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

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sandwiches in a pickle

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Sorry, it's the sort of subject where some sort of pun is hard to resist. Anyway, while I haven't posted about the council's Draft Footpath Management Policy (sounds so riveting, doesn't it?), a reader pointed me towards a news story about the battle for Wellington's footpaths, and over the fate of sandwich boards in particular.

I'm a bit ambivalent about them. The visual clutter aspect doesn't worry me, since in the CBD I generally prefer a loud, brash jumble of colour to a sterile and overly controlled environment. However, as a dedicated pedestrian I definitely agree with Living Streets Aotearoa when they call for the signs' removal in order to free up walking space. Lambton Quay and Willis St are congested enough at rush hour and lunchtimes as it is, and now that the city looks like it's under attack by giant moles (it'll be several more weeks until the gas mains are completely fixed), sandwich boards combine with fences, bollards, phone boxes and other street cruft to turn walking into a frustrating obstacle course. Especially when they gang up on you in surly packs and force you to deal with slow-walkers, wide-walkers, iZombies, random texters, meandering scrums of Golden Oldies and others who show no decent respect for Wellingtetiquette.

I understand the worries of small businesses, especially those who are stuck off the street in little malls, and who depend upon the signs to give them some sort of street presence. As Jan Gehl suggested (291kB PDF, p53), part of that could be alleviated by removing some of the less active-edged businesses (such as all the banks at the southern end of Lambton Quay) from the ground floor to the first, thus allowing extra space for small retail and food outlets on the Golden Mile itslef. That won't help everyone, but replacing the sandwich boards with banners on existing lampposts should still allow enough advertising to let people know that they're their.

It is, of course, of no relevance at all that two of the business who submitted (181kB PDF) in favour of retaining sandwich boards were Wishbone (who sell sandwiches) and, erm, Sandwiches.

Stern words

The Stern ReviewBy now you'll all have heard of the Stern Review, and some of you may even have read it! Far be it from me to comment on whether Labour's "radical greening" is merely pre-emptive bandwagon-jumping (pesky code of conduct...) but it's hard not to agree with the Greens that there's not a lot of detail, and this year's road-friendly budget is hardly going to help New Zealand become "the first country which is truly sustainable".

What can Wellington do about it? We can certainly promote more efficient buildings, and while No Right Turn correctly points out that agriculture is New Zealand's main culprit, transport still makes up a fifth of the country's greenhouse emissions, and it's the sector upon which the shape of a city can have most impact. Option 3 have already written about the need for a shift of thinking away from roads to public transport, and that the ongoing pouring of money into the Transmission Gully project is not exactly the "truly bold" thinking that we need.

Can we take any comfort from the knowledge that in August the city council's Strategy and Policy Committee resolved "that work to give effect to the Council’s implementation of the LTCCP and any future reviews of Council’s seven strategies include consideration of climate change impacts"? Possibly not, since "consideration" is hardly a strong word. Perhaps more forceful is the decision at the same meeting to "take into account the peak oil issue and rising fuel prices when making future transport investment decisions, by promoting and designing a transport system that encourages more efficient use of and reduced reliance on oil-based products." As I pointed out in September, this would seem to be incompatible with actions like replacing electric rail with buses, but one should never underestimate politicians' ability to divorce words from actions.

Perhaps the area where central government can most help out local government is by sorting out the tangled mess of funding around public and private transport. At the moment, the regional council has incentives not to increase public transport ridership, the bus lobbyists fight it out with trains, and the public generally gets stuck in the middle of Mexican stand-offs over things like trolley buses and track access charges as the various companies and agencies try to get the best deal. Surely, we should all be moving in the same direction.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Better latte than never

The kiosk in Waitangi Park has finally opened. Hooray! After months of delays (way back in April I thought it was "nearly ready"), you can finally get pizza, pasta, panini and petanque (boules hire from $5) in the park.

Waitangi Park Cafe - open at last!
Of course, the Waitangi Park Café also serves coffee, though at $3:50 for a small paper cup it's pricey and not particularly good. Whether the latter is due to the brand (Vittoria) or staff teething troubles is hard to tell. They also sell a dozen or so flavours of icecream, including one with manuka honey that seems particularly appropriate now that the nearby manuka bushes are in flower.

Since the kiosk is run by Mediterranean Foods Ltd, one might have expected gelato rather than ice cream, but if that's your preference you might not have long to wait. I have it on very good authority that a branch of Kaffee Eis will be opening in the ground floor of the Chaffers Dock complex, and while the real estate agents' claims of a November opening for the retail tenancies seem a little optimistic, I've got my fingers crossed that something will happen before the end of the year.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Mystery bar number 47

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It took a little bit of prompting, but eventually "Eds" got it bang on: the previous mystery bar was Bohdan's at the Bay Plaza Hotel. The hotel's website describes it as "one of Wellington's most popular meeting places, where friendly service and a lively atmosphere make this intimate bar a favourite venue both day and night", and while it would be rude to disrespect a place that looks somewhere between a 1970s Lockwood home and a 1980s Greek restaurant, I'd have to day that there's a teensy bit of hyperbole in that statement.

Mystery Bar #47 - pot plantAt least they make a reasonable attempt at being a cocktail bar, unlike today's mystery bar. While it has a large menu of mixed drinks, I'd hesitate to call them "cocktails", and it's difficult to order anything that doesn't sound more like a sexual favour than a drink. "Give me a Quick F..., erm, no, I'd like a Blow J..., um, on the other hand I'd prefer a Slippery N..., ah forget it". Oh, the hilarity.

While they haven't quite sunk to the level of transmucosal vodka insertions, everything on offer seems designed to get you pickled, snockered and totally Merle Haggard as rapidly as physically possible. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Call me old-fashioned, but if I'm served something in a shot glass, I expect it to have spent a decade or two in a small wooden barrel somewhere just west of the Scottish mainland. Of course, as far as the clientele is concerned, I am old-fashioned: if the drinking age were raised back to 20 (let alone 41) this place would lose most of its business overnight.

