The Eye of the Fish

March 8, 2012

Water ship down

I’ve been thinking – a lot of discussion over this Kumutoto waterfront site is centred over the loss of views to Wellingtonians. We have a finite amount of precious waterfront land, with precious waterfront views, and we like to think that all our waterfront views are like this:

That’s an image I took a couple of years ago of a lovely little steam-powered vessel in the harbour whose name I can’t quite remember – not the Rena, I’m pretty sure, but something like that. Quite the cutest little thing I’ve ever seen, not counting this little fella of course:

I think that perhaps some people forget what the waterfront is really like. Quite apart from the issue that if you’re driving along the waterfront, you shouldn’t be idly staring out at the view (for that way do accidents cometh), the logical answer is that to look at the view, you need to walk next to the water. But this view, this much vaunted view shown here (again, a couple of years ago), even this view here is gone – it’s now hidden behind a matrix of campervans. We can still see the sky today, but not much of the water.

There’s a big old ugly shed in the viewshaft, a big old ugly Te Papa on the other side of the harbour, and not much more than tiny glimpses of Mt Victoria and St Gerard’s monastery, which, let’s face it, is one of the key things that you want to see. Can you actually see the water? Hmmmm, yeah, naah. Not really much at all.

So: if you’re going to be walking, jogging, cycling, skateboarding, or otherwise pootling along the waterfront, looking at the view, you’d want to be doing that right next to the much vaunted water’s edge, wouldn’t you? That’s where the real fun begins.

It’s the proximity to the water that matters, isn’t it? That’s what we really want along the waterfront, surely? Isn’t that what we’re discussing?

8 - 03 - 12

Proximity, yes. But also (and I appreciate the accident risk here), views. Space. Vision. More distant horizons. Sure, you could (and it seems like the plan is to) box yet more of Wellington into a fume-filled, noisy channel (No. 5?), and I realise that I’m in danger of being labelled a arboreal remnant located in a sedimentary ooze, but the shores of your fine city should be for everyone; not just business or those that can afford to live there.

I used to work in Willis St. And live in the more southerly of the Hutt’s. My walk to work from the Station would always take in the joy of the waterfront, and my lunches would be all the better for the sun-sponsored opportunity to look across towards Eastbourne. Wellington’s waterfront is a gift. A joy. Sometimes quiet, sometimes noisy; but never dull. Special.

To me, the chaos of the area around the Old Ferry Building sits well against the Festung Europa diasporic remnant of the Post House. When you look at that, you appreciate that not all design is good design :) Could not the caravan park be seen as human scale against the shiny cliffs and wind-whipped towers of the businesses in this locale?

9 - 03 - 12

Jan – crikey! What’s a “Festung Europa diasporic remnant” when it’s at home? Hold on a tick, I’ll go and do some homework. Back soon. Talk among yourselves….

9 - 03 - 12

Oh I see…. Wiki says “the term Festung Europa was being used by Nazi propaganda, namely to refer to Hitler’s and the Wehrmacht’s plans to fortify the whole of occupied Europe to prevent invasion from the British Isles.” and that:
“Currently, within Europe, the most common use of the term is as a pejorative description of the state of immigration into the European Union….. Since would-be immigrants are most often of non-European ethnicity, the phrase Fortress Europe is frequently used by proponents of increased immigration as a polemic reference to Nazi racial ideology and the history of extreme or violent nationalism in European politics.”

Yes, OK, I understand what you’re saying now. You’re certainly not an “arboreal remnant located in a sedimentary ooze” at all, more like a cunningly erudite ameliorating spokesperson for the rights of the pedestrian flaneur. Carry on!

9 - 03 - 12

I like the picture of the rabbit!

Anything to do with the proximity of Bunny St?

11 - 03 - 12

Hi Maximus,

Sorry…. a dull day at work enlivened by EotF coupled with a visit from Juan Twomanycoffees made Jan a bit ‘out there’. My take on the Festung Europa thing was in reference to the concrete cliff of the Post House. The Channel Islands (Jersey and Guernsey) still hold these concrete edifices – they’re too well built to demolish it seems. They were supposed to form part of the Atlantic Wall.

