Over the seas
Here are some more detailed renderings of the Overseas Passenger Terminal (OPT) redevelopment design. The first image to be released didn't appeal to me much at first: the additions at each end looked heavy and poorly integrated, while the balcony boxes seemed to break up the horizontality too much and the whole thing looked grey and dull. However, the model, animations and renderings from other viewpoints revealed much more sleekness, lightness and daring.
An important aspect of the southern section is that the new, taller element (6m taller than at present) is only half the width of the OPT itself, and is confined to the southeast corner. What looked like heavy columns on the southeast façade are actually thin blades, but from the southeast we were seeing them face-on, which gave them a more continuous appearance. From other angles, this part is much lighter, and the double-height public spaces (probably restaurants) at ground level would be much more inviting.
From the west it's clearer that this section and the central section are quite separate. The taller part rises up to address Chaffers Dock and the John Wardle buildings at sites 1-3, creating a well-defined and active public space by the water. Immediately south of here is the ramp to the under-wharf carpark, and while this could indeed create a dramatic entry as it dips down across a cutout in the wharf, I have reservations about the way that it might carve up the public space. Nevertheless, the carpark itself is one of the most innovative parts of the design: not only does it remove cars from the building itself (meaning that this scheme added less height than the other candidates), it also provides the lateral rigidity required for earthquake strengthening.
North of here, the main section is much more similar to the existing building. While much of the structure will have to be replaced, and the building will be 3m higher, the landmark spire and roof will be restored. The two sides are different: while the eastern elevation (shown at top) has a series of square cantilevered balconies, the western balconies are contained within dramatic curving metal shells, recalling the cross-sections of ships' hulls.
Most of the ground floor here will be retail, and Wellington Waterfront is retaining a head lease on this space to ensure that rents can be below market rates, so that with any luck most of the existing marine businesses and services will be able to stay. There will also be two public cross-passages, which will make it easier for pedestrians to go for a walk along the wharf without having to commit to walking all the way to the end.
The northern section seems to wrap around the long narrow structure of the main building. The prow takes the of from the existing roof and crank up the volume, giving a sense of dynamism and movement without trying too hard to make it look like a cruise liner. Beneath that, the dramatic cantilever of the roof is echoed by a long pergola that stretches out over a public first-floor terrace, providing shade while also emphasising the long horizontal lines of the building.
The ground and first floors will be publicly accessible, either as a destination restaurant or as some sort of "attractor" that is still to be determined, but may be some sort of cultural or entertainment facility. I don't know what material is planned for the ground floor panels at the end, but from these images it looks opaque and unfriendly, and I hope that a more active edge can be achieved here. The public promenade will be retained and upgraded all around the wharf, and there are also plans for a low-level fishing pontoon at the northern tip.
I'm impressed. Not only does this provide more publicly-accessible space than there is at the moment, it also manages to carry off at least two difficult architectural balancing acts. It creates fine detail at a human scale while providing large-scale legibility and performing the sort of dramatic sculptural gestures that are appropriate for such a prominent site. It also retains the familiar elements of a design that would have been a bit twee even in the sixties, yet adds a distinctly contemporary feel. And to those who would complain about the private apartments above, remember that these will not only provide activity and public safety but pay for the $10 million or more required to make the wharf earthquake-safe and enable the ground floor units to be leased at less than market rate.
The next stages of the process are about public input:
- presentations to local residents, berth-holders and other stakeholders (tomorrow);
- public open day (this Saturday, 13th May);
- public feedback and possible design changes presented to Subcommittee (late June); and
- resource consent application (October).