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

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Manhattan roundup

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A Manhattan cocktailMy month of Manhattans didn't unearth quite as many highs and lows as my Martini explorations, partly because life's too short to try bad cocktails from every crummy bar in Courtenay Place, and partly because it's harder to get wrong. There are a lot of quite sweet and approachable flavours in American whiskey and red vermouth, unlike the brittle herbal notes of gin and dry vermouth, which can be quite polarising.

Many of my best experiences were in exactly the sort of places that should do a Manhattan well, and they're chronicled over at Texture in the current drink feature. Last week's mystery bar (yes, it was the Lotus Room, the successor to Go Go) also did a very creditable one, despite their obvious preference for creamy and fruity confections. Pod went for a dryer than usual style, which made for a good aperitif, as did the Cavern Club's version. The latter was one of several places that went for a lemon twist in place of a maraschino cherry, either by choice or because they lacked the latter: strictly speaking, that should only be done for a Dry Manhattan, not one that uses sweet red vermouth.

Monsoon Poon was another place that used a twist, and it annoyed me a little since they didn't tell me until the end that they had no cherries (that's like making a Martini when you have no olives and not mentioning it to the customer first). It also ended up lukewarm and bland, since there was far too much vermouth, and it was poured straight into the glass without mixing with ice. The Southern Cross also delivered an unbalanced effort, but in the other direction, and they seem to have gone overboard on the bitters. Plum got the wrong end of the stick entirely: when they told me that they had no sweet vermouth, I asked for a Dry Manhattan instead. What I got was a Dry Martini!

I must say that I couldn't taste any consistent difference between those who used real rye whiskey and those who had Canadian Club (which is not made from 100% rye). Those who made do with bourbon were generally canny enough to compensate with a touch more bitters, emulating the slightly peppery bite of rye compared to the sweetness of bourbon.

Winter should finally be upon us soon, despite the unseasonably warm May, and next month's drink should reflect that. It's also going to be very different from all the drinks of the month so far!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Where the heathens are

Just a quick post, in relation to this thread on Public Address about religion and religious tolerance: 2006 Census data showing the proportion of people in each Wellington meshblock who answered "no religion":

There's no time for a proper legend, but:
  • bright blue shows places where no-one put "no religion";
  • bright red would show where everyone put "no religion" (actually, the highest in the whole country was 91%);
  • shades of purple are in between.
There's a world of interesting patterns here, but I'll have to dig further.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Competitive memorial

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage has done the right thing and called for a competition to design the Buckle St New Zealand Memorial Park that I mentioned last month. It's not a completely public competition like the original Waitangi Park design process, so don't rush out and send in an entry unless you've got a good architectural CV to your name.

A key part of the design brief is that Buckle St has to be (controversially and expensively) realigned to the north. This diagram is no doubt just a rough guide, but it hints that the realignment would have to affect quite a long stretch of the street in order to avoid nasty kinks.

Re-alignment of Buckle StA competition is most appropriate in a project of national significance such as this, which raises the question of why the Supreme Court (which took another step forward with Budget funding) didn't go through a similar process. It's not too late to have one for the School of Music, which has finally also landed central government funding, and should be able to do much better than the initial sketches indicated.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Winning Waitangi

Ducks in the Graving Dock at Waitangi ParkWaitangi Park has won a Supreme Award from the New Zealand Institute of Architects. While the Dominion Post couldn't resist getting in a little dig ("Wellington's residents are divided over it") and no-one on the Architectural Centre blog has yet nominated it for Wellington's top ten public spaces, the official citation says:
The varied demands of powhiri, skateboard bowls, kids' playgrounds, sports fields and cleaning stormwater runoff among others underpin a project that offers a delightful experience for active users, passive observers and daily commuters. The park confidently mixes the robust and the gentle, visual and aural, contemporary and historic to create a sequence of spaces that are at once intimate and particular while adding to the greater identity of a major new city facility.
My own feelings are a bit more mixed. I agree that it is a really good piece of landscape architecture, with good confident bones and intriguing details, and vastly more interesting than if it had been a plain old bit of paddock. But I'm also inclined to agree with the Arch Centre: it's not one of Wellington's great spaces. Yet.

Many of the small gripes I identified back in January have been fixed, and the low-level planting in general is starting to look much more lush and settled in than it did back then. Once the main trees have grown to an appreciable height (which will take at least a decade), the park will have a lot more structure and definition to it. Now that things are finally starting to open up in the Chaffers Dock complex, it is starting to complement the park and join it to the water rather than looming over it as a blank no-go zone. But it won't be until the buildings to the west and northeast are completed, along with their accompanying public areas, that we'll see what Waitangi Park can really be. Then, the Waitangi Precinct as a whole could offer a series of great public spaces.

