Woods’ Impact Drives Kāinga Ora’s Large Densification Project

Northcote, Auckland
2018 - 2023
Kāinga Ora

Kāinga Ora

In an effort to create more housing opportunities, Kāinga Ora decided to tackle a large section of land in Northcote. Their plan was to build a development with new terraced houses and apartments that were affordable, warmer, and drier than the current housing stock.  

Woods got involved in this project in 2018, working across 12 superlot developments. Our team was responsible for developing these superlots alongside Kainga Ora's Construction and Innovation team and establishing lines of communication between the other stakeholders involved in the project.  

Initially, we were to deliver surveying and civil engineering. However, after recognising our skills and capabilities, Kāinga Ora readjust the scope in a way that allowed us to provide more guidance in these areas of the project. This positioning gave the Woods team more of an understanding of the external influences on the development of the superlots.     


Catching problems early 

The aim of these densification projects is to maximise the use of available land area and to occupy as much of the land as possible. However, this also means that, despite the size of the land, the structures become intensely packed, leaving no room for flexibility in designs of supporting infrastructure. Not recognising that concept designs need to be precise and take cognisance of the limited spaces can result in undesirable outcomes with associated financial implications.  

What often happens with these types of projects is architectural concept layouts don’t allow sufficient space to accommodate civil components, like retaining walls or underground services that need to be installed. When these aren’t incorporated into the project's concept stage, developments can get themselves in serious financial trouble, not to mention risking going against the Council’s code of practice.  

“Woods took a ‘no surprises’ approach to these projects,” says Mark Brennan, Kāinga Ora’s Programme Manager, “They didn’t go looking for problems, but if there was one, it was identified and put out in the open.”  

In the case of these projects, there was a particular problem we identified early. Northcote is a hilly environment, which meant retaining walls become critical. However, on a concept drawing, these retaining walls appeared as merely a line. Our civil engineers knew that, in reality, they can occupy up to a metre wide of space which hadn’t been acknowledged in the planning stage.  

Had Woods’ engineers not identified this issue from the outset, the project would inevitably have reached a point where it was clear that there was a flaw with the initial concept. Ultimately, the designs would have needed to compromise as there would be no other solution. The result would have been unattractive structures forced to work around components that hadn’t been considered in the initial concept.  

Not only will not incorporating infrastructure elements harm projects, it can also create problems for the entire development down the line. Pipelines, for example, need to be installed at a specific distance from another pipeline or structure so maintenance crews can access them if needed. If vital elements like this aren’t considered in the concept, it will significantly impact the development's future. 


Importance of communication and coordination 

Being an organisation comprised of a range of expertise, who are often collaborating on the same project, Woods understands the importance of effective communication.  

Efficient communication and coordination are essential for any large-scale project. However, we found this to be especially true with Northcote.  

Mark says, “Woods managed to communicate in a way that was clear and effective and without overstepping.” 

This project was a melting pot of complex communication that needed to be diligently managed in order for the development to progress.  

There were important activities that needed to be completed and approved before other important activities could commence (i.e. certain infrastructure needed to be completed and approved before the development of the superlots could begin), a tricky balancing act that required knowledge of the status of every aspect of the project.  

When Woods stepped in, it was apparent that there was a gap where there needed to be someone overseeing these activities and there lacked one clear line of communication. We quickly took a bird’s-eye view of all the goings on and became the main point of contact for Kāinga Ora.  

Having a more holistic view of the development allowed us to effectively align programmes, services, and infrastructure activities, ensuring everything was being done and approved to keep the project running on track. This knowledge also allowed us to communicate the status and progression of the developments to Kāinga Ora. 


Managing expectations and scope 

After taking a more comprehensive view of the project, we then realised that scope was something that needed to be more clearly defined. Woods found inconsistencies with some details that needed to be addressed. We decided the best course of action was to schedule regular group sessions, where we were openly able to discuss these challenges, offer our expertise, and work towards a solution.   

In these talks with Kāinga Ora we were also better able to manage expectations. 

Integrating the Council’s expectations with Kāinga Ora’s expectations and ensuring that they both aligned with the project’s scope was a persistent challenge that came up throughout the project. With both sides having different opinions on materials and how things should be built, Woods had to maintain a consistent balance between the different sides. When disputes came up, we highlighted them and worked to resolve them.  


Issues with siloing disciplines with large densification projects 

With Northcote being such a substantial development, our priority was to be consistent in the delivery across all the projects. However, when it comes to large densification projects, having a handle on consistency becomes a challenge when there are multiple service providers involved.  

In those cases, there is very little communication between the contractors. Strategies and plans aren’t aligned, and issues aren’t as easily identified, blowing out budgets and extending timelines. What it often comes down to is different contractors not having enough understanding of what everyone else involved does, making consistency almost impossible.  

As a multi-discipline engineering organisation, Woods is home to a variety of specialists in all areas of land development, including planning, urban design, surveying, and civil engineering, including heavy civils and 3 waters. 

Our engineers have a more comprehensive view of all disciplines and any concerns can be raised by tapping the shoulder of a specialist in another discipline next to them. 

This also helps us tailor our services to meet the requirements of other disciplines. We are able to more closely align strategies and effectively maintain consistency throughout the life of large densification projects.                              



Since Woods’ involvement with the Northcote development, we have successfully developed 12 superlots (six residential, six multistorey buildings). The entire project is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.  

The challenges presented in this project have further emphasised the importance of having a multi-disciplinary organisation involved with densification projects.  

Taking a broader view of the development gave us a clear perspective of all different disciplines involved and our ability to access a variety of expertise within our own organisation allowed us to identify problems early, better manage projects with more consistency, and provide effective communication to Kāinga Ora.  

Mark concludes, “Woods went above and beyond the scope and stepped in to fill gaps. Their guidance and support throughout this whole process has been instrumental and invaluable.”  


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