Given the emphasis on instant intoxication rather than leisurely conviviality, they haven't bothered too much with decor, which consists of some dark red paint, the odd potted plant and a few leftover tables from whatever was here before. The easy-wash floor tiles and breeze-block walls are no doubt a bonus in this sort of place, as is the non-nonsense hole-in-the wall bar service. It's tiny, and only open a few nights a week, but given that none of their liquid confectionery is expected to last for more than a few nanoseconds, I imagine it does a roaring trade. I know I'm a snob when it comes to drinking (no, really), but I prefer to give my brain cells a more dignified death.

Mystery Bar #47 - red wall and tables

Update time

Time for a few quick updates.

First of all, as you'll have heard by now, the Marine Education Centre has been granted resource consent. Opponents will continue fighting it (perhaps to save their favourite dogging spot?), but after a painful and long-drawn-out process (my first post about it was nearly a year ago, and the hearing that has just finished has taken over four months) it'll be good to see some concrete plans get underway.


Speaking of delays, the public consultation period for the Wellington Regional Strategy, which was due to close on Monday, has been extended for another two weeks. I'm embarassed to admit that I haven't spent enough time studying the documents to write a post about what could be one of the most important influences on Wellington's future, but I blame that on the media coverage which has seemed to focus on how to fund it and the divisions between the region's mayors (mostly from rural and suburban councils) rather than the content of the strategy itself.

On the other hand, I tend to agree with some complaints that there's not enough detail in the strategy to see how it's going to make any difference. My main interest is in the "investment in good regional form" section, and while there's plenty of nice language here about "encourag[ing] medium and higher density housing close to the Wellington CBD, sub-regional centres and transport links", the commitment to public transport seems half-hearted at best. They're still talking about merely "maintaining the current good balance between private and public transport, walking and cycling" rather than improving it, so if current trends towards increased demand for public transport continue, this will very quickly seem like a timid and short-sighted strategy.


On page 5 of today's Wellingtonian, there's an article about the renovation of the former Mayfair building in Ghuznee St. In contrast to one suggestion that the current owner would prefer to demolish it, the article describes Glen Hooker (former co-owner of Paris in Lambton Quay) as taking seven months to build the new dome according to the original architect's plans while painstakingly stripping paint off the ornate exterior and polishing the pressed tin walls inside - thus explaining the slow progress.

Mr Hooker (an appropriate name, given the building's former use!) gives no clues as to the future use for the building, so there's no confirmation as to whether this will be the next Il Casino. On the other hand, he hints that some sort of café or restaurant is definitely on the way: "With the land at the back of [Glover] Park, the proposal there is to build a temporary glass box, which is in complete contrast to the existing building. That would make it work as an eatery, or something like that." That's good news for Glover Park, though I'm not so keen on his idea of a giant billboard of Havana at night with the slogan "Absolutely Cuba".

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

To be quite Frank

Google Maps aerial view of Frank Kitts Park - http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&ie=UTF8&om=1&z=18&ll=-41.286981,174.778495&spn=0.003398,0.006464&t=kThe council recently announced that the Frank Kitts Park design brief is open for public submission. The brief itself is light in detail, but of course that's exactly as it should be: it's not a design yet, but a brief to the designers to specify the elements and qualities required of the park. Some of these are:
  • including a Chinese Garden
  • retaining successful features of the existing park (such as the playground, performance space and the various plaques)
  • reduction in pedestrian/vehicle conflicts at the northern end of the park (the Hilton tunnel should help with that)
  • doing something about the relationship with the TSB Arena (otherwise known as the Events Centre, or "that big piece of crap")
  • improving relationships to the water (the brief specifies that "This might include exploring the character of the park as a unique 'green' edge to the waterfront promenade")
  • considering a connection to the corner of Jervois Quay and Willeston St
  • possibly improving the viewshaft down Willeston St (currently blocked by raised stairs and a ramp)
So, despite the predictable howls from Waterfront Watch, the only major change being suggested is the inclusion of the Chinese Garden. I discussed this more fully in my earlier update, but it's worth reiterating a fact that Pauline Swann conveniently omitted from her letter to today's Capital Times: when the Chinese Garden Society first suggested a garden, they wanted a Frank Kitts location, but since that was unavailable they went for a Waitangi Park site instead. Swann also believes that the Park is fine as it is (unlike those of you who mentioned that it needs a makeover at the very least), despite the fact that it's pretty sparsely used except on really fine days or during special events.

The Chinese Garden might reduce some of the flat space available for the Dragon Boat Festival and other events, but removing the big concrete bunker walls should provide a much more flexible space in combination with the promenade, making it a non-issue. And of course, the Chinese Garden isn't taking away from the public space but providing a new type of public space, one that should be more pleasant and interesting than the tired, left-over bits of space that make up much of the park.

The one concern I have is that there's no mention of a public or invited competition for the design. There are rumours that specific design solutions are already being considered, and while some of the elements sound intriguing (volleyball spaces, beer gardens), I'd prefer to see a range of designers provide their ideas for such a tricky brief. In the past, I've seen student projects have a go at redesigning the park, and some fun suggestions have resulted (canals, blowholes, breakwaters), so I think it's worth having a more open and imaginative approach to developing a design.

Anyway, here are some of the things that I think should be priorities for the redesign. If you have any of your own, go ahead and post them here or make a submission.
  • Bring life after dark (perhaps the Chinese Garden "teahouse" should open out into the public spaces as well as into the enclosed garden)
  • Break down the linearity of the seawall (for example, by extending a short breakwater or jetty along the line of Willeston St)
  • Provide flexibility and adaptability, so that there are plenty of edges and intimate spaces most of the time, but the spaces can join together to host large events
  • Retain or relocate mature trees where possible: Waitangi Park shows how sad brand-new little trees can look before they're established
  • Provide "playful landscapes" that children can play on, but that aren't traditional "play equipment"
  • Improve connections with the lagoon as well as with the harbour (after all, what's a lagoon without a Tiki Bar?)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Building rumours: 9-13 Stout St

I haven't heard any more information about the Wakefield St car yard that I mentioned in my last building rumours post, and given that the cars are still there (plus a carwash!) I suspect that nothing is going to happen just yet. However, I've recently heard a rumour about another site that could have a significant impact on the city.

