The Eye of the Fish

Philip
May 5, 2008

Overseas Makeover

Just quickly for now: the Athfield-designed Overseas Passenger terminal has just been granted resource consent, having satisfied previously held concerns related to construction issues.

Monday
5 - 05 - 08

Thank goodness–the decision is sound, thorough and (hopefully) robust enough to stand up to the inevitable scrutiny of would-be appealers. Though the commissioners had time to consider the the Hilton decision when writing their decision, it will certainly be interesting to see if the Hilton has ramifications if/when the Overseas Terminal goes to the Environment Court. I’m not suggesting I supported the Hilton, but the decision certainly needs to be tested.

My two cents: the current wharf and building are in a poor state, visually, structurally and functionally. I’ve always felt the the terminal is a decadent, festering wound, made to look more ridiculous by the upgrade of Herd St post office and Waitangi Park.

From what little I’ve seen, the proposal takes a considered approach, continuing public access along the waterfront with “active edges” and adding natural surveillance with inner-city apartments–without drastic increases in building bulk, or much cost to the ubiquitous ratepayer. Put me down as a supporter.

Philip
6 - 05 - 08

Hmmm, I would have thought that public scrutiny would be very muted in comparison to the Hilton.

As you said the current wharf/building are in a poor state, which I think most people recognise. Perhaps this development is more seen as a do-over (in its net effect) rather than the complete clearing/rebuilding that was the Hilton proposal.

Nick
10 - 05 - 08

Is anybody else getting sick of these banal Athfield projects?

Another professional, sensible and aesthetically comfortable scheme where the only thing concerning is the absence of anything exciting. How difficult is it to design an articulate public realm, particularly on such a brilliant site. Is ‘active edge’ and nice details all we get?

The gray parade continues…

Sandy
11 - 05 - 08

“Is anybody else getting sick of these…?”

Well, yes, I am, but not necessarily because they are Athfield Architects projects. To me it is more a question of – what SHOULD be on the water’s edge? Is housing really the right answer?

While it may well be absolutely lovely for those with the millions or half millions to buy a flat there, it then effectively privatizes the land for ever more, locking it away from the people of Wellington. It was the same problem with the now defunct Hilton – while the ground floor may be open to public uses, the stultifying effect of private residences on upper floors does nothing for the public realm, except hasten the decline of anything interesting happening there. Look, for instance, at the Odlins apartments – a couple of rich apartments, a couple of floors for the stock exchange, and the whole facade is as dead as a parrot, pushing up the daisies and pining for the fiords.

What we really need for both the Hilton site and the OPT is a building that is for all of Wellington, one that the public can use, visitors can use, one that has attractions for all. Other countries have a fine tradition of Piers, with shopping, markets (ie San Francisco), funfairs (Brighton), ferris wheels, night clubs, etc. What is being proposed here is just apartments for the rich. And they probably wont invite us to their parties…

Why not housing for the poor? Why does only the rich get to see the view? Why not an active realm for a wider cross section of Wellington?

Nick
11 - 05 - 08

I largely agree. Or, if apartments are required to make this viable economically (is this a private development on privately owned land?) then, assuming the project has any ethical public goal, it becomes particularly important to give some serious thought to the public aspect of the project (all renders point to a bland open space with the usual restaurant/cafe edge).

fog
11 - 05 - 08

no Nick, this is public owned land. But yes apartments are required to make it viable economically for the developer who will make 20 or 30% profit. Lets say it costs $100m then Willis Bond will make $20-30m profit. Why is the city giving them this opportunity? Fuck knows as all the city gets are a few crumbs to help pay for Waitangi Park. What do the public get? Not much. A few shops – perhaps a cafe.

Athfield Architects scheme looks OK but is too big. Much taller and wider than the existing building. It is a new building, not a do-over. But having seen how the design of the Chews Lane development (by Willis Bond and Athfield Architects) deteriorated from the original scheme to what has been built I am not holding my breath that this will be any better, or worth donating the site for.

I don’t see why the city wants to give away this site away. The wharf may need upgrading, and there may not be a public use for the site at the moment, but it would be better to keep it available so that when something the city really needs comes along, this fantastic site was there for it.

m
12 - 05 - 08

Since when did this ‘urban life, design and architecture’ blog get hijacked by the lefties?

