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

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Waterfront: reasons to be cheerful

The Draft Waterfront Development Plan for 2007/08 is going through the public consultation stage, but there's nothing too surprising in there. If anything, there's been something of a backward step, since the financial implications of delays to the OPT and Hilton developments have had a flow-on effect to the Taranaki St Wharf West and Frank Kitts Park redevelopments.

Meridian Energy building at Site 7, KumutotoNever mind: there are some other parts of the waterfront that are making excellent progress. The Meridian building is expected to be completed in October, with the surrounding public spaces all ready for December, and I've heard that ground floor tenants have been secured. Now that the overall shape of the building is visible and the cladding is going on, it's looking even better than I imagined. The wooden louvres are being installed on the western pavilion, and I was surprised to find that they have a semi-random arrangement, with a variety of widths to give the façade plenty of animation. Actually, "animation" will be a much more literal description here than it usually is in that context, since the louvres will automatically tilt throughout the day to provide light or shade as required. It's that sort of combination of environmental practicality and imaginative detail, not to mention the emphasis on buildings that create and support public space rather than ignore or callously feed off it, that restores my rather dented confidence in the ability of architecture to bring delight to the city.

Movenpick at Chaffers DockAt the other end of the waterfront, the ground floor of Chaffers Dock continues to gradually open up: Subway and Herd Street Brasserie have been open for a while now, Mövenpick opened on Saturday, and I've heard that the Port Café may open as soon as this weekend. While the weather may not exactly be conducive to ice creams or fish 'n' chips in the park, all it takes is a rare fine day like Saturday and Wellingtonians are out in force. As expected, Mövenpick is fairly chain-like in appearance, with plastic tables and a huge oddly-coloured photo-mural of the Wellington skyline, but the offer of Supreme coffee and opening well into the evening for dessert is a pleasant prospect. The last remaining "For Lease" sign has gone, and the word is that it may be a pizza joint. I've already mentioned Zarbo deli, Empire Skate and Chaffers Store, and there will also be a hairdressers and some sort of gallery. It's already an encouraging example of residential, hospitality and recreational uses supporting one another, and given how popular the place is already on a pleasant day, it should be really humming by summertime.

Chaffers Dock promenade on a sunny winter's day


At 8:34 pm, July 17, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This just goes to show that any successful public space must include a good mix of retail and activities to attract people. I'm sure if Waterfront Watch had their way they would demolish this new project and replace it with an empty paddock. This building has some great businesses opening up, especially Movenpick which is perfect for this part of the city and i'm not that fussed about Subway either. I was amazed at how busy this area was on a cold but fine day and like you i can only imagine how these businesses will transform this area in the summer, especially in years to come when the John Wardle and UN Studio projects come to be realised. As for the Meridian building being built on the waterfront, while it looks good i don't like the fact that an office building is being built on the waterfront. I would have preferred a building that had more public and cultural appeal.

At 10:03 am, July 18, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Th Meridian building is awesome. I'm going to have to see if I can get a job there just so I can enjoy working in a fantastic office space.

I think I've said this before, but in my opinion its import to have some office on the waterfront, it provides hungry fat walleted workers to the retail outlets during the 9-5 Mon-Fri. In fact I think its more "public" to have offices on the waterfront than residential properties. Offices you can vist, work in, bring more people down, etc. Apartments are purely private places which bring only a low population of people in the out of work hours. People will naturally recreate on the waterfront on the weekends anyway if it provides good public space. They'll go down at nights on the weekdays if there are good bars. They'll show up for lunch and coffee during the day if there are good cafes. If there are workers down there already it just makes these facilities more viable, which means more people can enjoy them which reinforces what every(sane)one wants the waterfront to be.

I fail to see how apartments facilitate this as much as office space.

At 2:17 pm, July 18, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

I'm with Erentz on this one, or perhaps somewhere in between. I think it's important to have both residences and workplaces in every part of town, including the waterfront. While apartments don't provide quite the same impact as office workers, they play a vital role in keeping some activity going in the evenings and providing "passive surveillance" around the clock, so that the neighbourhood doesn't seem deserted and forbidding after dark.

