WellUrban

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

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Civic music


Plans for a purpose-built NZ School of Music building adjacent to Civic Square have been revived this week, thanks in part to the City Council agreeing to a peppercorn rental for the site and MPs from several parties uniting to seek government funding. The original proposal drew opposition from the usual quarters, including the Wellington Civic Trust, before it was approved by council in 2004. After running into funding troubles for a while, it looks like the proposal may finally be on its way to becoming reality.

Rendering of proposed NZ School of Music buildingThe rendering shown in the paper and online is unchanged since the first proposal, though I understand that the design shown has never been more than a very vague initial indication of the form it might take. I certainly hope so, since although it's a fairly decent design, this site and activity deserves something much more spectacular. If it's done well, with the right sort of public access, then this school and associated auditorium will not only physically complete the original vision for Civic Square but bring it much-needed night-time activity.

Update: you may also be interested in the recent council report (70kB PDF) and its appendix, the decision document from 2004 (329kB PDF). The latter is especially interesting for its discussion of alternative sites, proposals for replacement green spaces in Te Aro and the summary of submssions and surveys.

27 Comments:

At 9:01 AM, March 08, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From a quick scan of the Civic Trust submission it looked less like opposition and more like requests for a) better availability/accessibility of existing information such as Jan Gehl's report, and b) careful consideration of the urban design factors such as the city-sea link.

 
At 9:33 AM, March 08, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Yes, the Civic Trust's submission was more nuanced than some of the "how dare you touch a blade of grass?!" letters to the editor from Waterfront Watch types, but I couldn't find any of those online to link to. Much of the Trust's submission is concerned with process rather than opposition per se, but always in the context of opposition to a building on the site.

Their Jan Gehl comment was this:

"The views of Jan Gehl on the absolute importance of the City improving its outlook to, and linking with, the harbour are endorsed. Many eminent speakers at the forum used Gehl's thoughts, which are already endorsed in other Council thinking. The music school proposal does not sit outside of
this policy context."

All of that makes a sort of sense, but my reading of the Gehl report's emphasis on "linking with" the harbour is that he's not primarily concerned with views, but with walking access and activity. He certainly wants to improve access from Civic Square to the water, but from his diagrams and description, it seems he's more concerned with level changes, inactive edges and poor connections to the city: nothing about any importance of Jack Ilott Green as a connection. And on the very next page he explicitly marks the Green as one of several "future building sites for high quality buildings forming a
continuous building frontage towards the harbour". All of which I'd heartily agree with!

 
At 9:53 AM, March 08, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

WCC wheel out Gehl only when convenient - remember the tree lined pedestrian-friendly boulevard that the Quays were supposed to become - minus some of the lanes that exist currently... what did we get, some trees, nothing else - that's lip service...

As for your call for a more spectacular building on the Ilott site - I'd be very weary of that. Sure, it would be nice to have a decent work of architecture built in Wellington (they are few and far between in contemporary developments), but the context of civic square demands a more thoghtful solution that submits to the hierarchy of public buildings that make up the boundaries of the square. i'm thinking of some beautifully detailed but well-mannered building rather than something especially spectacular. Afterall, its hardly an iconic site, and with the City-to-Sea and the Fowlhouse as immdeiate neighbours, spectacular is hardly necessary...

I agree, Wellington needs spectacular, but it needs responsible spectacular (otherwise you might as well just get Roger Walker to design a buddy for the deka development there).

 
At 10:34 AM, March 08, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

"what did we get, some trees, nothing else - that's lip service..."

They're currently saying that they're "waiting for the traffic reduction due to the bypass" before making a decision to remove lanes, but I'm not holding my breath! There are some Gehl-derived improvements on the way, such as the Courtenay Place park/plaza, but they're always fought all the way by other councillors who either worship carparking or are looking for points to score.

"i'm thinking of some beautifully detailed but well-mannered building rather than something especially spectacular"

There's a delicate balance to strike, for sure, but I think it's not impossible. The side facing Civic Square has a very different context to the Jervois Quay side, and they could handle different treatments, with the former responding to the architectural context and the need for human scale, while the latter opens up to the wider setting and the harbour, and could indeed be seen as an "iconic site" since it can be seen from the water and all along the quays. Given that the school will incorporate an auditorium, which will necessarily be closed to the outside, it's an opportunity to express that as a sculptural form while still responding to the pedestrian environment at ground level.