An architect from a major firm suggested that an office building of at least 20 storeys is planned for 9-13 Stout St, currently the site of a multi-storey carpark on the corner with Ballance St.

Site of a rumoured 20+ storey office block at 9-13 Stout St, WellingtonThis could be a contentious site, given that the owners were refused resource consent for a billboard on the existing building, on the grounds that the "visual clutter" would be out of character with an area that includes important public buildings such as the new Supreme Court. Much of the site is also in the part of the new Stout St heritage area (2.2MB PDF) that under the central area review will have a height limit of 30m rather than the current 75m: maybe that explains why the developers are planning it now? Depending upon the stud heights, a 20-storey building could fit under the 75m limit and thus not be notified.

Personally, I don't think it's a bad thing. As the photo above shows, there's quite a range of tall buildings in the area, and by housing some more workers between Lambton Quay and the railway station it could help fill in the gap between the core CBD and Harbour Quays. As long as it steps down toward the Supreme Court and Missions to Seamen ends of the site, rather than simply extruding the site plan all the way to the height limit, it could fit into the streetscape quite satisfactorily. But all this is speculation anyway: does anyone have any more concrete information?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Long weekend

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Normally, Friday is mystery bar day, but since no-one's guessed last week's yet (yes, it is rather obscure: do you need hints?), here's a bunch of random stuff about the weekend instead.
  • Diwali kicks off with a Bollywood dance competition tonight, but the main festival takes place in Civic Square from 3pm on Sunday, culminating in a fireworks display at 10pm.
  • The name Jan Gehl should be familiar to WellUrbanites, and he'll be talking to Kim Hill tomorrow morning on National Radio.
  • The national skateboard champs are being held at Waitangi Park this Saturday & Sunday, at the skatepark next to the new waharoa.
  • Over at The Wellingtonista, Hadyn & I have come up with some Gridskipper-inspired ways to rid yourself of any excess cash. Any other suggestions are most welcome!
  • Not that I need to remind you, but ... Craftwerk!
  • And if you're a member of that tiny sub-sub-sub-demographic who wants to round off Labour Day by jamming with an international dub/electronica star, Canada's Deadbeat will be joining in the bleeping fun at Bleep #3 on Sunday night.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

My cupola runneth over

Detail of the new cupola on the old Mayfair buildingAs Simon and Maximus pointed out, something is definitely going on down at the old Mayfair in Ghuznee St. Whether or not it's going to be the new Il Casino, someone is certainly going to great lengths to restore it to its former grandeur, with this shiny new copper cupola installed atop its tower. The council's heritage inventory said of its past that "the tower has been stripped of its cupola, and an ornate wrought-iron balcony and verandah over the footpath have also been removed", so can we look forward to the balcony and verandah also reappearing soon?

When you see the buildng in context, what was a characterful (if "cluttered" and "eccentric" according to the heritage report) but shabby building looks like it'll become a real landmark in Ghuznee St. And while I share some of Maximus' misgivings about Glover Park, when Ghuznee St becomes a two-way inner-city street rather than a stretch of SH1 (less than a year away, according to the 'bypass' website) this could become a much more pleasant part of town.

The new cupola on the old Mayfair building

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The World on our doorstep

Just imagine the reaction if a huge multistorey structure appeared at Queens Wharf, full of wealthy foreigners, and serviced by coaches that interfere with pedestrian movement. There'd be a huge outcry, wouldn't there? People would be rushing down to the wharves to protest against this view-blocking monstrosity taking over our beautiful public spaces!

Not if it's a cruise ship, they won't. People will indeed rush to the waterfront, but in order to gawk and take photos. The massive floating apartment block The World arrived yesterday, and at lunchtime today the outer T was full of people keen to get a look (Flickr's PhillipC already got there with some much better photos than mine).

'The World' apartment ship at Queens Wharf, WellingtonOf course, my implied comparison with the Hilton was a little disingenuous, as a permanent hotel won't have the novelty value of a cruise ship. On the other hand, the Hilton will be half the length, two storeys shorter, and won't block off the public wharf (unlike today, when crowds had to peer through temporary fences).

You'll be aware the Waterfront Watch and others are appealing against the decision to allow the hotel. There was also an article in Saturday's Dominion Post saying that the hotel's backers are appealing some of the conditions in the consent. What a bloody cheek, I thought! As I said before, while I'm generally in favour of the hotel, "if the developer is not willing to comply with [the conditions] then we definitely should reject this proposal".

But I've seen the details of the developers' appeal now, and it doesn't sound so unreasonable. The first part of their appeal is that instead of a fixed limit of three delivery vehicles per day using the Shed 6 route, they want 93 per month. That sounds fair enough to me, as it's the same overall number of vehicles prescribed by the conditions, but with the ability to schedule them more flexibly.

They also want up to 12 coaches a year to be able to pull up to the hotel, while that is an increase over the zero allowed by the conditions, one coach per month doesn't sound like a huge increase. As they point out, cruise ships currently bring coaches to the wharf (as today's one did) and no-one complains about that. Overall, with the requirement for all other traffic to use the tunnel, I still think there'll be much less traffic around the Shed 6 route than there is at present.

One thing worth noting is that if the Hilton goes ahead, this particular cruise ship will no longer be able to berth at Queens Wharf, as at 196m it's about 50% longer than the new limit that would be imposed. That's a bit of a pity, but most cruise ships are either too big already (and have to berth by the ferry terminal) or would be small enough to berth at the southern end. There will still be plenty of interesting ships visiting the wharf, plus a hotel with bars and restaurants - and sitting on the sunny side of the outer T with a mojito sounds like a great idea right now.

Geometric regrowth

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Guy Ngan's 'Geometric Growth' 1974 - detailWe're all getting used to new public artworks popping up around the city these days, so the stealthy arrival of these cubes and poles in Wakefield St beside the Michael Fowler Centre probably won't have raised many eyebrows. But this sculpture stands out from some of the recent additions in that it looks a little, well, Seventies.

