WellUrban

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Notes from the 'Naki


We spent Easter in New Plymouth, and while it's a city that has very little in common with Wellington, I thought it was worth a few quick notes, together with some local parallels or lessons.

Puke Ariki, New PlymouthPuke Ariki. Taranaki's shiny new museum and library complex has attracted some attention in the architectural press, and not without reason. Behind all the woven metal and spiky verandahs, though, it's a fairly conventional building, and an architectural purist might be wary of such apparently arbitrary decoration. I think it's highly appropriate, though, since it's hard to make a building such as a museum, which requires a bit of a black box approach, attractive and interesting away from the entrance. I can think of a fair few buildings (built or proposed) in Wellington that could do with something like this. It may be just set dressing, but it's thematically appropriate, visually links the building to its surroundings and gives it some texture and drama. I'm not so keen on the surface parking along the waterfront side and the rather pointless assimilation of a historic fa├žade, but overall it's well scaled and brings life to the city and waterfront.

All of which is more than can be said for Centre City, Roger Walker's vast shopping and parking complex that glowers at it from across the park. Plenty of people find it hideous, but while I'm actually rather partial to the madder aspects of the interior spaces (a collision of high-tech & 80s kitsch - Roger doing Rogers), it's its complete rejection of the public realm that I find so loathsome.

Centre City complex in New PlymouthIt makes no acknowledgement of the adjacent waterfront whatsoever, and its sheer bulk is out of place for such a small city. Most of Walker's work in Wellington has either been housing, or retail at a domestic scale (such as Willis St Village), so it's interesting and perhaps a little frightening to see what his approach to large-scale retail has been in the past. It was a long time ago, of course, and he should have moved on to a more urbanistic approach by now. Let's hope so, because otherwise his upcoming collaboration with Terry Serepisos (which seems to be getting closer to reality) might be real cause for foreboding.

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