Waitangi park Graving Dock from above

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mystery bar number 59

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Saturday's mystery bar was indeed fairly mysterious, and I'd imagine that few if any of you have been there. It's called The Loft, as correctly identified by Colin from the description, though he's never been there either. It's a very odd place to find a bar, even one that's primarily a café: on the top floor of the historic Whitcoulls building in Lambton Quay, accessible via a lift in the shop or from Gilmer Tce, and part of the new Sync gym and spa complex. Given that it's described as "the only restaurant in town where you can order a Zone balanced meal", I hardly think that it's going to become a den of hedonistic excess, even with cocktail specials on Friday evenings.

Mystery bar #59 - chandeliersToday's mystery bar, on the other hand, is very much a proper late-night bar, and definitely sees its share of revelry. The décor is slickly glamorous, though in a style that's become perhaps over-familiar, mixing dark wood and leather with chandeliers and mirror balls. The staff seemed very young (translation: we seemed very old), but were impressively professional when it came to mixing cocktails.

Mystery bar #59 - cocktails and sweetsWhile some of us stuck to classic drinks, it's clear that their forte lay not in their competently made Manhattans and Caipirinhas, but in sweet and creamy concoctions. The telling detail was that when our drinks were accompanied by a bowl of free snacks, they weren't the usual nuts or other savoury treats, but little pink and white lollies. This all makes perfect sense given that the music was top-40 pop with a dance beat, and that the floor was quickly taken over by hen party from the Hutt. No matter how sophisticated the design or how professional the mixology, I think that recent history will continue to weigh on this place and define its style and clientèle.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Still bigger than Auckland

Last year I wrote a post that examined the seemingly extraordinary claim that Wellington's CBD has more workers than Auckland's, and ended up confirming the fact. I'm still working on updating the maps, but I can now update the counts with data from the 2006 Census, with the same definitions of CBD areas and "workers" as before.
workers 2001 53,09750,151
workers 2006 60,69359,049
workers/ha 2006346194

So, Auckland's CBD workforce has been growing faster than Wellington's, but we're still very slightly ahead, and the density of workers is still much higher in Wellington. It will be interesting to compare the combined working and residential population of the two central cities, though, especially since Auckland has seen an even faster growth in inner-city apartments in the past five years than we have.

In this context, it's hard to make sense of yesterday's Dominion Post article (page C5). It's primarily about the dominance of the government sector in Wellington's office real estate, but the figure they use for the total number of CBD workers is 92,000. I can't see how you can get this from the census data, even if you use a more inclusive definition of "CBD" than I did. If you include all of Thorndon, Lambton and Te Aro, you get 70,000; and all of Wellington City has 111,660 workers, many of whom are not even vaguely near the CBD. They must be basing their data on some sort of real estate survey, but while I expect some sort of variation, 60,000 to 90,000 seems too big a difference to explain away easily.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Taxing times

I'm not entirely convinced that a regional petrol tax is the way to go: I think a targeted congestion charge for the CBD and major arterials might be a better way of fighting congestion while funding public transport. It also seems fairer to concentrate the charging on places where there are good public transport options.

Whichever way it happens, I'm sure the usual lobby groups will complain that motorists in New Zealand are over-taxed. They should have a look at this chart from the Ministry of Economic Development:

Comparison of OECD petrol prices and taxesOur petrol taxes, and thus prices, are actually the fifth lowest in the OECD. So while New Zealand's dispersed population, supposed "pioneer" culture and "love affair with the car" are often used to explain our high levels of car use, there's another possible explanation: it's so damn cheap! Especially so when our public transport is required to regain a comparatively high proportion of its costs from fares.

An extra 10 cents a litre would actually hardly make a difference by international standards, and it certainly doesn't compare to last year's petrol price rises, which led to a 9% decrease in cars entering the CBD. Now that we're finally making baby steps towards funding a half-decent transit system, perhaps it is time to consider a pricing regime that makes public transport a more attractive option.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Shops that pass in the night 13

Aotearoa House, 138 Cuba StAotearoa House is a new shop that has opened in what was until recently Fuji Image Plaza at 138 Cuba St. Actually, it's not brand new, but a consolidation and upgrade of two previous outlets, one in the James Smith Markets and one just a few doors up the road. It sells Māori-themed clothing, jewellery, art and other products, and also has an online store. It's a nice shop, but what makes this move especially interesting from an urbanist perspective is what's happening to the previous shop at 158 Cuba St.

'Save the flavour Cuba St' - graffito at number 158This site has already attracted a lot of discussion here, since it's an old and very run-down two-storey building that's about to make way for new apartments. After the shop closed for good, someone (perhaps the previous occupants) had quite a riotous party and almost began the demolition process ahead of schedule. There's now this graffito in the window, saying "7 story [sic] nightmare appearing here soon! Save the flavour Cuba St".