“While it may well be absolutely lovely for those with the millions or half millions to buy a flat there, it then effectively privatizes the land for ever more, locking it away from the people of Wellington. It was the same problem with the now defunct Hilton – while the ground floor may be open to public uses, the stultifying effect of private residences on upper floors does nothing for the public realm, except hasten the decline of anything interesting happening there.”

Stultifying effect of private residences?!? Public Realm?!? Housing for the poor?!?
*yawn*

The Overseas Terminal as it stands requires a major do up and re-strengthening. This is not something that I, as a ratepayer, want my money spent on for the benefit of some retail and marginal businesses that operate from there.
So it comes back to private investment.
Presumably if it is private investment then they are free to do what they like and it is a credit to them that there is public access to the wharf (probably a requirement from the Council for the redevelopment….)

But housing for the poor? Get real.

Monday
12 - 05 - 08

While my reasons may differ from those of ‘m’ above, I too take issue with the concept of keeping OPT solely for (an as-yet undefined) public use. Providing affordable housing in the proposal will not only be unappealing to a developer, but will also have the inevitable effect of reducing money available for the public areas. Personally, I would love to see a mix of affordable and high-end housing, but without legislation I can’t see any developer getting excited at the idea.

If it were to be completely ‘public’, what exactly would this public use be–sports centre, art gallery, museum…ad infinitum. I can’t think of one public use that a) isn’t already provided for in Wellington or b) has a hope of being financially viable. I also can’t see the merit in giving over several floors of a building to a purpose that will render it largely vacant for significant periods of time and will periodically (and ironically) prevent access to some sections of the public. This will not address the current inactivity, personal safety concerns, ongoing maintenance costs etc. And while we’re waiting for the perfect tenant to come along, we’ll also be watching the wharf collapse into the sea.

Finally, the Resource Consent documents show the building being only slightly taller over the majority of its length. The two ends are indeed taller again, but given the majesty and prominence of the site, is this such a bad thing?

mobsta
12 - 05 - 08

Nick,

your complaint about the banality of Athfield projects seems to be from an idealistic student viewpoint.
I personally find the project visually exciting and contemporary.
A very hard thing to do with the RMA, blue-rinsed Waterfront Watch, Oriental Bay nimbies… and a profit driven (what elese?) developer.
These are all things that have to be dealt with in ‘real-life’.

Athfield has applied a very exciting and even hand to the rest of the waterfront.
He understands the Wellington condition, which cannot be said for other architects (or developers) in Wellington.

Philip
13 - 05 - 08

Remember, this is (presumably) the best of 9 such developer driven proposals…

Its all good to want to save the waterfront sites for buildings of significant public utility, but as Monday said there doesn’t seem to be any significant impetus in terms of need or funding available to create such a building.

@Nick, the renders do point to large and flat open areas, but this is really standard procedure in these sorts of renderings. I would definitely expect the open areas to be made more palatable to the public.

@Mobsta, the ‘Wellington condition’, interesting…

Sandy
13 - 05 - 08

m,
ok : not so much housing for the poor, but affordable housing for those who aren’t blindingly rich. Is that better?

I want a reason to go there, to get out on the water. A housing development, in effect like a gated community, with no access for the public other than a lot of private parking, a few scattered shops, and a public viewing platform tucked way at the far end, with little in the public realm beyond those token aspects, is going to offer the Wellingtonian ratepayers nothing, let alone filling the developers pocket.

A place for the public – is that too much to ask?

maximus
13 - 05 - 08

Philip, – by “best of 9 such developer driven proposals” – presumably the council took the one that just offered the council the most money? or is that just being cynical?

m
13 - 05 - 08

Sandy,
but how much access for the public?
They (the public) will have access to the wharf area – as they do now.
They will have access to the retail – as they do now.
They will have access to the viewing platform – as they do now.
You, and everyone else, are going to be able “to get out on the water”

So my questions are: What would you like to see out there? How would you, in an ideal world, like to see the building and public spaces work?