So, yes, "spectacular, but responsible spectacular" is exactly what I'd advocate.

 
At 11:20 AM, March 08, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

---They're currently saying that they're "waiting for the traffic reduction due to the bypass" before making a decision to remove lanes, but I'm not holding my breath!---

I'd say the decision to retain them is already made - if not, putting the trees in now is a rather shortsighted move - the opportunity for a bigger island separating the traffic is gone (unless they ripped up the recently completed work and started again).

And as you suggest, it's all rather academic given that it is likely that there will be zero traffic relief provided by that infamous bypass...

The Gehl improvements are next to useless (or at least only cosmetic) unless they are part of a whole strategy that fits everything together imho

 
At 11:21 AM, March 08, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In terms of adding oppinions. I think the music school is a great idea, I'm sure in the right hands a great building can be constructed my only concern is

1. Yet another under used auditorium in the city?

2. The site of Civic Square that faces the Quay is disgusting, I hope they build this with a more active interesting edge onto the Quay rather than the blank wall of the former Capital-E bunker.

One day we might decide removing the change of level from Civic Square across the quays via the bridge, to open up Civic Square to the water (obviously only when traffic on the Quays is reduced and down to 4 lanes). So any building should permit this in its design. (Again though we see with Civic Square the whole raised floor phenomenon to shove car parking underneath which destroys eye lines.)

As dictator I'd outlaw this, if you want a carpark underneath fine, but you can't raise ground level. (And I'd outlaw this whole 6 levels of carparking from Level 1 up on new buildings phenomenon thats going around too (while I'm at it). It just provides probably about 20-30 carparks for the upper crust that work in the building, god damn, park it in a parking building and walk you lazy.. people. What a waste of good floor space and how ugly is that!)

 
At 11:30 AM, March 08, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the opportunity for a bigger island separating the traffic is gone (unless they ripped up the recently completed work and started again)."

Not only that, but the layout of them prevents some realignment of the carriageways in order to increase park space and footpath space at different points. It also prevents options like the addition of a potential "heritage" tramway on the city side of the Quays. But that is how things work, they'll spend about 2 million on this with no long-term vision then rebuild it later. (The big shame in this case is that it becomes more difficult to transplant trees when they're older.)

This problem of lack of vision has often been brought up, imagine with all the work thats gone into the Golden Mile of the last decade some planning had gone into it to incorporate foundations, shifting of services, and the right camber changes for rails to be laid in the future. It'd have saved a fortune.

It strikes me as amazing whenever I think about it that the Council (employing 4000 people) can't produce some guiding visions to aim for and incorporate into planning decisions between now-and-then.

Perhaps we'd be better off having more campaign groups doing it for them, the various "Friends of the thing" groups in the states tend to operate along this lines, they actually produce visions and drawings with fairly robust ideas and then campaign for that. I think it earns more public support than the more loosely based "we just want better public transport" campaigns because the public actually gets to see a vision of something.

 
At 1:45 PM, March 08, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

"Yet another under used auditorium in the city?"

I think there's room for a venue of this size, especially withe the combined talents of the two schools of music in one.

"The site of Civic Square that faces the Quay is disgusting, I hope they build this with a more active interesting edge onto the Quay rather than the blank wall of the former Capital-E bunker"

The initial designs that were shown back in 2004 had a glass-walled cafe/bar and foyer along Jervois Quay and beside the public walkway to it, so while it's not a final design it's definitely one of the priorities.

"we see with Civic Square the whole raised floor phenomenon to shove car parking underneath which destroys eye lines."

I hardly notice the raised nature of the square itself, since it's quite a gentle slope, and I tend to forget that there's parking underneath. Personally, I quite like the way that the steps to the bridge help enclose the square, while providing informal seating for events. And the sculptures atop the bridge lead your eye up, drawing you to the water without revealing the view all in one go.

"This problem of lack of vision has often been brought up..."