As I wrote earlier, while I think the new building could do with being a little bit lower (it'll actually be 8 storeys, whereas 5-6 would seem more appropriate for the context), its narrowness, setback and detailing will all help it fit in to a street that already has a couple of tallish buildings. I don't think it's a "nightmare" at all: on the contrary, I think it looks very well-designed, and far ahead of the standard of many recent or proposed apartment developments.

You can measure "flavour" in storeys, and I think the most important contributor to Cuba Street's character hasn't been that it's low-rise, but that it's cheap yet accessible. Strengthening the original building to meet new earthquake codes could, paradoxically, have been more damaging to Cuba Street's flavour than rebuilding from scratch, since the high cost would have had to have been offset by hugely increased rents. Building seven floors of apartments above means that, theoretically at least, the replacement retail unit wouldn't have to recoup so much of the costs.

I'll have to repeat the statement I quoted earlier from the building's architect and developer Karen Krogh: "Cheap rents attract funky new businesses. These businesses give the street its reputation. With Cuba St popular, people come to experience the atmosphere created by these cool little places. What happens when high rents force them out to somewhere cheaper? We might lose our soul." With that statement on the public record, Ms Krogh really has to keep the rents in the new retail units low enough for "funky new businesses", and we should keep a careful eye on it to keep her honest. It should be possible, since The Wellington complex up the road still seems to be attracting "cool little places". Then again, if we really want to "save the flavour" and keep Cuba St the way it has been, perhaps number 158 should become ... a Fuji Image Plaza.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Mystery bar number 58

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It's been a while since my last mystery bar, which as I confirmed shortly afterwards in my wheat beer roundup, was of course the new Malthouse. It's getting harder to find bars that are obscure enough to offer a challenge, so I hope today's will be a little more mysterious.

Mystery bar #58 - the barIt's definitely in a place that's hard to find, and where a bar would be very unexpected. It's a bit of a stretch to call it a "bar", since it's clearly more of a café or restaurant, but then it does call itself a "café and bar" and it even has cocktail specials on a Friday night. It's hard to imagine this place really getting raucous, and the clientèle seem like they should be far too sensible for that sort of thing anyway.

Mystery bar #58 - cellphone and windowIt's in a space that has a lot of inherent character, with its high-raftered ceiling, brick walls and interesting views, but it seems like the designers have gone out of their way to neutralise that character with blandly corporate décor. Judging by the proportion of customers wearing suits and talking on cellphones, though, that's no doubt deliberate and highly appropriate. But if they're serious about being a bar, they really ought to come up with a more interesting selection of drinks and get some snappier service. A bar in a place like this could conceivably work quite nicely, but it's quite an ambitious move, and I don't see it taking off without a better point of difference.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Promiscuous blogging

I may have been quieter than usual here, but I've got a few other blogs to feed as well. On the Wellingtonista, we're running a series on the best of Wellington music, and I kicked off the Bevan Smith-fest with my favourite five local albums. My list is eclectic enough, but when you factor in my colleagues' love of hard rock, hip hop, transcendental drone/noise and the inevitable dub, you can tell there's quite a soundclash going on over at Wellingtonista Towers.

Cocktails at ImbibeThings have been busy over on Texture, too, and I've been reviewing some exhibitions as well as writing about French food, Mighty Mighty and nostalgic memories of Nineties bohemia. Your long-suffering eyes will be glad that after years of fuzzy phone-pics I've finally got myself a decent camera, which I've been dragging along to cocktail nights, cafés and tea parties. Texture's all about the here and now, so some of the content is fairly fleeting and you'll have to keep your eyes on the home page for other news and features. I also try to get involved in the community discussions about burning issues such as "Soup vs Fish 'n' Chips" and "Electric Avenue: shite or really, really shite?"

Project X have moved from Creative HQ to 12 Johnston StOf course, there's my day (and occasionally evening) job at ProjectX, and the whole crew has been kept busy, not just with the actual work of running and improving ZoomIn while cooking up all sorts of new technology, but with attending the Gold Awards and moving office. I've enjoyed my time working in the Cuba Quarter, but in a way I'll be glad to be back up the other end of town during the day. I consider myself more of a Cuba St person than a Lambtonite, but since I spend much of my time at night and weekends in Te Aro, it's nice to experience a contrast during my working day. Think of it as Silicon Welly invading the Beltway.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Building rumours 13: apartments everywhere

I had to make a correction to my previous Building Rumours post, because it seems I had my wires crossed, and Serepisos is apparently planning his tower for Lambton Quay rather than Willis St. I'm still not sure about this, as the suggested site (somewhere near Cable Car Lane) is already pretty full of tall buildings, and it seems hard to work out where another might be squeezed in. That 76 Willis St site is still the subject of a planned development though, and while it's being advertised for sale at the moment, there's talk that the original developer's plans are still being progressed through the consent process. There's a mysterious website that promises to reveal all shortly, and I wonder whether it's any coincidence that the site is designed by a company that also lists ArcHaus as a client.

