Jul 17, 2015 Urban design
There’s champagne, canapés and an air of barely restrained glee at the April launch of the Willis Bond residential display suite on the corner of Daldy and Madden Streets. “It wasn’t so long ago that there were just tanks and fishing boats and some dreams,” says Waterfront Auckland chief executive John Dalzell of the regenerating Wynyard Quarter.
The transformation began in preparation for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. “Mike Lee, who was chair of Auckland Regional Council at the time, took me aside and said: ‘I’m really concerned about all this glitz and glamour down at the waterfront,’” says Dalzell. Everyone laughs.
Mayor Len Brown enthuses about “the product”. His summation of the apartments — 132 Halsey St, overlooking the Viaduct Basin, and stage one of Wynyard Central on Daldy St — is on the money. “It’s stunning with a good Auckland-sized price.”
Indeed it is. The apartments on show here, in beautifully crafted models, digital fly-throughs, glossy photographs and full-sized mock-ups, are lavish. Wynyard Central one-bedroom apartments start from $575,000, two bedrooms from $945,000, three bedrooms from $1.295 million and the penthouses from $3.75 million, car park extra. The townhouses start from $1.295 million, including one car park. Apartments at 132 Halsey St start at $2.075 million. For the penthouses, you’re talking around $5 million.
The mayor tells Willis Bond’s Mark McGuinness he’s a super salesman. The display suite, which cost about $1 million, was necessary, says McGuinness, “to manifest quality from day one”. And to show that you can “live a life people aspire to in Europe”.
Waterfront Auckland chairman Bob Harvey says he and the mayor are a dog and pony show: “Both of us are determined to bring the world’s most liveable city — the Lee Kuan Yew prize — to Auckland. They kind of like us in Singapore.” The biennial award named in honour of modern Singapore’s founding father, also known for his authoritarian control and curtailing of civil liberties, “honours outstanding achievements and contributions to the creation of liveable, vibrant and sustainable urban communities” around the world.
Sometimes when you hear our leaders talking international prizes before the job is done, you wonder whether they have lost the plot. You can understand the sentiment. Like Lee Kuan Yew, they’ll do whatever it takes to bring backwater Auckland into a globalised vision.
There’s no doubt the grand plan for Wynyard Quarter now taking shape plays a big part in the vision; and that the apartment designs by Architectus (Wynyard Central) and Athfield Architects (132 Halsey St) are first rate. Both provide retail outlets at ground level and mix up apartment dwelling types — variously called pavilions, townhouses and even mews — in innovative ways that make high-density city living look very attractive.
Then there is the masterplanning — the way the public spaces such as North Wharf and the Daldy St park have been carefully designed along with an interlacing network of lanes and plazas that provide the whole area with a level of public amenity and urban character not seen before in Auckland.
Waterfront Auckland has also been dogged in its pursuit of an Innovation Precinct, now finally getting under way in the refurbished John Lysaght building, originally built in 1927, on the corner of Pakenham St West and Halsey St. The $6 million makeover by Warren and Mahoney of the unreinforced masonry building adds a mezzanine level but retains much of the building’s gritty warehouse integrity. It also opens into the newly formed Lysaght Lane (by Land Lab) which will connect to makeovers of other historic buildings in the block, including the adjacent Mason Brothers warehouse, also known as Southern Spars.
The idea is that funky, quirky office environments imbued with historic character through exposed brickwork, timber beams, trusses and service ducts are just what you need to attract innovative, geeky creative types. Whether the block ever becomes an Innovation Precinct remains to be seen, but by seeding the first building, Waterfront Auckland provides a good lead by example.
It’s here that Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Council might be a little more creative in addressing the glaring failure of Wynyard Quarter and the liveable city vision. By now, we know that Thomas Piketty, of Capital in the Twenty-First Century fame, was right. He talks about the crippling long-term effect of social inequality, whereby those who acquire wealth through work fall ever further behind those who accumulate wealth simply by owning it. That disturbing fact is blatantly evident in the unaffordable apartments of Wynyard Quarter, which are sold to the few who can afford them on the basis of 128 years’ prepaid ground rent.
Here, surely, is an opportunity for a responsible council to use ground rents on the land they own in an innovative way, to at least try to address the scourge of unaffordable housing in Auckland. Otherwise this utopian playground on reclaimed land will become a place where only the haves, and their boats at Westhaven, can live and the have nots can visit and service.
Meanwhile, bollards. There are plans for a radical upgrade of Freyberg Place, which is actually one of the better designed squares in the city, at the confluence of Courthouse Lane, Chancery St, O’Connell St and High St.
The concept/reference design by Isthmus that architects are being asked to use as the basis of their proposals has wiped away all the good qualities of the space — its off-the-track appeal, defined edges, stability, calm, shading trees and comfortable seats with backs — that make it so enjoyable. The square more or less disappears, as do the bollards in favour of pedestrian walkways and a series of steps-to-nowhere below the Metropolis building on which people may perch with their lunch.
There’s no doubt this square needs refurbishing — especially the paving which is shabby, cracked and uneven. And it’s great that cars will no longer pass through the edge in front of the Pioneer Women’s Building and Ellen Melville Hall, which is also getting a much-needed makeover.
But do we really need to throw the baby out with the bathwater? Andrew Patterson’s 1994 redesign of the square has qualities, heritage perhaps, that need preserving — including the somewhat chaotic paving based on a Milan Mrkusich painting (Yellow with Blue Circle, 1946-53). Even the bullet-shaped bollards. They’re possibly a nod to the military career of lieutenant-general Baron Bernard Cyril Freyberg, later governor-general, whose statue on the nicely landscaped grassy bank stands quietly oblivious to these