Anyway; back to the architecture. I have no particular axe to grind one way or the other. I must admit to having a weak spot for waterfronts though – and Wellington’s in particular. My flanuereal freedoms were well catered for in wonderful windy Wellington (although I almost got blown into traffic a couple of times!), and I’ve spent many a metre curled away from the wind-blown sea as I staggered past the Old Ferry House. The opening of the view MAY be reduced by the dishabillement of the various users of the space, but it still serves to allow a momentary glimpse of something bigger; something beyond. Sitting here in the darkness of a UK evening, that little picture (waterfrontview.jpg) contains so much of what I miss. Sorry. Never for seperating emotion from opinion.. But I DO feel that blocking the view with another office would be wrong; of course, the people in the office will no doubt pay a premium for a view of the water; so there must be a recognition of how valuable a view can be.

11 - 03 - 12

There’s many of us who agree with Jan that blocking the view with another office would be wrong. And many of us who think there should be a generous approach to planning the promenade spaces from Queen Wharf northwards.

11 - 03 - 12

…A more generous approach is what I meant. Promenades should be wide and welcoming, not cramped and narrow.

11 - 03 - 12

Jan, no need to apologise – you wax as eloquently as you like – I loved it! Great comment. I’m all for the view as well – us remnants from the diaspora appear to have developed an unholy love for the long-distance vista that is far from quenched by a fragment of descry. But the sites are not being well utilised at present – true, the campervans are, as they tend to be, merely transitory, but long term – if not a building, then what? Is open space, of which we have such an excess of in NewZild, the only answer? It’s a similar answer to the question we had over the Hilton: if not a Hotel, then what? Luckily for Wellington, a hotel was ruled to be not the right answer – but then again, neither is an old shed.

Elaine Hampton
17 - 03 - 12

Now can I go back to basics – that is this site Kumutoto area of the waterfront, old North Queens Wharf, is public land given to the city of Wellington by the then Wellington Harbour Board. Why is public land being leased ie privatised in order that developers make a subsidised profit building on essentially public land, building more private office space in competition with the existing rate payer property owners in the CBD.
And this in the face of public opposition, loss of more open space, a concept these plonkers do not seem to understand. When they say ‘view shaft’ hear ‘alley way’. When they say beautiful building wonder what they are actually seeing. One can travel abroad and see stunning modern buildings but just try and find one in Wellington. One can travel abroad and find wonderful waterfronts, why can’t we have one her e ON OUR PUBLIC LAND.

18 - 03 - 12

Elaine, it’s nice to see you commenting here – sad to say though: we disagree again.

Your comments about View shafts being Alley ways are, quite simply, 100% wrong.

You complain that we have no “stunning modern buildings” and don’t have a “wonderful waterfront” and yet I would argue that we have the best waterfront in New Zealand, and a couple of fine buildings on the waterfront: all courtesy of Wellington Waterfront, the very organisation that you decry.

The Meridian building in particular is one of the most interesting buildings in Wellington, and certainly the best on the waterfront. The Wharewaka is an intriguing new building, sadly let down by incompetent management in their cafe. The TSB Arena is a blot on the landscape, on that we all agree, but the Council doesn’t have the money to tear it down and start again.

Elaine Hampton
18 - 03 - 12

Maximus, We have no stunning modern buildings, if the Meridian building is our best that explains a lot. A french acquaintance refers to it as “moche” en francais – ugly. That it is an energy efficient building leading the way (Warren Mahoney Architects on the website) shows how far behind our rules and regulations are. The Wharewaka we have discussed before, and are not in agreement again. The Cafe is the least of its lack of style and a Waka. The waterfront is a public place, not just the 5 metre strip along the waters edge as you appear to be content to leave us. The Waterfront Company was set up, we would probably disagree as to why, but supposed to be self funding and not need any rate payers money, a joke now, it is a drain on the Council budget, $11 million in debt. Not exactly an asset. Do you live here Maximus? (you didn’t turn up for our walk along the waterfront!!!!!!)
The Wellington Waterfront, as Public land, should be our cultural and leisure area, why can’t the Music School be built there along side a new Art Gallery as a compliment to Te Papa?????? This would not compete with rate paying CBD building owners.

