America’s Cup: Eight design firms look at how to revamp Auckland’s waterfront

Eight leading design firms have big ideas for how the America’s Cup could be staged in Auckland – and how it could transform the city.

Many people forget that in the early 1990s, downtown Auckland didn’t have much of a relationship with the Waitematā Harbour, unless you counted views of it from tall buildings. It wasn’t until later that decade, when Viaduct Harbour was redeveloped to host New Zealand’s first America’s Cup event, that people realised what they’d been missing out on. As some great wit on Twitter said recently, any New Zealand government hosting an international sporting event treats it like a national flat inspection. With this in mind, we thought the America’s Cup was an opportunity to emotionally blackmail the powers that be into some urban regeneration that, in normal times, they might be less enthusiastic about. So we asked eight design firms to come up with ideas for hosting the Cup. Some are wild, some are funny – but they’re all worth thinking about.


Isthmus Group 
Opening up the harbour with a floating archipelago

The team at Isthmus Group has worked on plenty of other parts of Auckland – Onehunga’s new foreshore and the refurbishment of downtown’s Freyberg Place are just two of them. Their America’s Cup village suggestion draws on a Māori proverb: “ki te kāhore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi”, which translates as “without foresight or vision, the people will be lost”. The Isthmus team (Marcus Richardson, Nada Stanish, Scott McKerrow and Chris Combrink worked on this) want the cup to be accessible to more than just the wealthy boating community. They suggest a “synthetic archipelago” inspired by the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude that leads to a floating pavilion, creating a boat-race viewing experience accessible to all of Auckland’s citizens.


A floating fun palace for watching the races

“The America’s Cup is the pre-eminent international spectacle of boatmanship, so why should its architecture remain landlocked?” says Anthony Hoete, the New Zealand-born founder of London’s WHAT_architecture. Hoete likes thinking big, and believes the Cup offers Auckland an opportunity to “revolutionise nautical spectatorship” by recycling an offshore platform to create a unique “stadium on the sea” experience. In his pitch, Hoete says the America’s Cup Class 36 Platform (ACC36) offers “the proximity of a chartered yacht but with better elevation, and all the luxuries found on land”. He forsees a structure where Fullers ferries can dock onto Pirelli pontoons, leading to glazed elevators that rise up through “hotel panoramas, liquid bars, kiwi seafood eateries and, of course, a helipad for those that move in slippers”. It goes without saying that there could be more than one platform – Hoete suggests a number of them, anchored anywhere. Picture them at the start and finish lines and along the course, or as destinations in their own right when the Cup races are done.


Warren & Mahoney 
Quay Street gets reimagined for the Cup

Sporting events like the America’s Cup have a strange ability to nudge councils and governments into funding infrastructure (fingers crossed for light rail to the airport, which would also help alleviate commuting woes along Dominion Road, in Mount Roskill, Māngere and all points between). The team at Warren & Mahoney (which includes Blair Johnston, Mat Brown, Tom Locke and Michal Wiak) see hosting the Cup as an opportunity to create “a world-class waterfront boulevard” along Quay Street stretching all the way from Spark Arena to the Silos on North Wharf. The street would host pedestrians, cyclists and light rail (the first phase of a hoped-for connection from Wynyard Quarter along Tāmaki Drive) and much lower volumes of buses and cars.  It would be a “radical rebalancing of current priorities at this important interface of city and harbour”, the team says, and would enable longer-term development of the wharves and port. “It’s not a new idea, but it is both aspirational and achievable, [and] can change the experience of the city – for residents and visitors – profoundly and forever.”


Glamuzina Architects 
Thinking big, modern-Muldoon style

“Our idea may be slightly radical – but it is good!” says Dominic Glamuzina, founder of Glamuzina Architects (who worked on this proposal with Simon Glaister, Elena Lochore-Ward, Sam Aislabie and Chris Small). He envisions a future in which Green Party candidate Chlöe Swarbrick realises “venture capitalists have more agency than ballot booths” and leaves politics to use “good business, good politics and solid social media skills to improve Auckland for everyone”. Taking inspiration from former Prime Minister Rob Muldoon’s ‘Think Big’ projects of the 1970s, and harnessing a flood of Cup-related capital, Swarbrick creates the ‘Auckland Canal Corporation’, leading the development of a series of canals linking the Waitematā and Manukau harbours, and lining them with affordable and social housing. “More than just a Venice of the South Pacific,” Glamuzina says in his pitch, “this scheme of dual canals will provide the city with two new civic centres, alleviate the housing crisis, provide a new shipping route to Australia, improve public transport, and reduce inequality across the three island-boroughs of Auckland.