I think there are several reasons for a lack of "vision". Firstly, to the Tory sensibilities of the Mayor and many other councillors, long-term planning of the shape of the city smacks of socialism and interfering with the market.

Secondly, there are such diverse views within Wellington about what the city should be like that it's impossible to get a single vision that everyone can agree to. Some people want density and public transport; others want dispersal and plenty of cheap parking. The nearest we have to an integrated vision for any part of the city is the waterfront framework, and look how controversial that is! That even has the benefit of being public land, so WWL can dictate to developers what they want and where, which isn't possible in the rest of the city.

Thirdly, and this is an extension of the second point, with divided opinions comes a divided council, so one council's vision is likely to be undermined after the next election, or whenever a councillor wants to grandstand and make a fuss about something. Urban visions are great if you're Sixtus V or Baron Haussmann, but in a (sort of) democracy they're unlikely to last long enough to take shape.

 
At 4:54 PM, March 08, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>(Again though we see with >Civic .Square the whole raised >floor phenomenon to shove car >parking underneath which destroys >eye lines.)

>As dictator I'd outlaw this, if >you want a carpark underneath >fine, but you can't raise ground >level.

The car park under Civic Square is well under the Ground level, the level from Mercer street remains until it hits Capital E. which is not a car park, but a sunken exhibition space that they cannot find anything to do with,

If they do end up doing something involving the music school on the old circa site, I hope they link it to the old capital E space and finally find a use for the space.

 
At 6:22 PM, March 08, 2007, Anonymous LX said...

Looking at the artists rendering you posted it would be great if instead of the City to Sea bridge there was a vista through to the harbour.

As pedestrian bridges go it is dressed well and I accept it is iconic. But it still suffers the usual problems of grade changes, taking activity away from street level and creating its own lost spaces underneath.

A blank wall faces the Quay rather than an inviting entrance to Civic Square, such as exists on the Quay at Queens Wharf.

The City to Sea bridge really wouldn't sit well with a traffic calmed ped friendly waterfront avenue. It is a beutifully designed motorway overpass for pedestrians, but is that what we want long term for the waterfront?

Better that the Quays become a pedestrian friendly avenue in which case they no longer need to be bridged but rather integrated into the pedestrian faric of the city.

 
At 10:41 PM, March 08, 2007, Blogger Joanna said...

I think the 'bridge' part of the City-To-Sea bridge is the least of its functions. It's a recreational space in itself.

Also: I wish they'd bring back Capital E and the slide I was too afraid to go on when I was young...

 
At 11:35 AM, March 09, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bridge is quite cool in and of itself, yes it is a recreational area, and has the advantage of providing a natural ampitheatre within the square, but it creates a dark and empty no-go area underneath, compounded by the blank walls, lack of access to the Square from ground level, and the underground carparking access, etc. That said removing the bridge and opening the square up along its waterside edge has a lot to be said for it (if you mull it over for a bit). Not sure it is ever likely though given they're building another bridge across to Taranaki Wharf.

 
At 11:37 AM, March 09, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS: Perhaps the music school should incorporate the old Capital-E space and make better use of it? It seems to me this space has never been successfully used, but if physically part of the school (e.g. full of practise rooms or something) then it'd get a lot of use. What's using this space currently?

 
At 1:46 PM, March 09, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

"Perhaps the music school should incorporate the old Capital-E space and make better use of it? ... What's using this space currently?"

AFAIK, the old Capital E space is still being used as, erm, Capital E. Otherwise, their arts festival that starts on Monday will be in trouble!

I think Jo's right, and the bridge is a space in itself. It's not too much of a stretch to call it "iconic", given the number of photos and postcards featuring one or anomther of its elements. Getting rid of it now will be like getting rid of the Cable Car or Beehive! I agree that grade changes rarely work, but this is one of those rare examples, and it's also a unique elevated spot for viewing the lagoon, harbour and up & down the quays. I also really like the succession of spaces that it creates: from the enclosure of the square, up towards the sky and out towards the waterfront.

"it creates a dark and empty no-go area underneath, compounded by the blank walls, lack of access to the Square from ground level, and the underground carparking access, etc"

The accessway on the southern side is definitely a disaster, but while the Jervois Quay side is too blank, I've never thought of it as a "no-go area". On the contrary, whenever I've had to walk along Jervois Quay in the rain, I was grateful for a bit of shelter!