There's a very good reason for that, since this is Guy Ngan's 1974 sculpture Geometric Growth. It was originally sited at the corner of Victoria and Mercer streets, but was removed in 1989 to make way for the Civic Square development. Since then it has been languishing slightly damaged in council storage, and according to some sources it even went missing for a while. With Ngan's work going through a bit of a revival at the moment, including a surprising show at the City Gallery and a popular t-shirt design by Starfish, this was always going to be a timely occasion to reinstall his sculpture.

Guy Ngan's 'Geometric Growth' 1974 - relocated near the Michael Fowler CentreYou'll probably know some of his work without realising it, such as Taiaha beside the Reserve Bank, the concrete mural on the Thorndon Quay side of the National Archives building, or the abstract white snakes in the middle of the Stokes Valley roundabout. It seems that Ngan was the go-to guy whenever there was a lump of late-modernist concrete in need of a bit of a zhush. Not all of his work has survived: does anyone know what happened to his sculpture on the Willis St side of what's now the Just Hotel? If the owners of that hotel treat artworks the way they treat kowhai, then it's probably been hacked into little pieces by now.

Update: there's now a news item on the council website about the sculpture.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Il Secondo Casino

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The Il Casino building for saleThanks to Kegan for drawing my attention to this article in today's Dominion Post: the Bresolin family wants to reopen Il Casino. Since the closure was announced in July, and the sale of the building confirmed in September, many Wellingtonians have felt a sense of loss, so this is indeed good news.

One thing's for sure, though: it won't be on the existing site. According to the article, "Globe Holdings director Andrew Fawcet said he had yet to decide what to do with it. Because both buildings had been completely gutted reopening a restaurant on the site was not an option, he said." That sounds slightly odd, since supposedly the buildings were originally gutted in order to strengthen and refurbish them with the express purpose of reopening the restaurant. Hmm. Having paid a record price for the site, they are unlikely to build anything that doesn't maximise the return, and though a restaurant could definitely work on the ground floor of a new apartment building here (as 88 just down the road works quite nicely), it won't be Il Casino.

So, "Son of Il Casino" will have to be in a new location, and while Enzo and co are looking around, nothing's been decided yet. This wouldn't be a WellUrban post without some wild and baseless speculation, though, so here's a few thoughts about some suitable venues.

The former Neat site at 201 Cuba St has been a bit of a Bermuda triangle for restaurants (Orsini's, Mammy Flo's, Raja, Montelupo...), but the building itself has the combination of grandeur and homeliness that would suit Il Casino more than its previous tenants. On the other hand, it's probably far too small, and it's already being renovated by someone else. A snippet in the DomPost back in July said that the someone else in question was John McGrath (a restaurateur who's had almost as much of an impact on Wellington's nightlife and dining scene as Remiro Bresolin), though there were "For Lease" signs in the window long after that article, so it may have changed hands since then.

A larger and grander old building that would suit Il Casino is what is offically known as the Dr Henry Pollen House, though until early this year it was best known as the home of Bouquet Garni. The house may be more French than Italian, but it certainly worked as a fine dining restaurant and has a long and (ahem) colourful history that would be perfect for Il Casino's combination of old-school glamour and hedonism. However, it seems to be undergoing the world's slowest renovation, and another DomPost snippet suggested that it was the other McGrath brother (Danny) in charge this time, with plans for a Monteith's "gastro pub" (please, no more schist!).

But speaking of grand old knocking shops, the old Mayfair on Ghuznee St springs to mind as another great spot. Not only does it have an eccentric grandeur and a location that can only get better next year once Ghuznee St ceases to be State Highway 1, it's large and rambling with (presumably) a warren of old rooms that would suit Il Casino's need for a range of dining spaces with varying levels of intimacy. If the Bresolins want to introduce a more casual option to complement the fine dining, then Glover Park could certainly benefit from a café opening up on that corner. It's been under wraps for a while now, with no clear sign of what's to become of it, so it might be available.

... and in a spooky coincidence, while I was literally in the middle of writing this post, one of my spies told me that the Mayfair building is indeed very likely to become the new Il Casino. Given that the DomPost article quotes Enzo as saying they want to reopen "in the very near future", we may not have long to wait before Wellington's favourite marriage proposal venue is reborn.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Chews views

I said that I wasn't cheeky enough to take photos of the Chews lane models on Saturday, but I was at lunchtime today! Here's a series of the model in context, starting off looking from the south, and swinging around clockwise.

Model of the Chews Lane complex from the south
Model of the Chews Lane complex from the southwest
Model of the Chews Lane complex from the northwest
Model of the Chews Lane complex from the north
Model of the Chews Lane complex from the northeast
Model of the Chews Lane complex from the east
There was also a more detailed model of just the apartment building. Here's a shot of that from the northwest:

Model of the Chews Lane apartments from the northwest (detailed model)
And finally, there was a large-scale model of the bottom two floors of the Lane itself. Here are two pics, from Willis and Victoria streets respectively.

Model of the entrance to Chews Lane from the west
Model of the entrance to Chews Lane from the east

More Chews

On Saturday I went to look at the display suite for the Chews Lane apartment building. It's worth visiting, and not just because it's a chance to see inside the renovated upper floors of the Free Ambulance building, but also because there are some detailed models and floor plans that aren't available online, and they help give a better understanding of how it fits into the context in three dimensions.

The first thing that stands out is that it's big. So big, in fact, that the official site has to use a scrolling Flash widget to show its full height! Here's the full image in one go (click for a bigger version):

Rendering of Chews Lane apartmentsThis rendering doesn't quite show the whole picture: it omits the hideous yellow pagoda of Willbank House to the right. On the other hand, as Gordon Paynter pointed out, the previous rendering of the brick-clad building in the foreground didn't show the apartments either! So the only way to see the whole development in context is to look at the models (which I wasn't cheeky enough to photograph at the weekend, but I have done since). You might also have noticed that the glassy building in the left foreground has grown an extra, louvred top floor since the previous rendering, which has quietly disappeared from the relevant page on the website.