Stevens Lawson 
The downtown wharves, reinvented

The team at Stevens Lawson Architects see the America’s Cup as a chance to transform Queens Wharf into a new sort of party central. Shed 11 would be reinstated as a viewing hall and event centre (and could become a cultural centre afterwards), while the wharf itself would feature a series of open public spaces, including a ‘feasting tower’ of restaurants and bars offering elevated views of the action. Tidal steps would connect to the water’s edge, and a waharoa would welcome visitors ashore. Neighbouring Captain Cook Wharf would be cleared of cars (yay!) to become a base for competing syndicates, housed in multi-coloured boatsheds that dramatise the daily theatre of boats being launched. A Quay Street promenade would connect the wharves and all their amenities to Queen Street and Britomart Station.


Monk Mackenzie 
Floating islands for hosting and toasting

Hamish Monk and Dean Mackenzie – co-designers of Te Ara I Whiti, the pink cycle path, among other things – see the Cup as a chance to create something bold and achievable: a series of floating islands arranged around the harbour. The islands (which refer to the high-tech shapes of America’s Cup yachts) are comprised of three elements: curved undersides that make them appear to hover above the water; sculpted internal volumes allowing for function spaces, seating and below-water facilities such as restaurants; and topographical roofs that create vantage points for watching the races. They could be deployed anywhere in the harbour, and easily adapted for other uses after the Cup is over.


Sills van Bohemen 
Wynyard Wharf’s time to shine

The team at Sills van Bohemen Architects – best-known in urbanist circles for their award-winning design of Takapuna’s Hurstmere Green – like the idea of the Cup village being located on Wynyard Wharf, because of its proximity to the amenities of North Wharf, the Viaduct Events Centre, and hotels, apartments and the like. The wharf was already earmarked as a potential Cup location in the Wynyard Quarter’s own Urban Design Framework in 2007 – and now Sills van Bohemen see the Cup as an opportunity to enliven the eastern side of the wharf. Their design blends new public spaces with syndicate sheds on Brigham Street, as well as a light rail line that would connect Wynyard Quarter to Britomart, and then go onwards to St Heliers and Mount Eden. “Between cup defences,” Aaron Sills says, “the wharf and new pontoons will revert to public use for water-based activities and events.”


Making Wynyard Wharf the Cup hub

Architectus is the architecture firm that created the Wynyard Quarter Urban Design Framework, the 2007 blueprint for the evolution of the western reclamation. Two of the blueprint’s key axes have already been developed: the waterfront axis, taking in Te Wero Island, Jellicoe Street and North Wharf; and the park axis, with the Daldy Street linear park connecting Victoria Park and the harbour. The third proposed axis – currently home to the ‘tank farm’ of decommissioned storage tanks – covers an area of 1.6 hectares. Most leases there don’t expire until between 2022 and 2026, but Architectus sees the America’s Cup as an opportunity to begin thoughtful development of the wharf sooner, leaving the city with a long-term asset when the Cup races conclude.


Herbst Architects
A harbour stadium proposal for the America’s Cup  

Herbst Architects (who worked with HMMA on this proposal) like the idea of the Cup being a catalyst for the development of infrastructure, and they’ve identified two key pieces that are missing from the city: a second harbour crossing for mass transit rail, and a stadium. Their cup proposal provides both, positioning a stadium as a feature in the Waitematā between the city and the North Shore, loosely aligned with Wynyard Wharf. The stadium would be designed with a playing field that can be dismantled to allow America’s Cup races to be run between the grand-stands. Access to the stadium is via the mass-transit rail tunnel beneath.


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