19 - 03 - 12

Elaine, yes, I live in the heart of Wellington – almost in the harbour, so I know it well – evidently quite a bit better than you. From memory, the Meridian building was designed by Studio Pacific in alliance with Peddle Thorp Architects – Warren and Mahoney had little to do with it except for some of the internal fitout. It is the most energy-efficient building in Wellington I believe, and has won a whole bunch of awards, from people who actually know what they are talking about, perhaps unlike your french friend:
Concrete3 Sustainability Award of Excellence, 2009
New Zealand Engineering Excellence Awards for Sustainability and Clean Technology,2009
NZIA New Zealand Architecture Award, 2009
NZIA New Zealand Architecture Medal Finalist, 2009
NZIA Local Award, 2008
ACENZ – Gold Award of Excellence, 2008
Winner of two Property Council New Zealand Awards, 2008
SBN – Local and National Design and Innovation Award, 2008
(source – Studio Pacific website).

Architecture is a subjective art – you are as entitled to have an opinion on how something looks as much as I am, but I think that the awards listed show that it is regarded highly by many in the construction industry. An undeniable fact is that the building performs rather well in environmental terms. Most of Wellington’s commercial architecture is pretty poor really, both visually and environmentally. This building is pretty much better than all the rest.

I wouldn’t pay too much attention to what your french friend thinks – the French are very snooty about everything. I even had a conversation about wine with a Frenchman the other day, and he refused to believe that our wine could even be as good as theirs, despite the fact that NZ wines are beating the french wines hands down in tastings. Sacre blue! We’re unlikely to be building a city with stone apartment buildings like they have down the Champs Elysee, and I’d quite happily live in a cute little house on Mt Victoria than in a French vast concrete slum any day. We’re a different city than Paris for many reasons – nonetheleast of which is that our budget for building is a zillion times smaller than a former imperialist power like France. Buildings in NZ have to be lean and tight and not wasteful – as do public spaces – and that’s why we have to sell some land in order to fund things. Why else do you think we are selling the Crafar farms to the Chinese?

60 MPa
19 - 03 - 12

Gosh this post has reminded me – I’m overdue to go rabbit hunting again.

Funnily enough the wife of the landowner is French and she loves rabbit meat – jus sayin

Elaine Hampton
19 - 03 - 12

Would you address my point about a cultural mix on the waterfront, public buildings of human scale and public utility instead of all that fluff. Where would you put the music school?

Gongs awarded by the construction industry Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!
French Imperialists ? We have to sell Crafar farms to fund the construction industry, is this a “let them eat concrete” when the land is gone?

60MPa now if you could get a hare I could jug it and we could have a grand night of feasting with a good wine!

20 - 03 - 12

Elaine, gosh, you sound like my mother. Ummm, where would i put the music school? Well, probably not on Illot Green next to Civic Square – but perhaps not for the reasons you may think. I wouldn’t put it right next to the Jervois Quay road – as it is a noisy, busy road. It would also block the sun from part of Civic Square. So, therefore, I wouldn’t put it on Site 10 in Kumutoto either. The music school in Auckland is on a busy road- Symonds st – but it does have a big heavy wall screening it off from the street.

Hmmm… don’t know. Is that an acceptable answer?

Re buildings of a public scale – I presume you mean a building as small as a member of the public? ie just one storey high? Do the lobster loos count then? Presumably, being human scaled and only 1 storey high, you must like them then? Should we put the music school inside a lobster-shaped dunny?

Elaine Hampton
21 - 03 - 12

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Maximus

This is beginning to generate more heat than light and you haven’t addressed the question

Don’t you know mother knows best!

