The Eye of the Fish

November 5, 2018

North Kumutoto

And so the time comes round again: a new building on the waterfront. As sure as hens lay eggs, no matter what is proposed, the aged geriatrics at Waterfront Watch will be objecting to the proposed new building at Site 9, because – well, just because that’s what they always do. And because they have lots of spare retired time up their sleeves, they are bound to be whipping up some objections by the bucketful. Sorry Lindsay, I know you’ll hate me for saying that, but it is true…. The Waterfront Watch mantra is, after all, “No new buildings on the waterfront!”
Above: before

For those of you that don’t have any objection, there is always the chance to make a submission supporting the scheme. There’s just one slight hitch: it has been designed as a bit of a background building, and I really can’t get too excited about it. This is an existential problem – we can’t have a city where all buildings are shouting wildly in a Kath and Kim voice: “Look at moee, look at moee!!” – although its hard to tell an architect to do something quiet and demure. Architects (poor bastards) are always wanting someone to love them, normally by designing some dead-gorgeous building that knocks your socks off and takes your breathe away, like Tom Cruise meeting Kelly McGillis in Top Gun.
Only, in this case, they’ve agreed to design a building that blends into the background, somewhat like a load of old shipping containers.
Below: after
I’m surprised that anyone would hire Athfield Architects to design a “blend into the background” building. They’re not known for that sort of design. Sensitive and shy and retiring are not their middle names. They’re good at – or used to be – stand out, clever design, quirky design, not meek and mild.
Annnnnnnywaaaay, what’s the proposed building like – and what’s it for? Does it stand out – and should it stand out? Like other buildings built on the waterfront recently, the ground floor is reserved for “public use”. The upper floors are planned as spaces for offices, or something like that, which probably means more unwelcome corporate money launderers like PWC or Deloitte or a private Bank etc. They’re the only people with pockets deep enough to afford the rent. But, like, whatever – the ground floor is still totally for the Public, right?

Don’t hold your breath.

The big chance for the Public – i.e. “We the People”, was in the last building – site 10, now home to PWC. The proposal was for a large part of the Ground floor to be completely available to the public. There was also a top floor, public look-out deck, also available to the public. Either of these functions would have been fantastic – but both of them, together, would have been brilliant.
Except of course, my old foe, the afore-mentioned geriatric handbaggers of Waterfront Watch, objected loudly and vehemently, and took the developers to the Environment Court – and won, again. They’re nothing if not effective. Trouble is, all that was achieved was a building one floor shorter, and no public spaces. The floor they dropped, of course, was the top floor – the public floor – and they withdrew the offer of the ground floor space as well. Those were extra spaces, only being built for the likes of us. No skin off their nose if they didn’t have to build them. So: the Watchers won, did they? Oh, really, you think? So now we have a big ugly behemoth of a building, right on the waterfront, with no public space at all. Great. Really great. Take a bow. As the song says, You’ve “really fucked it up this time, my dear…”
Well, sure, site 10 – the PWC building – has a couple of shops for unwearable clothes or cafes or something opening on the ground floor, but a place where you have to pay to have a drink, is not really a “public place”, its no different from a thousand places all around town. And I’m betting that the new building will have “public places” just like this. There are 3 ground floor “public spaces” in the building – one tiny shoebox, no doubt destined to be yet another coffee bar – like we really need more of those? I don’t think so.
So what do we do? Should we support the building of a new building on the waterfront in Wellington? Should we object to it? Should it stand out and be proud and claim “here I am!” ? or should it quietly and demurely fade into the background, pretending that it is nothing more than a pile of used containers, waiting patiently on the wharf for a straddle-crane to take them away?

What say you?
I’m inclined to say that a building this bland excites me not, and that it is boring and ugly. It has no place on our waterfront, unless there is a significant benefit to the public. That public ground floor space we missed out on at site 10 – surely that has to be the minimum price for having a building on the waterfront? And should there be a rooftop public deck as well? Well, that would be nice, but i think that particular boat has already sailed. There’s no chance they’ll be offering a rooftop observation deck on this building, at least not for the public, not after Waterfront Watch truely screwed the city on the last chance. There’s a deck there to be sure, but its not for the like of you and me, its for rich corporate people who can afford the rent but don’t have the grace to invite the plebs up there. Plebs. Workers. You and me, buddy.
Yes indeed, I’m still royally pissed off at Waterfront Watch for spoiling the one good chance that Wellington had at a decent public space. Have you ever tried to organise a small exhibition in Wellington? A gig of some sort? A space or place where you could put up a small display for a week or two, without paying through the nose, or be given only a space the size of an A4 sheet? People of Wellington deserve a space for all Wellingtonians – a Living Room for the City, for those rare, highly infrequent days, when the weather is less than perfect. Yes sirree ma’am, just like the 3 days we’ve just had full of rain and storminess. We could have had a good space for everyone, and a top deck with views to die for, but Waterfront Watch ruined that for everybody, for all time. Now all we’re left with is – nothing. You want to post something on a wall? Grab a spray can and tag it yourself, just like everyone else does these days.
waterfront elev

So: what say you then?

west elev
I say: no building on North Kumutoto without a brilliant piece of architecture, no building at all without a significant covered public space, or public purpose, without something substantial for the People of Wellington. No building as bland as bunch of containers in a pile. No “boutique offices” or “boutique apartments”. We deserve better than this.
What say you? Have your say.
Closing date: 5.00p.m., 9 November 2018
Location: 15 Customhouse Quay, Wellington (Site 9)
Service Request Number: 415317
Name of Applicant: Willis Bond Capital Partners No. 3 Limited

Email your submission to:

5 - 11 - 18

It is, to be bluntly honest, a bit of a drab looking offering. The skyline is flat, and dull.