Monument apartment development, cnr Wakefield & Tory streetsMeanwhile, there's plenty of more reliable apartment development news to pass on. The most publicised is the Monument development on the corner of Wakefield and Tory streets, which complement the Piermont apartments announced back in January. The combined development has fairly blocky proportions, but I quite like it nonetheless. The Monument building doesn't have quite as much spatial variety as the Piermont, but the contrast with its neighbour, the corner treatment, and the way that the double-height apartments rise in "stacks" slightly separate from the rest of the building, all combine to break down the mass just slightly. The random patterning in the glass is a fairly arbitrary way of adding some decoration to simple façades, but it all gives the impression of a quality development and a decent contribution to the streetscape. Well, at least it's better than the Warehouse.

Apartments planned for the corner of Taranaki & Wigan StWhich is more than I'd say for Richmastery's latest assault on Taranaki St: two 13-storey blocks shoehorned onto the corner of Taranaki and Wigan streets. There are some token attempts to break up the monotony of the surfaces, but while it's hard to tell from these poor-quality images, somehow I just don't get the feeling that it will get the benefit of exquisite detailing and fine materials. At least their previous attempt across the road seems to have been knocked back to some extent by the planners: the latest word is that the new version of the Q on Taranaki development will be lower and not result in the demolition of the old Murdoch factory. It remains to be seen whether it's actually going to be a decent building, but it's good to hear that the rules are having some effect.

Soho apartments, planned for 72 Taranaki StFurther down Taranaki, there's an even taller pair of towers on the way at number 72. But these ones seem to benefit from the extra height, with the southern tower in particular looking nicely slender from this angle. I'm not sure about the angled roof planes, and it's hard to tell whether the detailing and materials will be any good, but it might not be too bad. Sixteen stories seems awfully high for Te Aro, but this is actually in the transition zone between the high- and low-city zones, and there are a few buildings in the vicinity of comparable height (though funnily enough, not shown in this sketch). It should certainly be more appropriate here than further up Taranaki St, and replacing a fairly nondescript office block is better than knocking down a pleasant little Art Deco building with a well-known mural.

I'm encouraged by the increase in density that this represents (and as at 2006, Te Aro was still less dense than Mt Victoria in terms of residential population), but less so by the quality of architecture. It ranges from fairly decent through mediocre to downright nasty. What will it take to get something truly stunning and innovative like this? Come on Mr Serepisos, if you really want to be remembered positively by Wellingtonians, take the punt on something magnificent.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Back on track: catching up

It's been a while since I've had the occasion to write a "back on track" post, but there's been a recent spate of good news for public transport users. Most of it has been signalled for a long time, and it's generally just catching up with maintenance that's been deferred for decades, but it's worth celebrating nonetheless.

Yesterday's inaugural trip of the first new carriage on the Wairarapa Line in 60 years is just a small start, but I'm sure that the improvements in comfort and reliability will be warmly welcomed by commuters. The real benefits will take a while to arrive, though, and won't come until enough of the new trains are available to enable an increase in actual capacity.

Earlier, I was a little sceptical about news reports of improvements to the Western Line, since they'd all been mentioned before. However, things seem to be progressing more quickly than we'd expected, and work (on double-tracking from MacKays Crossing to Waikanae Bridge and electrification between Paraparaumu and Waikanae) may start as soon as this summer, with completion expected in time for the arrival of new trains in 2010.

Closer to the city, the first of the 61 revamped trolley buses will start to arrive this August, with the remainder being rolled out gradually from February. Again, we've known for nearly a year that they should be on the way, but the latest news is actually quite a breakthrough in what seemed like endless negotiations and has been welcomed across the political spectrum. The new buses will be more reliable (due to better poles and backup batteries) and will have ten extra seats. The additional 610 seats across all trolley buses may not seem much, but on the most popular services they will be a huge relief.

On top of all this, there are hints that local, regional and central government may be changing their attitudes. According to Brent Efford's "Transport 2000+" newsletter (the source of much of the information in this post):
"Caught out by the overwhelming reaction against the conservatism and 'business-as-usual' orientation of the draft Regional Land Transport Strategy, the Greater Wellington Regional Council and Regional Land Transport Committee are engaged in a complete re-think of the approach to the Strategy and the mode share targets. Prime change is that the old assumption of no real change in public transport vs car mode share is out, and some quite ambitious sustainability targets are to be adopted."
Even the Kapiti Coast District Council says that "A further shift of priority from Transmission Gully to rail investment is sought", and "Transmission Gully should not take precedence over provision of an improved rail system". At today's Regional Council Passenger Transport Committee meeting, we may at last get some commitment to real time information and integrated ticketing. That'll be a welcome move into the 21st Century (or at least, into the late 20th Century). Given that Transport Minister Annette King was keen to enjoy the positive publicity of the new Wairarapa trains, perhaps we can look forward to a budget that is less roading-focussed than last year's?