I think again we will have to agree to disagree

22 - 03 - 12

I haven’t addressed the question? What question?
“Where would i put the music school?” I’ve said i don’t know, but probably not on the waterfront – purely down to the noise from nearby traffic. Otherwise, no issues with it there, even if their Stradivari warp in the sea air (yes, highly likely).

What other question? This one: ?

“Would you address my point about a cultural mix on the waterfront, public buildings of human scale and public utility instead of all that fluff.”
Not sure what this fluff is, of which you speak, unless you mean Peter Rabbit in the second-to-top photo. I can’t actually see anything you have written that talks about a cultural mix, but I can see that you have a bee in your bonnet about the WWL.

In my (very) humble experience, the team working for Ian Pike at WWL are a pretty lean and mean organisation, when compared to council run things. Councils are huge unwieldy beasts, bad at doing things like good design, and not at all the right organisation to run a tight ship. They’re overly bureaucratic, full of endless reports to and from various numpties in the lower pecking orders, and we are far better off to have an organisation like WWL holding the Council at arms length while they get the work done with a minimum of fuss. It is not a drain on the Council’s budget, your figures are wrong, and it is not a joke, but a very good idea. Your vehemence and verve are exciting to watch (from a safe distance), but you are sadly disconnected from reality when it comes to speaking about the waterfront.

However: cultural mix. I’m all for it. So is most of Wellington. So is WWL. However, they have been asked / tasked by WCC to make a profit on the land. Rightly or wrongly, that’s what they have to do. Seeing as things like the NZSO, Toi Poneke, NZ Ballet, Kapa Haka, Indoor sparts clubs etc, are all run on the smell of an oily rag, and will not be in the market to pay top dollar for the sites with the most desirable sea views in the whole country, then what are WWL to do? Build structures, lease them for a peppercorn rent, and make a massive loss? Would you be happy with that? I suspect you’d still be quite vocal.

What if they were to do nothing except build new landscaping and open green spaces along the waterfront? Who pays for that? No money coming in – it’ll make a huge loss. You happy with that? The (award-winning) Kumutoto landscaping was not cheap…, and no, grass won’t grow there if you sprinkle seed direct on the asphalt.

So, what else could they do? Build structures and sell the space at a profit, and use the money to support the events happening in the public realm? Maybe even make a profit, as the council has asked them to do? Why, good heavens, that’s exactly what they are trying to do!

24 - 03 - 12

Wellington waterfront development on hold

“Any decisions about a major new waterfront development will be put on hold until the Environment Court rules on a district plan change. Wellington city councillors had been due to consider a new waterfront building at a strategy and policy committee meeting on Tuesday. Councillors would have considered the lease arrangements for the building, as well as the design.

Wellington Waterfront unveiled plans for a six-storey office building with an indoor public plaza where people can shelter from Wellington’s weather last month. The proposed building, which would be built at site 10 – the motorhome park opposite the NZ Post building in Waterloo Quay -would be developed by the Newcrest Group. But, with a court case on Variation 11 ongoing, councillors yesterday agreed to postpone any decisions on the development until after the court’s ruling.

Waterfront Watch launched court action this month challenging the council’s Variation 11 district plan change. The planning rules set out maximum size and height restrictions for three new buildings on north Kumutoto Wharf. The variation would allow developers to build up to 30 metres in height without public input and prevent the public pursuing “endless litigation”.

Waterfront Watch says the planning rules are an attempt to privatise the waterfront but the council argues the regulations will encourage public access and promote certainty. The case is continuing today. At yesterday’s strategy and policy committee meeting, Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said any decisions on site 10 should wait until the outcome of the case.

“This is not a make or break decision about the building, it’s about the sequencing of our decisions,” she said. Other councillors agreed, saying it would be premature to make any decisions on the building without knowing the court’s decision.”

24 - 03 - 12

There’s also a really good article in the Dom Post today, lauding the achievements of Pauline Swanne. Can’t find it online yet – but well done DomPost for doing some good reportage at long last. And, of course, well done Pauline, still going strong. I don’t agree with everything you do, but i do admire your stamina.