Approximate footprint of Chews Lane apartmentsWhile the apartment building is tall (twelve floors, on top of eight floors of office buildings), it's relatively narrow. Here's a very rough outline of its footprint, showing that it takes up less than half the depth of the block. It's set back from Willis St, but not quite as much as Willbank House and the State Insurance building, so it will stand out if you're looking up or down the street. I've tried to show that the plan is not quite rectangular, but tapers slightly towards the ends, which is emphasised at the north by curved verandahs. This gives the design more subtlety and sleekness than the nondescript slab that was barely visible in the previous renderings. Together with the whiteness of the solid elements, this makes it remind me of the rather lovely Mitika apartments in Oriental Bay, though the models make it look lighter and glassier. There's some more dicussion of its merits (or otherwise) over on SkyscraperCity.

Continuing from my previous post, here are a few more tidbits about the development:
  • They've only released 50 of the 90 apartments for sale so far. By the time that I got to the display suite, half an hour after it officially opened, only 10 of those 50 were unsold. Update: all 50 are sold now, and there's no word when the remainder will go on sale.
  • There will be a total of 227 bedrooms in the building, nearly 50 more than I estimated earlier when trying to map the projected locations of future inner-city residents.
  • The apartment building is due for completion in just over two years' time (early 2009).
  • The agents describe this as the first purpose-built apartment building in the CBD. While that's debatable (shouldn't the CBD include Boulcott St and The Terrace? Do serviced apartments like J Street count?), at 20 storeys it's certainly the tallest.
  • The "Gastro Bar" mentioned for the ground floor of 56 Victoria St is more than speculation: the fitout is underway, and it's being designed by the team behind St Johns. It could be ready very soon, but apparently the operators are (sensibly) waiting for the heavy construction at number 50 to be completed.
  • Most of the Willis St retail, and the "food and beverage" outlets planned for the lane itself, already have operators lined up (though you've always got to take estate agents' comments with a grain or two of salt).
  • The shop space in Victoria Arcade behind Tinakori Gallery looks like it's also leased and getting ready for fitout.
  • The Malthouse has found three potential sites for relocation, and have a preferred site that is bigger and better than their current building.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Mystery bar number 46

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Before we get started, is anyone surprised that this happened at Hummingbird? I always thought that Mini bar was the place that's always full of drunk middle-aged estate agents, but the 'bird attracts a similar demographic.

I doubt that you'd find many of them at last week's mystery bar, expect when things get very late and desperate. Maximus was the first to guess the place, but Deep Red was the first to mention its actual name: Breakers pool hall in Manners St. Confusingly, most of the signs outside still call it The White Room, but the sandwich board in Luke's Lane has the new name, and the licensing documents confirm it. Some people thought it might be a karaoke bar, and while I couldn't see any sign of it in the bar itself, it seems to be owned by the same people who own the Korean karaoke lounge on the 5th floor. All of which sits rather oddly with the obligatory redneck American feel of a pool hall.

Mystery bar #46 - patrons and lovely plaster wallMoving on, today's mystery bar might seem more congenial to white middle-class punters of a certain age, though it's unlikely to get quite as full of boozy slappers (and I use the term literally) as Hummingbird. It's much more sedate than that, but it seems like it might have been kicking off a messy evening for a few people, judging by a few conversations that I overheard.

The decor might have reminded them of their youth, as it looks like it hasn't had a makeover since before the fresh-faced staff were conceived. With diagonal honey-toned wooden panelling, faux-Med textured plaster, brown leather bar, cheap fabric tub chairs and even a brass-and-cane ceiling fan, it's straight out of the seventies. Based on New Zealand's traditionally sluggish uptake of architectural trends, though, that probably means it was designed in the mid eighties.

Given that, it was surprising to see a cocktail list featuring contemporary recipes, heavy on the manuka honey 42 Below. The racks of spirits behind the bar looked fairly impressive at first, but the only gin they had was Gordons, with predictably depressing Martini results despite the bartender's best efforts. It doesn't make the most of its location, since it gives up the sun and views to the attached restaurant, which may be excellent for all I know, but the fact that it's mis-spelled as a "restautant" on the expensively embossed menu cover doesn't exactly raise one's expectations.

Mystery bar #46 - the bar

Thursday, October 12, 2006


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My spies tell me that the northern end of Capital on the Quay will indeed become a two-level Borders bookstore. According to a message sent to staff at nearby buildings, the construction work is due to be completed in February next year, but it might be a while after that before the shop actually opens.

It will take up 2000 square metres of floor space, and while that's about average for a Borders outlet, it's big by inner Wellington retail standards. At a rough guess, I'd say that's about twice the size of the nearby branch of Whitcoulls, and with any luck more of it will be taken up by actual books rather than DVDs and novelty wrapping paper. It's comparable to the ground floor of Kirkcaldie & Stains or the entire retail space of the Chews Lane precinct!

So, given my support for small independent shops, you'll be expecting me to rail against this invasion by a vast multinational. Actually, I'm not really against it. While I'm no fan of their aggressive anti-union stance, their use of spooky surveillance technology, their reputation for driving out independent booksellers or their Starbucks-like ubiquity, there's definitely something to be said for really big bookshops with big collections. As much as I love Unity, Dymocks or Parsons, I miss having a bookshop with more than a couple of shelves of architecture books. The last time I visited, the Auckland branch had a wider collection of contemporary American poetry than Unity's Auckland shop, despite the latter's reputation as the intellectuals' bookshop of choice. Not only that, they host regular poetry readings, so they're not quite the homogenous giant that they might seem.

So, I'm cautiously optimistic that Wellington's bookreading public is big and diverse enough to support this megastore without driving the independents out of business. Our local Dymocks (while it's a large Australian chain, our branch has developed its own character) has its unique focus on Weta collectables and advanced geekery; Unity specialises in gay and lesbian topics as well as supporting New Zealand literature; and Parsons has a strong following for its classical music offerings. If anyone has a right to feel threatened by Borders, it's Whitcoulls.

Chews clues

When I last wrote about the Chews Lane precinct, the only online image of the building planned for 45-55 Willis St showed what appeared to be an all-glass façade. The developers now have a detailed page for this building, including renderings and some PDF brochures with higher-res images, and it's clear that the building will have a mixture of glass and brick panels (click the image for a much larger version).

