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

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hilton happening

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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:

Rendering of proposed Queens Wharf Hilton, with areas of concern from the regional council reportAccording 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.


At 3:44 pm, September 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if they plan to raise the level of the wharf deck over the planned subsurface access lane?

This is unfortunately what they did with the existing Queens Wharf developments. They have raised the level of the surface by what feels like almost 2 metres, so a carpark could be placed underneath. This obstructs the view and creates a visual (and semi-physical) wall between the Quays and the Harbour. It is perhaps the poorest design quality of any waterfront development since the wall at Frank Kits Park.

If this raised surface and carpark was not already there it would be feasible to have an attractive surface lane for access to the outer-T.

At 2:28 pm, September 21, 2006, Blogger mikeymike said...

Word on the street is that the extent of piling required may render the project cost prohibative.

It's been said that WWL are covering a chunk of strengthening works, but I assume Hilton are tied into some form of percentage rent arrangement - where their rent represents a factor of build cost.

WWL are a clever bunch. They're not likely to have signed a blank cheque for the developer.

Hilton's quest to have a landmark Wgtn spot will probably see them "pay any price". I guess as the only 5 star hotel they can "charge any price" when (if?) the punters start turning up...

At 3:33 pm, September 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice summary Tom - saves us having to read through the whole report!

Guv - re: 'the only 5 star hotel', I'm really confused about this. I've heard reports agreeing with you, but anecdotally I thought the Intercontinental (ex. park royal) was 5*, and this article in the Dom states (last sentence) that there are 2 other 5 star hotels in wgtn. Anyone have an authoritative answer?

At 4:35 pm, September 21, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

anon: I don't think there's planned to be any further raising of the wharf deck.

guv: point 111 of the consent decision says that "a 'significant proportion' of the costs associated with repairing and strengthening the nirthern end of the Outer-T will be borne by the applicant, and ... WWL will contribute a capped amount". So, definitely not a blank cheque for WWL (and eventually the ratepayers) to pick up. I'd heard that things were pretty rickety, but nothing about it being 'prohibitive'.

colin/guv: the Intercontinental is definitely 5 star (it achieved that rating about a year ago, I think), and appears to still market itself as Wellington's only one. The Bolton has 5 Qualmark stars, though I gather that's a different system.

Some people have thought it unlikely that tourists might skip Wellington because it lacks a Hilton, but in my experience that's very plausible. In my previous life as a jetsetting dotcommer I knew a lot of people with loyalty cards from Hilton, Sheraton and other chains, and they'd plan their holidays based upon where they could earn or spend their loyalty points.

I was a bit disappointed when I first heard that it was going to be a Hilton, given that my experience of Hiltons is that they're pleasant but failry unremarkable business hotels, and I'd much rather have seen a W or Ian Schrager-ish design extravaganza. But I gather that Auckland's Hilton has aimed for a more individual and site-responsive approach, and that its restaurant and bars have made more of an effort to become parts of the local scene, so I'm more optimistic.

At 4:29 pm, September 22, 2006, Blogger s. said...

Won't that thing going up on the seaward side of Shed 11 be as tall, if not taller, than the hotel?

At 9:30 am, September 26, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

maximus: if it's not Ruben, then it's some of his supporters saying that. I always thought it a little odd that one of their arguments against it was that it'll be too exclusive, and another is that it will turn into a backpackers. So is being exclusive bad or not?

I think Wellington suffers from a lack of hotels with bars and restaurants that reach out to the city and its residents. Thus we think of hotels as something "just for visitors", whereas in London or New York many of the bars of which residents are most proud are in the top hotels. Here, hotels that have a decent street interface (e.g. the West Plaza) have crummy bars (I still shudder at the thought of that Martini!), whereas a place like the Duxton, with a decent bar and superb food, has one of the most appallingly pedestrian-hostile street edges imaginable. This current Hilton proposal looks like it gets it right, and if people can get over their knee-jerk reactions to the name they might be able to look forward to it.

stephen: I think the Hilton will be slightly higher. The peak of Shed 1's roof is currently 13m, while the hotel will be 20.4m along the midsection, 22.9m at the north end, and with the masts reaching 32.1m at the south. I don't have the exact figures for the Meridian building, but the design guide set a limit of 18.6m. It's almost as high as it's going to get: there's just the penthouse floor to go.

At 9:12 am, September 27, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

stephen: I've checked the docs on the Meridian building, and the main "folded" roof will be at 20.215m, with a small plant room projection to 21.45m, which are very similar to the Hilton. But those are heights above mean sea level, whereas the Hilton heights I quoted were above existinf wharf level. At a guess I'd say the difference is about 2m.

At 5:36 pm, September 28, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might also want to compare the design to a new Hilton which has just opened in London.


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