Having said that, it could be opened up moe, and the underside of the bridge made more attractive for pedestrians. The underneath of these sort of pedestrian bridge/plazas doesn't have to be dark and forbidding, as the "Green bridge" at Mile End Park goes to show.

"removing the bridge and opening the square up along its waterside edge has a lot to be said for it (if you mull it over for a bit)"

Possibly, but only if Jervois Quay is heavily traffic-calmed, and I doubt that's ever going to happen. Chris Kelly did a mockup of how that would look (I don't think it's online), and I wasn't convinced. I actually prefer Civic Square with only hints of a harbour view: enough to make you aware of the water's presence, but not too much to break down the sense of urban enclosure. What it needs is better connections to the city, more active edges on the south side, and a few more night-time activities.

 
At 1:50 PM, March 09, 2007, Blogger Maximus said...

great to see in the depths of the Council's appendix, that they are apparently really seriously considering (and negotiating to buy) a new public open space. For the sake of all our sanity, lets hope it is the one we've all identified as The One. If they're struggling for funds for it, may i make a suggestion : sell the Glover Park. Its awful and doesn't work.

 
At 1:58 PM, March 09, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Maximus: yes it was good to read that, though bear in mind that the report is 3 years old, so they mave been talkinjg about the ill-fated Victoria/Bond St proposal. Or the National War Memorial Park, which sounds like it's really happening.

On the other hand, the owner of Imbibe says that the local businesses are getting together a petition to turn Swan Lane into a park. He also thought that the owner might now be willing to sell, unlike in previous attempts.

 
At 5:50 PM, March 09, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maximus said: "For the sake of all our sanity, lets hope it is the one we've all identified as The One."

umm...what is "The One", is that the carpark on Cuba St (opposite Garrett St) or something else?

 
At 12:44 AM, March 10, 2007, Blogger Joanna said...

When my mother's friend bought the Bakehouse building, back in ummm late '95 I guess it was, they started the Bakehouse Gallery where the Tiki half of Imbibe is now on the understanding that the carpark was soon to become shops and it would really be an actual lane. But surprise surprise, that never eventuated.

 
At 1:35 AM, March 11, 2007, Blogger David said...

The Civic Centre is a mish mash of buildings thrown together without a theme. Not unlike the Parliament Buildings grouping. Combining old and new doesn't necessarily have to not work... the Louvre and Lloyds of London prove that... but buildings that complement each other generally look easier on the eye than buildings that clash.

I think the Civic Centre is an eyesore. Short of bulldozing the whole area (except perhaps the old library/current art gallery) and starting from scratch, I don't know what to do about it. But I just hope that any new development doesn't make it look worse.

 
At 12:07 PM, March 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

david: "Short of bulldozing the whole area (except perhaps the old library/current art gallery) and starting from scratch, I don't know what to do about it."

What about the Town Hall! I love the Town Hall, I just wish they'd destroy the MFC and rebuild the Town Hall to it's former glory. They could build a new (much better) concert & conference centre a bit further east of where MFC is now, and take up some more of that empty triangle of land. (They have said something in the past about building a conference centre here, but why not go the whole hog and replace the MFC and rebuild the Town Hall while at it.)

 
At 12:17 PM, March 11, 2007, Blogger David said...

> What about the Town Hall!

Firstly it has the MFC sitting right next to it with not enough space between them. And connected with some sort of bridge, IIRC. And then the 1930s Town Hall is glued to the other end. What was wrong with finishing it as a stand alone building with four exterior walls of the same architectural style?

 
At 5:35 PM, March 11, 2007, Blogger Will said...

Tom, why do you describe the victoria/bond st park as 'ill-fated'? I hadn't heard that it wasn't going ahead, or anything much about it for a while in fact. I so wish they would follow Jan Gehl's recommendation for that intersection, it would make more sense and be much more pleasant. And a park there would get used so much more than at the other end of the block, I'm worried it would end up another glover park - close to where people congregate, but with nothing to draw people rather empty and desolate. And the buildings they are planning to demolish while indeed not spectacular are rather sweet.