Sunday, May 13, 2007


The promenade between the Chaffers Dock complex and Chaffers Marina is finally open, after being closed for construction for a very long time. It's still not possible to walk from the eastern end directly to the Overseas Passenger Terminal, as they're still asphalting that part, but you can now at least walk along the waterfront edge of the buildings then along the eastern side to Waitangi Park.

Promenade between the Chaffers Dock complex and Chaffers MarinaBoatshed apartments, Chaffers DockThere are still some of the familiar spherical light/bollard fixtures to be installed along the edge, but it's great to be able to walk along the promenade and get a feel for the new architecture. The "Boatsheds" apartments are full of interesting angles and a great play of light, and while they're still unmistakably modernist, they're certainly not a boring rectilinear lump. It may be that the openness of the waterfront environment compared to a tight city site, combined with the extra design scrutiny that applies to waterfront developments, have allowed and encouraged a slightly more adventurous design. Nevertheless, I wish that more of the recent apartment buildings in the city experimented with such varied forms.

My only real disappointment so far is that, as I mentioned a week ago, the first ground floor tenant to open for business is Subway. I'm not sure that the bloggers' boycott will do their business any harm (now, if certain bloggers boycotted pizza, that could send a few places out of business), and in fact on their first day there seemed to be more people inside than were on all of Waitangi Park's lawn. But it just seems to cheapen the entire building, in a way that wouldn't matter so much in other locations. I don't think it's just snobbery on my part: Subway stores follow such a strict design formula that they were unable to respond to the unique architecture and environment. Other, more local chains (like Wishbone or Mojo, for example) would seem more likely to have come up with a customised interior that wouldn't compromise the elegance of the building.

But the rest is looking good. Fitout of The Port Café seems to be coming along, and the two tenancies on the southern, park-facing side will be Mövenpick and something called "Chaffers Store", which I assume will be some sort of dairy or convenience store (and I'm so glad it's not a StarMart!). All of these seem like highly appropriate ground-floor businesses for a building between a park and the waterfront, and with people already living in the apartments above, this part of the waterfront looks like it's finally becoming a part of the city.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Distant hills

Some ambiguity and a touch of hyperbole in my post about targeted infill led some commenters to think that I was suggesting all of Karori and Churton Park were "distant hills" with "two buses a day if you're lucky". That's not quite what I meant to say, but I stand by my assertion that the outskirts of these suburbs (and many others) have poor public transport service, and thus poor public transport use, meaning that infill in those places would just result in more people driving to work.

To test that, here's a map showing the proportion of people in the northern suburbs who took a car to work, based on 2006 Census data. Shades of red show where more than half took a car, while in meshblocks with shades of blue, less than half took the car. Central Johnsonville is at the bottom left, with Churton Park at the top.

Proportion of people using a car to get to work in the northern suburbs of Wellington, 2006 CensusIt's clear that the further you get from the transport hub of Johnsonville, the more likely you are to drive. It's not rocket science, but it shows that the mere presence of a couple of bus routes is not enough. Churton Park does indeed have a decent bus service at peak times, but many parts of it are a long walk from the bus stops and there's not a lot of choice. Central Johnsonville, by contrast, not only has more public transport choice (and I'd suggest that the option of rail as well as bus is an important factor) but also a certain amount of employment, so that some people can walk to work. It thus seems eminently sensible to do what the council is doing and limit the amount of ad hoc infill, while targeting residential intensification where there is a proper transport corridor and plenty of shops and services: places like Johnsonville town centre for example.

The above map shows just a small part of the city, and could give the impression that driving to work is the norm in most parts of town. Looking at all of Wellington City, by comparison, you get a very different picture:

Proportion of people using a car to get to work in Wellington, 2006 CensusBlue dominates in most parts of the city, except the northern suburbs and a few hillside and coastal fringes. As today's Dominion Post article about the rebuilding of the trolley buses says, "Wellingtonians [catch] the bus more than residents of any other Australasian city", and if you add in walking, cycling and trains, it's clear that most of Wellington (except wherever John Morrison lives) has a different attitude to cars from the rest of the country.

If you look closely (click the map for a much larger version) you'll see that Karori has mostly 30-50% car use, but with definite red patches, especially once you get away from the main drag. That's another example of how infill should be targeted at quite a fine scale. Increasing density by a moderate amount on the fringes wouldn't be enough to justify many extra bus services, but increasing density near existing transport corridors would make much more sense.