The key is to make sure that the ground floors are still publicly accessible and lively. That's obviously been done extremely well at Chaffers, and while the earlier Queens Wharf developments are examples of how ground floor office space has a deadening effect on the public surroundings, the new buildings at Kumutoto will all have ground floors open to the public, either as shops, cafes or cultural space.

Speaking of which, and in response to Anon's preference for "a building that had more public and cultural appeal," the NZ Portrait Gallery and Centre for Photography look like they will indeed find a home at Shed 11. That, and whatever Shed 13 ends up being used for (possibly an events and functions centre) will combine with the retail under the Meridian building and the bars at Steamship Wharf to produce quite a variety of "public and cultural appeal", while the presence of dozens more workers coming and going every day will keep the place humming even when the weather's not so great.

At 3:49 pm, July 18, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

there's an interesting letter in DomPost today, noting how much better the OPT would be if it had affordable housing in there instead of all the extra and unnecessary ensuites for the luxury units.

I tend to agree. The problem with apartments for rich buggers on the waterfront means they spend a mill or two, and yet often also have a second home in the country, or go away for the weekend. So you get a building like Odlins, which is largely dead. No signs of life during the day (they all at work) or at night (they're out at a posh restaurant) or the weekend (they're quaffing pinot in Martinborough).

But you put some affordable housing there, and you'll have it active during the day (some unemployment? and creative timekeeping?), evening (too poor to eat out, so maybe a barby on the deck), and of course in the weekend (inviting all their friends round to have a look at their flash location).

Give me your poor, your huddled masses, and we have a far more active waterfront... to coin a (para)phrase...

At 4:07 pm, July 18, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Yes, they have a point, though I don't think that's quite right about the Odlins building: I've seen the lights on at the top plenty of times, and during the Hexstatic concert last year, many of the residents seem to have invited their friends over to watch it from the decks.

Theoretically, affordable housing at the OPT (or elsewhere on the waterfront) would be a good idea. But I think the DomPost editorial from a week or two back made a good point: for the return that can be gained from selling posh apartments with million dollar views, many more people can be helped by doing up the existing council flats. Add in the fact that there's a lot of expensive re-piling and rebuilding to do on the OPT, and those would be very expensive affordable apartments!

Perhaps a block back from the waterfront per se (e.g. between Cable & Wakefield streets) would be better. Still close enough to bring life to the waterfront, but less likely to attract the big bucks (especially for those without views), that could be a good location for low- to mid-market apartments, compact but not cramped, and with decent materials but not Axor taps and Poggenpohl kitchens.

At 6:35 pm, July 18, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the fantastic thing about really poor people is that they can't afford washing machines, or driers, and so they can hang their washing out on the balcony and make a really public spectacle... ;-) poverty chic adds such a colourful flavour to the creative economy

At 11:18 am, July 19, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bars on the waterfront worry me. We'll need to get some lights and coastguard for the drunkens that fall in the harbour.

At 11:58 am, July 20, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

"the fantastic thing about really poor people is that they can't afford washing machines, or driers, and so they can hang their washing out on the balcony and make a really public spectacle... ;-) poverty chic adds such a colourful flavour to the creative economy"

The wink makes it clear that you're being ironic and possibly taking the piss out of someone, but I can't quite work out whom.

"Bars on the waterfront worry me. We'll need to get some lights and coastguard for the drunkens that fall in the harbour."

That's possibly an issue to watch out for, but I don't think that the likes of Herd St Brasserie is going to be quite such a haven for munters. Some lifesavers and "escape ladders" were added a year or so ago after some drunks fell in, but from memory I think they were kids who had either got drunk elsewhere or had been drinking from bottles in the public space, not in bars. If anything, having some lively bars around is more likely to dissuade such drinkers or at least make it more likely that they'll be noticed & rescued if they fall in. Besides, I'm not sure that falling off the wharf is any more dangerous than staggering into a busy road.

At 12:41 am, July 21, 2007, Blogger Joanna said...

Besides, I'm not sure that falling off the wharf is any more dangerous than staggering into a busy road.

As a frequent summer drunken harbour-jumper, I have to totally agree.


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