As I said in another forum, the developer's site refers to the images as "Indicative exterior and interior perspectives ... Subject to final design and further change", so perhaps it could evolve. It's a fairly smart-looking building, I think, but a bit of a half-hearted compromise between modernity and the token remnants of the Malthouse. The balcony will remain, but it looks like the famous lions will go (despite featuring on the development's home page), and the brick is just a reference to the previous building rather than a retention of the old fabric. Given that brick is never going to be an appropriate structural material in Wellington, I'd prefer them to be a bit bolder with the new building and play around with the solid/transparent contrast more creatively.

Some people might also object to an eight-storey building disrupting the historic low-rise streetscape of Willis St, but I've managed to track down some images of the building before it was rudely amputated to a two-storey stump. This image from about 1933 (taken from Timeframes) shows that the original hotel had five main storeys, plus a dome and a whole lot of decoration above that. By 1950 (see this other Timeframes image) it had lost those details, but still dominated the streetscape almost as much as it did in a Timeframes photo from the 1920s. It's hard to tell from the images what the total height would have been back then compared to the proposed eight storeys, but at a rough guess I'd say that the seventh storey would match the old cornice line while the top of the eighth storey would be at about the top of the dome. Thus, if anything, this is restoring the scale of the streetscape.

What that image doesn't show is the apartment building that will go down the middle of the block, spanning the Lane and rising from level 8 all the way to 18. It looks like the details of that will be released this weekend, and on page C9 of today's Dominion Post there's a sneak preview in the form of the cover page of their Saturday property supplement. While it looks slightly sleeker and ever so slightly more curvaceous than the slab visible in the background of some of the office renderings, it's still a very large building. It will certainly change the feel of the street, some might say for the worse. But consider that it will probably house about 150 people, which at the density of the so-called "eco-village" north of Waikanae would require over 5 hectares of farmland!

There's also some more detail about the ground floor uses. The updated retail plan shows that the restored heritage buildings at 29 and 35 Willis St will house upmarket women's fashion outlets (Kimberleys and Veronika Maine respectively), and that most of the Malthouse replacement will also have fashion stores on the ground floor. The southernmost Victoria St tenancy is earmarked for "Art", thus aiming to create a little arty hub with Avid and the Tinakori Gallery. All of the tenancies along Chews Lane itself seem to be set aside for "Food and Beverage" retail, including a "Gastro Bar"(perhaps a long-term replacement for the Malthouse?) at the bottom of the restored 56 Victoria St. The little café shown on the corner of the Lane and Willis St looks like a good site for something like the existing Masi, and if all the retail and hospitality tenancies succeed, Chews lane really could be Wellington's equivalent of Vulcan Lane or Hardware Lane as the developers claim.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Back on track: short shrift

Things have been a bit quiet on the J'ville line front recently, although there's a lot of confusion and speculation about the preferred options. On the one hand, Peter Dunne said in the Northern Courier last month that a busway was a "foregone conclusion" and that the councils had already set their minds upon it. On the other hand, the week before that there was an article in the Dominion Post headlined "Busway gets short shrift", quoting Michael Cullen's statements in Parliament, and in particular "ONTRACK strongly supports the retention of the line, and considers that the line should continue to be operated and further developed as a rail line. Neither ONTRACK nor the Government has received any proposal to convert the Johnsonville line into a busway. We would certainly not support that. ... If we did receive a proposal with that sort of cost, I doubt very much that we would want to give it very serious consideration at all. I see no reason why the taxpayer should fund such a conversion."

On top of that, I've heard rumours that in a draft Technical Evaluation Report released to stakeholders in early September, the recommendation was to go with the "bus only" option, which essentially abandons the J'ville corridor as any sort of public transport line! That sounds utterly crazy, and politically impossible given that it was almost universally rejected by the submitters, but the recommendation seems to be based entirely upon cost with no reference to benefits. It's hard to believe that that they're serious about this, so maybe it's a set-up for the rumoured second-favoured option: upgrading the existing rail line. Light rail was apparently favourably reviewed but deemed too expensive (another example of short-term thinking). And the busway? Rejected as both high cost and high risk.

Still, there's no official word, so it's good to know that some people are keeping the debate going. On the pro-busway side, there's still some activity over at John Rusk's Better Bus blog. On the pro-rail side, Gareth Hughes has posted a dozen reasons to say "no way" to the busway, and is promoting a "Save the Johnsonville Line" meeting next Tuesday. The most extraordinary thing about this whole saga is that it's managed to get Peter Dunne and the Greens agreeing on something! Here are the details:

Johnsonville Masonic Hall
25 Phillip St
Tuesday 17 October

Green MP Sue Kedgley
United Future MP Peter Dunne
Ontrack Chief Executive David George
Option 3 Spokesperson Roland Sapsford
Inquiries: email Gareth Hughes or call him on (04) 381 4640 or 027 422 9290.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Supreme model

As requested, here's a photo of the Supreme Court model.

More than the renderings, this makes it clear that the copper-clad central courthouse is more ovoid than spherical, and that there's a slight separation between it and the surrounding square building. There will be large glass doors on the eastern (Lambton Quay) end, so that in theory passers-by should be able to see through these and the other glass walls to view the judges from the street (following the well-worn trope that being able to physically see the inside of the court somehow equates to having a "transparent justice system"). To facilitate that, and apparently for security reasons, the bus stops outside will probably have to be moved.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Inside job

Here's a quick selection of photos from (mostly) inside the two major heritage buildings that I visited yesterday as part of Wellington Architecture Week: the Old High Court Building and the Chapel of Futuna.

Old High Court - stairs
Old High Court - the courtroom
As well as talking us through the history and restoration process of the Old High Court Building, the team from Warren & Mahoney also displayed diagrams and animations of the planned addition and explained the design rationale behind it. While some people might have preferred it to be a bit larger and less deferential to the heritage building, the Historic Places Trust was adamant that the new building should be no higher than the old, which is why the existing cornice line is carried through as the top of the bronze screen.


From there is was off to Karori, and a chance to see the exquisite, deceptively complex and Tardis-like interior of the Chapel of Futuna. Happily, the Architectural Centre was able to announce that their fundraising during the week had gathered over $1000 for the trust.