Alex
13 - 05 - 08

I think it’s fantastic, it looks beautiful in the renders.

mobsta
13 - 05 - 08

I have to concur with Philip. Renderings typically show large flat areas, as most of people’s concentration goes on the buildings.

I would think that an extension of the ground planes from Waitangi Park would be extended to the Overseas Terminal, possibly even allowing for the John Wardle building on the preceeding site.

Sandy – I’m not sure how you legislate for affordable housing in an area such as this. Surely market forces will come into play?
The Overseas Terminal will be a very desirable place to live.
Let’s say I buy an affordable apartment for $200K, but someone else is willing to pay $300K, so I sell it, but someone else is willing to pay $400K and so they sell it, and so on, until it reaches it’s ‘market’ value i.e the value that people (presumably more ‘well-off’ people) want to pay to live in that location….
Doesn’t really work does it?

Monday
13 - 05 - 08

@mobsta
It was me who made the comment about legislation for affordable housing. It is not without flaws, but the intention would be to require developers to offer a percentage of apartments/houses at affordable rates to those on lower incomes, as is done in many countries around the world. You’re right that it would last only as far as the first sale, I’m not an expert on the issue …

@sandy
There are no gates. Public access to the wharf + platform is guaranteed once the construction process is complete–WCC realise they would be foolish to do otherwise. All of the ground floor and some of the mezzanine level is given over to retail tenancies, and there is very little parking provided at wharf level(I think I saw about 5 parking spaces on the west side)–so arguably there will be more space made available to the public than is currently.

Philip
13 - 05 - 08

Perhaps not so cynical maximus. Maybe each of the development proposals should have been made public – more public scrutiny may have encouraged proposals (and the councils decision) to be more public-focused.

About the idea of apartments, its like with the Hilton – having some sort of constant human presence in the area goes a long way to making it a useful, safe and popular environment.

KLK
13 - 05 - 08

“A housing development, in effect like a gated community, with no access for the public other than a lot of private parking, a few scattered shops, and a public viewing platform tucked way at the far end, with little in the public realm beyond those token aspects, is going to offer the Wellingtonian ratepayers nothing, let alone filling the developers pocket.”

Sandy – that’s an extremely negative summary of the development isn’t it?

The proposal can be compared to a lot of similar spaces around the world I guess, but I’ll use one : King St Wharf in Sydney – a place I spent many an hour (and dollar) at

Low-rise, exclusive apartments above, food/beverage/retail below, a waters edge and public access. Its a thriving area of activity, constantly busy, constantly alive. People love it.

“The housing development” is, if I am not mistaken, what you are actually proposing with the affordable housing argument – true?

LK
13 - 05 - 08

interesting that name calling arises when somebody raises questions of ethics…’idealised student’ is the usual charge… also interesting the pride some people take in keeping things ‘real,’ or in other words, the pride they take in being able to justify maintenance of the status quo.

i concur with the above assessments that the waterfront is becoming a procession of uninspired responses to important questions about contemporary public space. the kumutoto competition generated some restless projects addressing this. needless to say, they did not win. the overseas passenger terminal seems a pretty building sitting ‘on’, not ‘within,’ its site. it does not engage with its physical or cultural context except in a particularly complicit economic/professional manner. playful aesthetics aside, this is a deeply reduced and cynical vision of architecture.

athfield is certainly not the only archi-culprit, he is however the posterboy for this particularly complicit mode of architectural practice. ‘the wellington condition’?

mobsta
13 - 05 - 08

‘Idealised Student’ was never meant to be an insult or name calling. It just seemed that the tone of the post was charged in that direction.
My apologies to Nick, if he did indeed take it as an insult.

A very interesting post from LK.
I would be very much interested in your thoughts and definition of ‘contemporary public space’ and how this could be achieved in todays environment – and more relevant to this discussion – on this site.

starkive
14 - 05 - 08

Hello Mobsta… how are the babies?

I can attest to the problems of getting a not-for-profit public use up and running on the waterfront. It takes a coalition of local and (usually) central government with an activist organisation and almost superhuman stamina to wade through the interest groups and objectors. In the end it can be remarkably liberating to walk two blocks inland and find so many of the problems gone.