 
At 6:54 PM, March 11, 2007, Blogger Maximus said...

Anon - re "umm...what is "The One", is that the carpark on Cuba St (opposite Garrett St) or something else?"

Yes - Swan Lane car park - it is a ground level car park right next to a very good multi-story car park, and so could be put to far better use, and those lazy people that park there won't have to go far to park. It's unparalled in Te Aro for factors of sunshine (morning, lunch, evening), heritage buildings (on the north side, and south side), on the main pedestrian route (Cuba St), yet not on a main vehicle route (ie not on Vivian or Ghuznee). Contrast that to Glover - it has high buildings to the west, is hemmed in by busy vehicle roads, does not get good sun, and no pedestrian walk through (being in the middle of nowhere just between nowhere and somewhere else...).

Will - "why do you describe the victoria/bond st park as 'ill-fated'? " I'll leave that to Tom, but it has the same drawbacks as noted above - it would be a park on the edge of a busy road, long and thin so all exposed to the road and the fumes, the noise, the traffic - just not a good place. And they've sold the building or something, so there is little chance of it going ahead now.

 
At 4:24 PM, March 13, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

David: I think that our views on Civic Square are almost diametrically opposed. I really like the MFC, although I agree it's too close to the Town Hall and it sits badly at the end of Cuba St. I love its shape, and the textures of concrete and shiny steel.

By implication, you imply that the new library should be disposed of, and that's quite possibly my favourite building in all fo Wellington.

And as for the Town Hall and "What was wrong with finishing it as a stand alone building with four exterior walls of the same architectural style?" - I can't quite believe that you're implying we should build something in the 21st century in an early-20th century neo-Classical style. Are you sure you're not Prince Charles behind that gasmask?

 
At 4:30 PM, March 13, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Will: my "ill fated" comment was referring to the fact that, according to an article from some time last year which I can't find right now, the council have decided not to pursue it. I think that was due to costs or some difficulty with doing the land swap they had in mind.

I think it could have made an OK sort of pocket park, but I don't think that it's an area that needs more open spaces. It's right next to Manners Mall, with a reasonably pleasant little space there already, and just up the road from Civic Square - so there's plenty of places nearby to stop for a sandwich or read a book.

I'll say it again: the one part of central Wellington that's really crying out for a square, park or any sort of half-decent public realm is SoCo.

 
At 1:00 PM, March 16, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, this is a blog addressing how the school is going to look, but where are the students going to park? Is this the best location for the students of the school? Many students have large instruments that need to be transported to and from the school on a daily basis, and $4 an hour for public parking is unaffordable for most students. Is there a plan to provide students with car parks?

 
At 12:47 AM, March 19, 2007, Blogger David said...

>David: I think that our views on Civic Square are almost diametrically opposed. I really like the MFC, although I agree it's too close to the Town Hall and it sits badly at the end of Cuba St. I love its shape, and the textures of concrete and shiny steel.

I'm fine with the architecture of the MFC. I just don't think it works located just a few meters from the old town hall. If it were the other side of the Quay on a stand alone site, then it'd be great.

>By implication, you imply that the new library should be disposed of, and that's quite possibly my favourite building in all fo Wellington.

The new library would be great if it didn't have the bridge joining it to the newer of the old town halls. It just doesn't merge properly, IMHO, and I don't like enclosed bridges connecting buildings at the best of times. However, the metallic palm trees are inspired. And as a collection of books it is brilliant and impresses everyone from overseas who see it and compare it with their lacklustre foreign libraries.

>And as for the Town Hall and "What was wrong with finishing it as a stand alone building with four exterior walls of the same architectural style?" - I can't quite believe that you're implying we should build something in the 21st century in an early-20th century neo-Classical style. Are you sure you're not Prince Charles behind that gasmask?

My tastes tend towards the modern and cool. But sometimes attaching a modern building to an old one just doesn't work. The Beehive and the old parliament building being a good example. Obviously buildings need to connect to adjacent buildings, often in a terraced fashion. Like the inland side of Lambton Quay, which works well. But the old and the new parts of the old town hall are essentially semi-detached, like a West London suburban home. But with each end done in a completely different style. Yuk!

 

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