Chapel of Futuna - stained glass windows by Jim Allen
Chapel of Futuna - roof and spout
Chapel of Futuna - surrounded by townhousesThe above photo (of the chapel hemmed in by suburban townhouses) goes some way to explaining the context of the one below. You can't quite see the details through the window, but this shows a rendition of that well-known sacred theme "Madonna and Child with Washing Line".

Chapel of Futuna - Madonna and Child with Washing Line

Friday, October 06, 2006

Mystery bar number 45

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Last week's mystery bar was too easy: it's the bar at the Bolton Hotel. It's nice to see a hotel with an accessible bar, stylish (if unexciting) decor and quality staff. In New Zealand we've tended to think of hotel bars and restaurants as being exclusively for guests rather than an addition to the city's dining and nightlife scene, which might explain some of the anti-Hilton reactions. While the Bolton might not be part of most people's bar itinerary, it's restaurant Bisque has gained a reputation for spectacular food worth braving the wilds of the Terrace for.

Mystery bar #45 - the barLurching back downmarket, it's time for a new mystery bar. This is not the sort of place where you'd expect a smoked quail salad, and in fact I'm not sure what sort of food to expect, if any. The decor and theme says "buffalo wings and burgers", whereas the clientele and management suggested kim chi and gimbap. The confusion extends to the name of this place, and the name on the license and door was different from the signs on the outside of the building.

The interior is also a bit of a mish-mash, or perhaps "palimpsest" is a more accurate word, since it seems to bear the traces of many previous existences, with each new owner just adding a token layer of new gimmicks. Perhaps it was a mistake to visit it during twilight, as it's definitely the sort of place that benefits from darkness (and an impaired sense of smell). That's not the point, though, as there's really only one thing the patrons come here for (apart from drinking, of course).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Heritage Sunday

Rendering of proposed NZ Supreme Court building next to refurbished Old High CourtThere's been an exciting late addition to the programme for Wellington Architecture Week. The old High Court Building on Stout St, which is due to be renovated as part of the new Supreme Court complex, will be open this Sunday from 10am to 1pm. Not only is this the only public opportunity to access the building before construction starts, but Roy Wilson from Warren & Mahoney (the architects of the project) will give a presentation at 10:30, and a scale model and drawings of the project will be on display.

Google Maps aerial photo of the Chapel of FutunaThe famous Chapel of Futuna will also be open on Sunday, from 3-5pm. An extraodinary fusion of modernism and Māori architecture, it has been recognised (by pretty much everyone except the developers who bought the land it sits on) as perhaps the most important 20th-century building in New Zealand. If you take this extremely rare opportunity to see inside, you should also take the opportunity to donate to the Futuna Trust, as they've still got some work to do in order to purchase the building and secure its future. The programme requests that you "please park on the road", but I'd suggest taking the number 3 bus (which goes every 15 minutes, even on a Sunday), and walking up Reading St to see the chapel at 62 Friend St. The bus stops not far from a much more recent addition to Karori's architectural heritage: the Karori Library by Warren & Mahoney.

If you're not all heritaged-out by that stage, Antrim House at 63 Boulcott St will be open from 10am to 4pm. This plays a double role in Wellington's heritage, since not only is it a significant building in its own right, it's also the headquarters of the Historic Places Trust.

And if architectural heritage interests you, you'll probably want to be at Te Papa tonight, for the The Pivotal Architectural Debate at 7pm. The motion up for debate is that "Urban designers should leave heritage alone", with Sue Piper, Anthea Hartig and Grant Stevenson supporting the motion and David Kernohan, Deb Cranko and Guy Cleverley against.

Shops that pass in the night 9

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Capital on the Quay: logoCapital on the Quay has always been a strange beast: an attempt to shoehorn a suburban mall onto a steep slope between Wellington's densest streets, combined with the entrances to several office blocks and a number of quasi-public elevators that provided savvy locals with shortcuts between Lambton Quay and the Terrace. The ground level tenancies kept true to the mall ethos, playing host to the sort of chain stores that can afford the rentals on a high-foot-traffic thoroughfare. Some of the quieter first floor spaces weren't so financially successful, however, and among the usual optometrists and beauty salons there were usually a few vacant shops, temporary sale spaces and a smattering of quirkier, more interesting businesses. To some extent, it and other "failed" malls play the role that Jane Jacobs attributed to old buildings: a cheap space that allows economically marginal businesses to get started.

But things are changing, at least in the northern section. Leases came to an end, and some of the aforementioned small retailers moved out. Sherazad bridal silks moved just down the road, to the basement of the BNZ centre (another off-street CBD mall that's become a refuge for displaced small businesses). The Guava Tree, Llew's favourite purveyor of Indian kitchenware and Bollywood goodness, has moved further afield to Ghuznee St to take over from a Chinese furniture shop whose name often evoked sniggers. Cheekily-acronymed salon Beauty In The Creative Hand has also shifted, moving in with Si Salon down in Hunter St. What's going on?

Capital on the Quay - building workLeases end all the time, but this is different. All the chain stores (such as Colorado and Portmans) have also gone from the ground floor, and some of the empty shops briefly displayed signs saying things like "Our landlord, AMP, has other plans for this site". Those plans appear to be major, since the entire ground and first floors of that section have been boarded off, and the jackhammers have been busy ripping up the ground floor tiles around the escalator. Does anyone know what's going on here? Is there one giant retailer moving in, or will the first floor be converted to offices? Is it just a big makeover, or is this the end of Capital on the Quay as we know it?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Where to for the Tattoo Museum?While I'm on the subject of corrections, I've just found out from a Capital Times article that the Tattoo Museum is not actually closing for good as I and the Dominion Post reported last week. It will definitely have to shift out of its current location by next Tuesday (since the building was leased well over a month ago), but the director is actively talking to potential alternative landlords and hopes to find a home for his collection next month.

This got me thinking: it's a great concept, but is Wellington really big enough to support such a specialised attraction as a Tattoo Museum? On the other hand, how about a "Museum of Adornment"? That could encompass fashion, wearable art (including a permanent exhibition of WOW winners), jewellery, body art and cinematic make-up as well as tattoos. That has many advantages: it should create enough critical mass to become a major attraction in its own right, there are a lot of crossovers between the fields, Wellington has a growing reputation in many of them, and it would lend itself to some very interesting retail opportunities to help fund it.