If this is the last building to ever be built on the waterfront, then it is our last chance for something special. Surely Athfields could make something look better than this ?

5 - 11 - 18

<There’s no chance they’ll be offering a rooftop observation deck on this building, at least not for the public

Unfortunately I totally sgree, But even without the events of the PWC building, building owners simply don't like the unwashed hoi polloi traipsing through "their buildings" to enjoy the views their tenants "have paid for"

And even when it is allowed, it is never enforced, and building owners work feverously to remove it..

A case in point is the Historic staircase in the old herd street post office, when it was consented there was a public access clause in the consent allowing free access to an observation area over looking the park and Tepapa… (from memory was required to be open 9-5 7 days)

After a while the Body corporate started locking the doors, citing safety or same other BS, and i'm fairly sure they then went and got a non notified resource consent to remove the right for public access entirely…

5 - 11 - 18

Yes, agreed greenwelly – the Council Resource Consents officers COMPLETELY dropped the ball on that at Herd St. Pathetic. As far as I am concerned, it is still public land and I am going up there any time I like. Its a nice evening. Maybe I’ll go up there tonight…

Alan – yup ! Agreed.

6 - 11 - 18

i assume waterfront watch are largely the same nimbys as found in guardians of evans bay & ibra. Basically trying to stop all progress for their own self importance.

7 - 11 - 18

Luke – Waterfront Watch started out as a firebrand against the WCC when there was a proposal to build on ex-Harbour Board land. There was a lot of public concern that there would be a “wall of buildings” along the waterfront – much as there had been for many years with the Harbour Board, and that the city had only just got rid of the wall of sheds.

They absolutely have a point – that the waterfront should be open land, free from buildings, for the good of all the people of Wellington to enjoy, with landscaping rather than buildings. I think that sums it up about right?

The alternative viewpoint is that held by the “City Shapers” (ex-Wellington Waterfront Limited) which had a mandate from the Council to develop parts of the land, so that the money raised could go towards the public spaces of the waterfront, and their upgrade costs. They believe that the sites identified in the Waterfront Framework (site 7 = Meridian, site 10 = PWC etc) should be built on, and that the open spaces in between should be kept as open space.

7 - 11 - 18

JC – is there room in your paradigm for those who observe that Wellingtonians’ public lives actually use buildings at least as much as open space? It is possible to see that without any loyalty to the Council or its commercial partners

Even Levi’s despised coffee and frock shops (there’s a business model!) can be seen as active public spaces. It would be interesting to calculate the numbers of people sipping short blacks and flashing plastic around town on a Saturday compared with those out walking the dog. Let alone those sitting at home with a good book/box set.

I think WW’s biggest victory has been in narrowing the debate about waterfront development to a simple binary wherein there are only two positions – buildings or open space. It’s almost Trumpian in its reductio ad absurdem.

8 - 11 - 18

Open space is one thing, good quality public space is another entirely (and one in which well-designed buildings have an important role within). An open space on that location, free of buildings, would be ‘enjoyed’ by very few (only the hardiest of souls on our best of days).
High quality and vital public space is what the waterfront framework was supposed to deliver, but which the one-dimensional activism has repeatedly thwarted, consequently delivering us compromised and awkward solutions to the built parts of that framework. Additionally, this has added significant costs to the whole process (and thus cheaper buildings to compensate).
Luckily I am too mild-mannered to fill this response with the invective that these people deserve.

8 - 11 - 18

M-d – by “these people” you mean who ? The Waterfront Watchers ? or someone else ?

8 - 11 - 18

Anyone who has been involved in stymieing good quality public development of the jewel in our crown that is the waterfront by invoking underdeveloped notions of ‘open space’…

18 - 11 - 18

Levi – as another of City Shaper/Build Wellington’s questionable deals, there are some empty spaces at the OPT end of the Willis Bond Waterfront that would be suitable for your small exhibitions – already paid for from your rates. Otherwise, history has proved that the non-paying public has no place in the internal ‘public spaces’ provided in return for the developer’s $1 per year leases. Also, watch who will be leading the charge against the Site 9 building – it’s not likely to be your old WW nemesis!

18 - 11 - 18

hmmm, aom – that’s got me intrigued. Not the grey Watchers? Then who….? I can’t imagine that WW would actually stay quiet on this front – they’re sure to stick their oar in the water. Myself? I’m fatigued.

I should go and check out the spaces you speak of at the OPT – but they are bound to be in an area of low traffic count. I know there is a space somewhere right down the far end of the OPT, but realistically, no one walks down there more than once or twice in a lifetime. To be useful to Wellingtonians, we need a space with maximum pedestrian visibility. It can be done – it just needs will power.