This isn't a proper analysis, of course: there's an element of "chicken and egg" about the whole thing, and it's hard to tell whether low public transport use is due to poor services or vice versa. The council will presumably be carrying out much more detailed GIS analysis (including transport catchments, existing density and the physical capacity for more building) and more qualitative analysis of heritage, character and attitudes before finalising the areas of "stability", "limited infill" and "change". Purely from this map, though, it's clear that the urban spine (Johnsonville, CBD, Newtown, Kilbirnie) is an obvious place to start, especially when you include the hospital and airport as major destinations. Parts of Karori, Wilton, Brooklyn Island Bay, Hataitai and Miramar also look feasible, and moderate increases in density there could justify even better public transport services, more local facilities, and thus an even greater proportion of people making sustainable transport choices.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Chews three

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Retail space has been tight in Wellington for quite some time, especially along the Golden Mile. That's led to some retailers worrying about being "forced out of the CBD" by high rents, and while some are certainly having to move away from Lambton Quay and Willis St, that's not entirely a bad thing. Rather than retailers being shoved out to the suburbs, it seems that the formerly grey side streets and adjacent thoroughfares are starting to fill in and liven up. Wellington's always had the reputation for being "one street deep", but that's becoming less and less true.

Perhaps one culprit for the lack of retail space has been that, while demand has been increasing, a few big developments have taken some tenancies off the market during construction. At the other end of town, The Wellington has done that for a while, but life is gradually starting to trickle back into upper Cuba St. The Chews Lane project, while it promises a whole new retail street, has taken a big chunk of Willis St out of action for what seems like years. Now, with the release of Retail Stage Three, we can get a first look at the sort of shops that will open here.

Chews Lane stage three retail planThere's not much really exciting here: Farrys and Area 51 are relocating from elsewhere in town, and I'm perhaps betraying my ignorance and/or snobbery now, but does Staxs really count as a "high-quality fashion store"? I'm not really familiar with Identity and Vincent, so perhaps they'll be more interesting.

It's the food and beverage outlets, which apart from the unnamed "Gastro Bar" have yet to be confirmed, which will make or break the Lane itself as a public space. It certainly sounds like they're aiming for a wide range, from takeaways and coffee to brunch and wine. Together with some improvements to Victoria St (including what sounds like an improved intersection), these eight tenancies could make Chews Lane a good connector from the Golden Mile to the Library and waterfront, as well as a destination in its own right, when they open up next year. But will they make up for the loss of the Malthouse balcony?

Monday, May 07, 2007


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There seems to be a lot of misinformed commentary going on about the changes to infill rules, and some commentators and developers give the impression that the intention is to reduce the amount of infill overall. But the council's news was clear: "The first part of the review is a District Plan Change (DPC 56), to tighten some key technical rules and standards", but "The second part of the review is a discussion paper ... which suggests the city takes a more strategic approach to where infill and areas of greater housing density be allowed in the future". The intention is to stop the bad and inappropriate developments now, then guide the development of high-quality infill in the best locations.

Perhaps the council hasn't helped itself by cracking down first, without any explicit information about where the infill should be going. Diligent readers of council planning documents (and of WellUrban, of course) will know that the "urban spine" concept is behind all this, with explicit "Areas of Intensification" in Johnsonville, the CBD, Adelaide Rd and Kilbirnie. Some of the documents mention these explicitly, but the general idea is that there's a lot of consultation and analysis to go through before anything is finalised.

Random infill just results in suburbia without gardens, and I don't think anyone (except developers, of course) wants that. Residential density only achieves its social, environmental and urbanistic benefits when it's located where there is mixed use and good public transport. Filling in backyards in the distant hills of Karori or Churton Park, where there'll be two buses a day if you're lucky, will only result in more car-dependent people and more congestion, not more people walking to work and the shops.

The best things to read are the discussion paper (729kB PDF), the plan change documents, and Cr Andy Foster's well-reasoned article from last Friday's Dominion Post.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Waiting to dock

The glacial progress on the Chaffers Dock complex looks like it's finally getting somewhere, with the first signs of retail outlets preparing to open. When I last reported on progress back in November, the public opening of the piazza was expected "after Christmas, in time for a busy summer". The latest waterfront newsletter (perhaps wisely) doesn't give any new completion dates, but a couple of tenancies now look very close to opening.

Retail about to open in Chaffers DockUnfortunately, the one that looks nearest to completion is the one I've been looking forward to the least: a Subway outlet. I guess you could say that at least it's cheap and family-friendly, unlike some other recent waterfront openings, but surely there were better options that that? Even the bright shade of yellow that they've painted the interior beams detracts from the crisp cool blues of the building itself.

The Port Cafe: opening at Chaffers Dock 'soon'Next door to that is a business that sounds a bit more inviting: The Port Café. This wasn't mentioned by name in November's newsletter, though there was mention of a "waterfront-facing gourmet seafood restaurant". While the notice refers to it as "a new era in seafood", the mention of BYO and takeaway options hint that it might not be so upmarket. Not that I'm complaining: a casual BYO restaurant is just what the waterfront is missing, and we've gone far too long without a fish 'n' chip shop beside the water. I just hope that they take more care with their cooking than they do with their spelling.

