Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Hasta la vista, Waterfront Watch

I've mentioned before how excited I am by the prospect of an architectural competition aimed at designing some truly outstanding buildings for the Waitangi precinct. Predictably, Waterfront Watch are objecting to these buildings, partly on the grounds that they will block "iconic views" of the waterfront. Now, I'm not sure what they mean by iconic, but to me it implies the sort of view that is used to represent Wellington: on a postcard, for example. I've yet to see a single postcard featuring a view that will be blocked by any of the new waterfront buildings.

Anyway, here is one of Waterfront Watch's "iconic" panoramas:

Notice that you can't actually see the water, and very little of the hills beyond: they're already blocked by trees, cars and a raised garden next to Te Papa. Here is a very rough mockup of the envelope of the biggest building (this is far from official: I just drew a blob on the photo where I think the building will go).

On the left is the approximately 4 storey "transition building", which among other things is expected to provide exhibition space, a chinese teahouse and perhaps a hostel. It won't be the unimaginative cuboid that I've portrayed, since the competition calls for "virtuoso design quality and exquisite resolution". The single storey structure to the right is an elevated Chinese Garden with parking underneath.

I believe that the waterfront should be enjoyed by actually going there, rather than treating it as a passive space through which to gaze at the water and hills. Sure, we should retain existing viewshafts that allow glimpses of the harbour from deep in the city, but to expect every metre of a road that's a block away from the water to have uninterrupted views is ridiculous. If you want panoramas: go to the water! So as is my wont, I had a rant, and sent this to Capital Times:

Waterfront Watch object to having views blocked by a one-storey parking building, whereas now, those views are blocked by surface parking. How terrible it would be to cover these beautiful cars with a horrid Chinese Garden! Those views are from a short stretch of Cable St between the Warehouse and A-Mart: does anyone go there to admire the vista?

They also disdain waterfront restaurants, claiming that Wellington is "oversupplied": hard to believe, given the buzz on Courtenay Place on even a cold midweek night. And consider that an estimated 3000 people or more will move into the central city in the next 2-3 years. If they each dine out twice a week (in my experience of city people, a very conservative estimate), then those extra 6000 meals a week could keep several new restaurants humming. Add some extra tourists when the 787s start arriving, and visitors attracted by galleries, shops and recreation in the new buildings, and the waterfront will finally come alive.

The Waterfront Watchers will be welcome to join us down at the Waitangi precinct and enjoy a drink in the sun, if they're not too busy moaning about the loss of "iconic" views from the Warehouse.


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