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

Monday, October 29, 2007

Kumutoto Option A

Public feedback closes on both the Frank Kitts Park redesign and Kumutoto sites 8-10 scheme this Friday, so I've got a lot to get through by then. After discussing all the Frank Kitts options, let's move on to the first of the six Kumutoto entries.

This scheme sticks fairly closely to the plan in the brief, and though sites 8 & 9 are conceived as a single building (dubbed "the fossil") they are really two separate buildings joined by bridges at the upper levels. The site 10 building (referred to as "the Stacks and the Crane") also has a similar footprint to the brief, but breaks out at the upper levels with an interesting extension.

Kumutoto sites 8-10 Option A - overview
The "fossil" is described as "something found - now unearthed and exposed", it explores the language of geomorphology, all tilted planes and cuttings. On a more urbanist level, these angles help the transitions in scale from Shed 13 to site 10 and from the Meridian building down to the water, and invites the public to climb up the slope of the smaller harbourside building to a series of roof terraces. I'm not quite convinced that these would be so inviting in real life, though I like the idea of a basement-level "Old Sea Wall Bar" as a further exploration of these layers. The "cutting" between the two halves looks a bit gloomy on the renderings, but from the plans it seems like the edges look active enough, so it might be more appealing when realised.

Kumutoto sites 8-10 Option A - from the southBy contrast, the site 10 building "is conceived as a piece of maritime infrastructure - trussed, technical, robust and wharfly" (no, that's not a real word). In one way that makes contextual sense, and the curving extension is a clever way to mark the transition in orientation between Waterloo Quay and the wharves. I like the robust concrete truss that supports the extension over the water, and the way that it does double duty as a conduit for sea water to the cooling systems, though I'm a little ambivalent about the way it looms over the old ferry building.

What's most obvious about the site 10 building, though, is the fact that, at eight storeys, it goes well over the "indicative height" of six storeys specified in the brief. While I don't necessarily have a problem with that, and in fact its massing helps step down from the aggressive lump of NZ Post House more effectively than a more modest building would do, it would give Waterfront Watch and their ilk an excuse to get up in arms. Many of the entries do the same thing, though in most cases they counter that by using less of the plan. Of course, the brief also states that "Buildings may exceed (in part or in whole) the indicative heights ... if the design and/or impact on public space are such that they warrant consideration", but I'm not sure that this design is good enough to justify that.

There are quite a few things I like about this scheme. The angular geometry of "the fossil" is distinctively different, yet it doesn't seem to be too much of an arbitrary "look at moi" design. There are a few environmental features (seawater cooling, planted roofs, glazed chimneys topped by turbines) that would be interesting to see implemented. But I'm concerned by the fact that the guiding metaphors are derived from geological landscapes and industrial areas, neither of which are cities. Is this to blame for some of the awkward pathways and inactive edges? In real cities, people don't walk among fossils or cranes; nor do they wander up narrow stairways to roof terraces or enjoy walking beside ground-floor carparks or offices. These flaws may not be insurmountable, but the architecture isn't aesthetically compelling enough to put metaphor and theory ahead of a pleasant pedestrian environment.


At 2:46 PM, October 29, 2007, Anonymous m-d said...

Ahh, the old building-as-autonomous-object routine... they don't even do that at Architecture School any more...

At 4:20 PM, October 29, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Though Gehry's still at it, from all accounts.

I don't think that this plan is quite so bad: there do seem to be serious attempts to engage with the urban environment, and in most of it it's quite successful. But there are enough awkward spots to suggest that such an engagement was secondary to the big-A Architecture. Perhaps the nature of the masterplan makes in nigh impossible for the buildings not to appear as autonomous objects: with all those small plots and wide spaces, it's hard to read the results as city blocks rather than buildings on a plain.


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