The upmarket dining component of the Chaffers Dock complex should be provided by a restaurant called Home. All the indicators are that it should be something special: a location on the sunny northwest corner of the Art Deco building, a fitout by Allistar Cox, and an experienced team of operators. Unfortunately, there seems to have been virtually no progress in the last few months, leading me to wonder whether they're planning to wait out the winter and open when the weather will bring more people to the water.

The park-side tenancies seem to be making more progress, with some interesting curved walls in one of them. The atrium between the old and new buildings is looking to be a fantastic space, with plenty of light and some exciting architectural touches, though strangely it appears to be being advertised for lease as a supermarket. There are also finally some signs that the waterside promenade is about to be re-sealed, after a much longer closure than anyone expected. I guess no-one can accuse the developers of a quick rush job, but all this waiting is getting frustrating.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Drink of the month: Manhattan

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A ManhattanBy the end of my month of amaro, I was ready to get back to mixed drinks, and to a classic one at that. The Manhattan is almost as much of a classic as the Martini, and subject to as many variations and nearly as much controversy. Sweet red vermouth or dry white? Maraschino cherry or plain? Angostura bitters or orange? Does Canadian Club really count as "rye whiskey"? And the proportions have varied so much over the last 130 years that it's hard to say what should be canonical.

So, rather than looking for the perfect Manhattan (and certainly not a "Perfect Manhattan", which is anything but), I plan to enjoy the variety on offer. A Dry Manhattan (with dry vermouth, and a twist in place of a cherry) makes a better aperitif, while the sweetness of the whiskey and red vermouth make for a lovely after-dinner cocktail, with the cherry as a little reward at the end for the sweet-toothed. I consider the Rob Roy a waste of good Scotch, but I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.

One would expect that any bar capable of a good Martini should be able to knock out a decent Manhattan, but there are variables (such as the availability of proper rye) that could make all the difference. Sadly, while the bars participating in next weekend's 201st birthday of the cocktail are emulating New Orleans, London and Paris, nowhere will be doing New York. And the last time I was at the Manhattan Lounge, it didn't look like they had the correct ingredients to make their namesake, though they'll be worth a visit to see how they've come along. So: any nominations of where to try or avoid? Is there anywhere in town that does a Manhattan as "soopoibly" as Bart?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Building rumours 12: The real Serepisos towers?

Correction: it looks like my rumour wasn't quite right. There is still a very tall building planned for this Willis St site, but it looks like it might still be based on the original plans mentioned below. Serepisos is indeed looking seriously at his "tallest building" project, but in Lambton Quay near Cable Car Lane rather than in Willis St. There's still the same worrying suggestion that no professional architects will be involved.


It looks like our speculations about possible locations for Terry Serepisos' "tallest building in Wellington" weren't far off, and that his plans are more concrete than I thought. Rumour has it that he is working on an application for 70-80 Willis St, the current site of Lorenzo and Katipo among others.

70-80 Willis St, potential site of Wellington's tallest buildingThis is an interesting piece of news, since within the last few years there have been various reports of a 95m apartment building planned for the site by another developer, Clem Griffiths. That wouldn't have been Wellington's tallest building since the adjacent Majestic Centre is 116m, so I assume that Serepisos' plans are very different from Griffiths'. Given that the District Plan height limit here is 95m, and that the new Central Area rules allow for a building to be 35% taller than that in exceptional cases, this could allow for a 128m-tall building: possibly around 35 storeys.

Since the site is so narrow, this alone would result in a strikingly slender building, one that would really look like a proper skyscraper. However, it's worth bearing in mind that the 35% extra height isn't a right but a discretionary privilege:
"...waivers might be contemplated where a positive heritage or urban design outcome will be achieved. ... Such a policy is considered useful as landmark buildings of design excellence can visually enhance and add further interest to Wellington's cityscape."
Given Serepisos' aesthetic track record, what's the chance of his building exhibiting "design excellence"? I'd love to think that he would hand over the reins to an architectural firm with a reputation for daring residential high-rises (perhaps Fender Katsalidis, since this would be a doddle after the 297m Eureka Tower), and give them the creative freedom to design something truly special. After all, the architects' fees would be a tiny fraction of the cost of a major project like this, and they could make all the difference to how it is perceived by future generations.

Sadly, that looks unlikely, since the gossip suggests that Serepisos has dispensed with the services of an architect altogether, opting instead to use his own internal design team. If he can't see that it takes more than height and bravado to make a great building, it must be up to the council to be very strict in the interpretation of terms such as "design excellence". I'd love to see a real skyscraper in that part of town, but please, for all of our sakes, make it a beautiful one.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Ten of the best

As a follow-up to their ten worst buildings article, today the Dominion Post finally got around to publishing the Architectural Centre's list of the ten best buildings in Wellington, or at least those built in the last 60 years (the time that the centre has been active). I've put together a ZoomIn group for the list (see map below) and reproduced their comments about each building, with the list in alphabetical order.

