New Zealand Express Company Building

New Zealand Express Company Building, Dunedin (1908)

New Zealand’s first ‘skyscraper’

The New Zealand Express Company, a Dunedin-based nationwide road carrier, was also something of a pioneer in the construction of reinforced concrete office blocks. In 1906 it completed a reinforced concrete building in Christchurch which was demolished after being wrecked in the 2010 Canterbury earthquake. Four years later it did the same on a bigger scale with this landmark building, designed by the American-influenced brothers Alfred and Sidney Luttrell.

The seven-storey Express Company building (there is also a basement), the city’s tallest, pioneered the use of precast concrete slabs cast off-site. Because it was built on reclaimed land it features a reinforced concrete raft foundation. While some made the case for the now-demolished Christchurch building, architectural historian Peter Shaw considers that the Express Company building ‘fully deserves its reputation as New Zealand’s first skyscraper’. Except for the Corinthian capitals atop each column, it is a pure breath of Chicago.

People could not wait to get into it. The first tenants moved in at the end of 1909 and by January 1910, when it had reached five storeys high, 35 of the 37 rooms completed 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 bookseller and publisher A.H. Reed had rooms in what he called ‘the Dunedin Sky Scraper’. Ever optimistic, Reed skipped over the disadvantages of not having a street-level presence by pushing the views, the fast lifts and the fact that his stock was free from the dust thrown up by passing traffic.

The old Express Company has had several changes of name in recent years – becoming first the MFL Mutual Fund Building and then Consultancy House - and it had a minor fire in 2001, but, in contrast to the dreary 1960s towers of nearby Princes Street, it has usually not lacked tenants. Look for the old New Zealand Express logo on the southern face.

Further information

This site is item number 77 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.



  • Peter Shaw, A history of New Zealand architecture, Hodder Moa Beckett, Auckland, 2003

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