Meanwhile, Willis Bond/Athfield and their like at least provide some population for what would otherwise be a bleak expanse – more Danzig than Barceloneta – if Waterfront Watch had their way. Good for a remake of the French Lieutenant’s Woman, or taking an apartment-bound dog for walkies, but sod-all use to citizens.

mobsta
14 - 05 - 08

Very well thank you Starkive.
And your trip stateside?

I can also assume that your “not-for-profit” did not have $100 million to spend on your waterfront site (as Willis Bond does with the Overseas Terminal).

The point is – the money has to come from somewhere.

There has to be a demand for “public use” buildings (sports centre, art gallery, museum…) and as Monday correctly points out – there is no real demand for these at the moment and they are mainly catered for elsewhere.
(Unless someone would like to propose other alternate public uses for the Overseas Terminal site – a question that has been put to a number of posters on this blog – and which has, to this point, remained unanswered).

There is also the question of funding public proposals and getting them through the bureaucratic process (both local, national and waterfront watch) – not a simple task as starkive points out.
Rumours have circulated about a cost of $25 million just to strengthen the wharf. A sum that a not-for-profit, or public use proposal, would probably have trouble justifying.

maximus
28 - 05 - 08

And breaking news on the OPT: Waterfront Watch, fearless scourge of Waterfront developers everywhere in Wellington, have lodged an appeal with the Environment Court, which will slow this down and potentially mire this project for years to come.

Will they have the Ooompf to run the project out of town, as they did with the Hilton proposal on the Outer T of Queens Wharf? Where does Pauline Swann get her energy from? Do they have some mystery backers this time – because sure as hell it is going to cost as much dough, or more, to fight this battle. Or are they finally on a hiding to nothing, being up against a much more powerful local cabal of architect Athfield and developer Willis Bond?

Time will tell. But don’t expect much building action on the OPT for the next few years….

mobsta
28 - 05 - 08

HERALD

“Affordable housing part of waterfront makeover
5:00AM Wednesday May 28, 2008
By Anne Gibson

Developers working on Auckland’s Tank Farm development are discussing building a cheap housing cluster in the heart of the city’s waterfront makeover.

John Dalzell, project director for Sea+City, a subsidiary of Auckland Regional Holdings, yesterday announced that a component of affordable housing was earmarked for the marine area.

Over the next 25 years, the 35ha sweep of land to the east of downtown Auckland will be transformed from a bleak industrial precinct into a modern waterfront. The multibillion-dollar project will include apartments, offices, shops, bars and cafes, as well as the existing marine and fishing industries. There will also be a 4.25ha park jutting out into the Waitemata Harbour that could include an iconic public building.

The Government wants to force developers to build low-cost housing in all new residential estates to redress rapidly falling home ownership levels.

This month, a parliamentary committee sat in Auckland to hear submissions on the new affordable housing law which would give councils powers to strong-arm developers.

Patrick Clifford, director of Architectus Auckland and the designer who has worked on concepts for the Tank Farm, said yesterday no prices had yet been discussed for affordable houses and details were yet to be finalised.

Mr Dalzell said precisely where and how the bargain housing could become part of the mixture had been encouraged by the Tank Farm’s technical advisory group.

He cited Piermont in Sydney as an example of an area with a desirable social mixture, adding: “We’re looking at how that could be adapted here.”

Asked if this could mean dozens or even hundreds of places selling for around $250,000, Mr Dalzell said this was not decided but the places could be built in the middle of the development, not on waterfront edges where prices would be at a premium.

He was responding to questions about public concern over multimillion-dollar apartments being developed in the Western Reclamation area, and he criticised the CBD for having a narrow range of apartments which appealed to few groups and particularly ignored families.

Next Tuesday, independent commissioners will begin hearing a private plan change application for the area which could see its zoning changed from industrial, marine and commercial uses to a new mixed-use belt. Around 700 submissions are expected to be aired and building heights will be hotly debated.”

Nick
4 - 01 - 10

Is anybody else getting sick of these banal Athfield projects?

Another professional, sensible and aesthetically comfortable scheme where the only thing concerning is the absence of anything exciting. How difficult is it to design an articulate public realm, particularly on such a brilliant site. Is 'active edge' and nice details all we get?

The gray parade continues…