File under: waterfront, architecture, urbanism, Wellington
After more than a decade of wheeling and dealing, wrangling and wailing, the proposed Queens Wharf Hilton has been granted resource consent. The Dominion Post's front-page story concentrates on the positive aspects of the development, while the report on National Radio emphasises the opposition, noting in particular that Waterfront Watch and the Civic Trust are considering an appeal (there's also an audio clip from Morning Report - streaming only, as far as I can find).
In my previous post on the subject, I summarised the seven issues raised by the regional council's report:
According to the full decision report (807kB PDF), it seems that these were all addressed through either amendments to the application, conditions on the consent or negotiation with other parties. Point by point, these were as follows:
A. The need to reconsider the design for the wharf area between the tunnel exit and the hotel entrance, in order to provide for pedestrian priority.
The consent applies some detailed conditions to ensure pedestrian priority, including design, surface treatments and signage. Ther are also strict requirements for a Traffic Management Plan, such as requiring all light vehicles to use the tunnel, requiring coaches to load and unload by the Musuem of City and Sea, and demonstrating that no more than 3 vehicles per day may service the hotel via the Shed 6 route, and those outside of peak pedestrian times.
B. The need to redesign and then carry out further wind tunnel testing of the southern end of the building to address pedestrian wind effects and the design of the building entrance.
There's a lot of discussion about this in the report, and the upshot is that the southern end must be modified to have an extended glazed canopy and slots in the cantilevered roof. The commissioners had concerns that even with this, the southeast corner would still be windier in southerlies, though this was expected to happen for only about 2 hours per week on average. My take on this is that in conditions when this would be significant, not many people would be walking around the far edge of the outer T for fun, and that the sheltering effect in other wind regimes would more than make up for it.
C. The need for structural redesign of the proposal, such that continued berthing of large vessels on Queens Wharf is possible (without vibration impacts) in order to achieve consistency with the Wellington Waterfront Framework.
This appears to have been resolved without structural work, by way of a compromise with CentrePort. There will still be limitations, but the applicants appear to have changed their tune a bit and now say that vessels of up to 1000 tonnes could be berthed without causing vibration problems, not 300 as first stated. I still wonder whether this resolution is entirely satisfactory (it depends upon the weather, and any reduction of the maritime character is regrettable), but CentrePort seems to be happy with it and says that it will affect only a very few ships.
D. The need to redesign the service penetrations (pipes, exhausts and lift overrun) on the building to address urban design concerns.
These are being redesigned.
E. The need for the proposed jetties and associated timber inserts to be deleted to achieve consistency with the Wellington Waterfront Framework.
All these were dropped by the applicant.
F. The need to reconsider the use of concrete paving and rails in certain parts of the public space design, as detailed in the TAG report.
G. The need for adequate design details, materials and finishes (including a sample board) in respect of key building and public space details to be submitted upfront, to establish whether an iconic building will be achieved.
The Technical Advisory Group seemed to like the materials and colours (I think they could still have been a lot more interesting), and added a condition that proposed banners on the canopies be removed. The commissioners were still not unanimous about whether the design quality would be adequate for an iconic site, and I think that that question will remain controversial.
So, the regional council's objections all seem to have been met, and to some extent it shows the effectiveness of the consent process. Plenty of other people will still have objections, and while I've written before about why I think the effect on public space will be positive rather than negative, I want to touch on a couple of objections in the Architectural Centre's submission (32kB PDF). In particular, they stated that "the proposal exacerbates the violation of the viewshaft, as the proposed new hotel is longer than the existing shed, and twice its height". I made a quick mockup to get a rough idea of how it would look down the only viewshaft that would be significantly affected: down Johnston St.
I can't guarantee the accuracy of the proportions, but I think it's clear that compared to Shed 1, the Hilton would block no further views of the water, a tiny bit of the hills (a bit more if you're further towards Lambton Quay) and a sliver of the sky. Of course, another design might have opened up the view revealed by the demolition of Shed 1, but then it probably would have to be taller to be economic. And I don't know about you, but my primary concern when walking down Featherston St or Lambton Quay is not "can I see Roseneath?" With good lighting, the view of the café at the north end of the Hilton should instead act as a beacon of activity at the end of the viewshaft, a sign that the waterfront is inhabited and alive.
To really open up that viewshaft would require the demolition of a good proportion of Shed 1, which would also mean the end of its role as an indoor sports venue. The Architectural Centre also stated that "an alternative venue for these activities needs to be found", and seconded my suggested solution. Locating the regional indoor stadium at Harbour Quays, if that goes ahead, might also be a reasonable replacement. But I must reiterate my proviso that, while I think the Hilton will have a net benefit (both economic and urbanistic) for Wellington, the existing users must be adequately catered for.