland has seen it or driven past it at some stage in their lives. It’s part of the landscape. It’s even mentioned on radio traffic reports and known colloquially as ‘Tip Top corner’. The administration building was under wraps from February, while the façade and the famous Tip Top logo got a revamp. The big reveal was in July with a breakfast media launch with Rachel Hunter. I wasn’t invited and Rachel isn’t returning my calls, but I decided to take a closer look at the building anyway.

“The outside had an aluminium glazing system that was put up in 1964,” says Graham. “It had been there for a while so was due for an upgrade.” The scope of the project was the façade and a metre inside the administration building. To adequately work on the façade, a temporary wall had to be built a metre into the existing building. “We built a temporary wall on each of the three levels and moved everyone over,” says Graham. “The wall was weatherproof and soundproof. There were still people working in the offices so we had to work around them. We did it in three stages so we didn’t disrupt them too much.”

The planning stage took almost 18 months and Tip Top looked at a number of options for the exterior. The main concern was the reflective nature of the façade and the council requirements that it not pose danger to motorists travelling on the motorway. “The council was worried about the sun coming off it in the afternoon,” says Graham. “That’s why it changed to the faceted look on the outside to avoid a big reflection going back on to the motorway.” From a distance you don’t notice that, but up close it is obvious. And up close the new Tip Top sign is big. The old sign was a neon, and it was old – it came off in bits and pieces. “A lot of work went into designing and building the new sign,” says Graham. “It’s hung off the glazing system. All the fixings for the sign are attached to the framework. All those positions had to be machined in the factory. It all had to be predetermined before the glazing system was manufactured.” The sign also had to be identical to their company logo. Graham says it would have been easier to move the ‘swirl’ over a little bit to miss a downpipe but it had to match exactly.

The new sign is lit by an LED striplight that runs around the edge of the letters and swirl, and gives the sign a halo effect. “It’s quite bright but can be adjusted,” says Graham. We walk into the Tip Top boardroom and I’m struck by how calm it is, considering it’s so close to the motorway. Originally the boardroom had kauri panelling, but this was removed and with the new windows, it makes for an imposing view. “When we were working outside you really notice the motorway,” recalls Graham. “The noise was a constant roar. We had to yell at each other.”

The whole building was literally kept under wraps until completion. This was to make sure the new look was concealed, from a marketing point-of-view, but it had the added advantage of keeping the site watertight. It wasn’t all plain sailing though. “Normal scaffolding has the air blowing through it but with the wrap on, it turns the scaffolding into a big sail,” says Graham. “We had to get the scaffolding specially designed to take the loads of the wind. We ended up connecting it to the top of the roof. The wrap itself lasted very well – the whole six months of the project – without deteriorating. It was a company called WRAP-IT who did it for us. We were pleased with them, they did a good job.” Covering the whole south side of the building there is a huge banner advertising sign. “There was always a banner on this end of the building, but we’ve put in a new system which allows them to wind it up and down. This makes it much easier for them to put up a new one. They change the sign fairly regularly and the previous one needed a scaffold to change the sign on it. Sharp Signs did all the signage and the frame came in from Germany.” Graham says they enjoyed the job. “Tip Top were good about it, as it was quite disruptive for them. You can imagine all the banging and clanging going on. They were quite understanding in the end.”

After the site visit I find out a bit more about Cassidy Construction. Steve Cassidy is the founder and general manager of the company. “We started the company up 12 years ago and in that time we’ve completed over 500 construction contracts for a wide range of clients,” says Steve. They now employ around 40 full time specialists and tradespeople and this year opened an office in Christchurch. I get the impression Steve likes to keep things low key… let the jobs do the talking. “Nearly 90 per cent of our work is repeat business,” says Steve. A lot of their work is infrastructure projects with the likes of Watercare, Vector and Auckland International Airport, and they also built the new ‘Z’ Energy service stations. “We’ve also been doing some other work on this site for Tip Top, including a chemical store room and an ablution block,” says Graham.

I ask Graham if they ate a lot of ice cream while they were working on the project. “The ice creams are free here,” says Graham. “Each floor has its own little freezer like you have in a dairy which is always full. So people can just help themselves.” I sneak a Jelly Tip into my bag.

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