Also, I like to think that my old idea of a Tiki Tattoo bar still has some merit, and there's an interesting new development that might give life to the concept: 42 Below's new Seven Tiki rum. The Chaffers Dock complex still has some unleased ground floor space, and while we're probably getting weary of waterfront bars with corporate branding, in this case its perfectly appropriate, since the site is just a few metres from the garage that was the birthplace of the 42 Below brand.

Imagine it: sipping a Mojito or Mai Tai in the sun (okay, I'm allowed to dream) between the marina and the park, among decor created and inspired by some of Wellington's most creative (or possibly unhinged) individuals. Then combine that with a compact Museum of Adornment, small jewellery and clothing boutiques, gelato courtesy of Kaffee Eis (who are opening a branch there this summer) and regular musical (The Ukulele Orchestra?) or wearable arts performances, and you've got a uniquely Wellington attraction within staggering distance of Te Papa and Courtenay Place.

Watch this space

Douglas lloyd JenkinsHere's a small correction to the Architecture Week programme I mentioned earlier, with a few added details. Douglas lloyd Jenkins, New Zealand's most prominent commentator on design and architecture, will be talking at 6pm this Friday, not 7pm as listed in the brochure. He's known for his forthright opinions rather than excessive tact, so it could be a lively discussion. I don't know exactly what his talk will be about, but it's entitled "Watch this space", so erm, watch this space.

It's in the National Library auditorium, in the basement of the building that appears on the front of the Architecture Week programme (16.7MB PDF). A 60s building that happened to be built in the 80s, it's fair to say that it's not the most loved building in Wellington, but it has a few hidden architectural delights within. You can book ahead at the Book Council's website.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Back on track: blinkered

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The headline figures that I quoted yesterday from the Regional Land Transport Strategy (RLTS) Annual Monitoring Report (954kB PDF) make encouraging reading, since they show a significant shift from private cars to public transport. Since the regional council says that the report "informs our planning for long-term sustainable transportation", and there's also the North Wellington and Ngauranga to Airport studies under consideration, you'd think that this would herald a change in thinking away from road building.

To track their change in thinking, let's look at the previous year's report (2.2MB PDF). The Outlook section and Implications for transportation planning (p25) says this:
Daily traffic volumes will continue to grow by around 3% to 4% per annum, with some decline in the proportion of private car journeys to work ... The Wellington region's dispersed development means the private car will be the dominant form of transport in the foreseeable future. Traffic volumes will grow alongside economic activity. Increasing traffic demand will not be met without the construction of significant new infrastructure. RLTS proposals seek to maximise road network efficiency while encouraging travellers to use public transport and active modes for appropriate journeys.
Instead of a 3-4% increase in traffic volumes, state highway vehicle numbers stayed static while the volume of cars entering the CBD actually decreased by 9% for the year (see graph). Time for a rethink, surely? But as late as April this year, when the surge in public transport use was already giving the lie to these projections, the regional council was still persisting with a goal that Option 3 called "myopic" and I referred to as a "puny": merely maintaining public transport's mode share. And here's the equivalent text to the above quote from this year's report (pp27-28):
Daily traffic volumes are likely to continue to grow by around 3% to 4% per annum, with some decline in the proportion of private car journeys to work ... Initiatives encouraging the use of public transport especially for peak-period commuter trips remain important, but travel by car will continue to be the predominant form of regional transport. This is partly due to dispersed development in the Wellington region. Traffic volumes are expected to grow alongside economic activity. Increasing traffic demand will not be met without the construction of significant new infrastructure.
What the...? Page after page of figures and graphs show that traffic volumes are static or decreasing, then they conclude by saying that volumes "are likely to continue to grow"!? Apart from the insertion of the weasel word "likely", they haven't even bothered to try explaining it away as a blip by saying something like "traffic volumes may have declined, but we expect them to start growing again". They're happy enough to trumpet the results as good news, but it looks as if they won't let the facts get in the way of the drive for more and bigger roads.

There's only one sign that they've actually looked for a rationale behind their forecasts of more traffic. In the same section, they write:
The passenger transport network will not be able to accommodate continuing growth in patronage. There is a three-year time lag before new rail rolling stock will be operational. The rail service may not currently be meeting passenger expectations during the peak periods. For this reason, and along with easing congestion and fuel prices, more people may revert to commuting by private vehicle.
In other words, because of their blinkered insistence in the past that increased traffic volumes are an immutable force of nature, the ongoing decline of public transport infrastructure has left it unable to cope when their projections turned to custard. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy! If they'd actually made the forward-thinking decision to invest in passenger transport, the petrol prices of the past year might actually have been the catalyst for a change of mindset. They're also looking at recent petrol price drops and thinking "phew, thank god that's over!" rather than "how can be ready for it next time?" In fact, the local petrol rice trends show that current prices are actually higher than the average for the period under consideration (March '05 to March '06), so they shouldn't expect people to be running back to their cars just yet.

This called for a rant, so I sent this off to the Dominion Post:
It's good to see from the Regional Council's figures that road congestion has markedly decreased over the last year. Surely this is the result of building more roads? After all, we're constantly told this is the only practical solution to congestion.

Actually, no. The "bypass" is still months from completion, and Transmission Gully hasn't started. Instead, people have switched from private to public transport, to the point where the underfunded infrastructure is unable to cope and the council has to scramble for desperate and unsatisfactory measures such as ripping seats out of trains (Oct 3).

Imagine if instead of spending $40 million on the "bypass", that money had been invested in public transport. By now, we'd be ready for increased petrol prices, so that new riders would stay with public transport rather than switching back to cars when petrol prices dip.

But it's not too late. The Regional Council needs to drop its blinkered insistence that traffic volumes will inexorably increase. The City Council can take advantage of the reduced congestion to reclaim road space for transit, cycles and pedestrians. Most of all, we should scrap the ruinously expensive Transmission Gully and invest in quality public transport for the future.