Adam Art Gallery. The Adam took an awkward, unused space and transformed it into an explosion of exciting spaces. Built as a series of galleries arising off different turns of the main circulation stair, the inside is as visually interesting as the exterior is austere. Simple materials (such as steel, rubber and zinc) are used richly and rawly, and both inside and out, allowing a cost effective solution to an incredibly challenging site.

Conservation House/Te Whare Atawhai. A surprising choice perhaps, but one that sends out a strong message to architects and to the public: green buildings are vital to our future. This building has taken a derelict, badly designed cinema block and transformed it into airy and vibrant offices in the city centre, resurrecting good architecture from what could kindly be considered a unpromising beginning. A fabulous example of building which is much much better than what previously existed. This is Governmental building done right.

Freyberg Pool. A strong sculptural monument celebrating the solidity and transparent qualities of concrete and glass, land, sky, and sea. Its open street frontage actively engages passersby. Its roof squeezes and releases space, rising to full height as the pool beneath reaches its greatest depths. A building for all Wellingtonians who love the water, the bold sculptural form celebrates the act of swimming so close to the sea.

Chapel Of Futuna. A magical interpretation of a simple box which fuses the architectural thinking of Pakeha and Maori cultures. Futuna Chapel is deceptively complex yet its disarmingly simple interplay of domestic roof-forms has created one of New Zealand's best buildings. This former chapel is, quite simply, a masterpiece. The play of light across the rough concrete fills the interior with movement and colour.

Hannah Playhouse. This strong use of raw concrete is a symbol of honest expression in architecture, and shows that brutal can be beautiful. The staunch form of the building shows the rest of Wellington how to turn a corner, while the rich warm use of timber in the interior demonstrates consideration for its users. The 34 year-old Playhouse has lasted well, providing a strong urban fabric and a great active edge onto Courtenay Place.

Oriental Bay Enhancement (changing rooms, kiosk, jetty, boardwalk and landscaping). An important example of how taken-for-granted and humble structures can be great architecture. It demonstrates the significance of pleasure and care in the everyday, especially in the superb handling of the light timber grid spanning the concrete block walls of the changing sheds. Buildings and landscape are interdependent and actively engage the public. The decision to set the level of the changing sheds low relative to the street astutely supports the separation of pedestrian and changing swimmers, and allows the view to remain an important and uninterrupted part of the the experience of Oriental Parade.

Public Library and Civic Square. A great public space and building which interrelate at both human and public scales, with a variety of edge conditions and facades that respond to the needs of this city site. Inside, the smart handling of spaces between the library and cafe also cherishes views into the square. The intermeshing of internal and external space, between the library and the square creates unique gathering opportunities for Wellingtonians. It is a successful public space, proudly free of cars, and Wellington's only true urban piazza.

Te Puni Kōkiri/ State Insurance. Once proposed for demolition, in a move hugely controversial at the time, the rooftop addition to the building both saved the existing heritage structure and then improved it with a vibrant addition that intrigues and challenges. Instead of weakly mimicking the heritage below, the new addition stands up to it in the boldness of the forms created via the delicate tracery of the metal louvres. The addition respects the older building by engaging with its proportions and massing in a sophisticated rather than an obvious way.

Wakefield Apartments. A considerate addition. It stands unapologetically as an example of the best of contemporary architecture which adds another layer of complexity to the heritage building below. Internally volumes of space slip and slide past each other, celebrating a vertical experience of space. This addition is carefully detailed, and demonstrates an elegant use of very cost-effective and simple materials.

Westpac Stadium. An iconic form that sits well on the waterfront and nestles into the city despite its huge size. While the road around whips past the smooth metal skin, the best part of the Caketin is that the concourse links right into the heart of the city’s bus and rail transport hub. An assertive, elegant building, which would be appropriate for very few sites, built in absolutely the right place.

A few of these (the library, TPK House, Freyberg Pool and the Hannah Playhouse) were also in my top ten, and all of the others would be close. Futuna and the Adam Gallery I'd excluded for not being in central Wellington, and while I like the Stadium and the Wakefield Apartments, they were edge out of my list by others. I wasn't sure about Conservation House, since while I think that its environmental features are exemplary and the inner atrium is a lovely space, it doesn't quite seems to have solved the problems of its awkward site and come up with the right way to address the street. The double-skinned glass façades are pleasant enough, and a huge improvement on all that eighties mirror-glass, but they don't really excite me and the attempts at colour seem a bit forced.

It will be interesting to see what public comment the list generates. The worst-of list might have been uncontroversial with the general public, since most people would agree that they were all pretty horrible. But this list might get Disgruntled of Wadestown spluttering "Ten best?! They're all built after 1890 and some of them are even made of concrete!"