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Jonathan Gibb is a freelance writer and Graduate of the Auckland School of Architecture now in practice and part time tutor at the school where he wrote a thesis on Auckland modernist architect Vernon Brown, titled ‘Inspiration.’ He has worked for Warren & Mahoney Christchurch office and Felicity Wallace Architect in Auckland. He has a passionate interest in architecture, especially the appropriateness of Architecture and use of timber, with a growing interest in urbananity. At present he is working at Moller Architects in Auckland.
Fresh breeze for the City of Sails
The City of Sails, Auckland City is New Zealand’s largest metropolis and melting pot of the South Pacific and Asia, straddling the length and breadth of a narrow isthmus of land.
To the East laps the sparkling waters of the Waitemata Harbour, with the stately island volcano of Rangitoto as lord and guardian of the harbour entrance. To the West lies the picturesque Manukau Harbour, a vast expanse of water seemingly landlocked. The Isthmus is punctuated by a network of dominant but dormant volcanic cones that have endured time and settlements to remain as touch stones of our geographic heritage. The land too is rich in legend from its original anointment by the first people of New Zealand, the Maori as "Tamaki Makau Rau", a maiden with 100 lovers. The fertile soils and an abundance of sea food made the region highly desired by early Maori and European settlers. Not surprisingly the location and the regions' temperate climate, easy accessibility to the coast and variety of outdoor activities earn the city a consistent top five ranking in international lifestyle surveys. Auckland is a city which over its existence has relied upon the connection of the harbour to the land. The port, New Zealand’s largest, occupies much of which may be termed as the city’s prime real-estate and has long served as its life blood. The buildings are multifarious for the age and style, undergoing isolated moments of renaissance, best summed up as described by local 1940’s modernist Architect Vernon Brown as ‘Having some of the best and worst architecture of New Zealand.’ The worst may be easily attributed to ‘could be anywhere’ city fringe residential building blocks full of shoe box apartments that serve to detract from the nature of the city. These buildings show a complete lack of thought or care as to the New Zealand way of life that could have been, and still expects to be explored though multi level residential and commercial buildings. Recent re-shaping of the city has happened on both the macro and micro scales. Macro has been a re-formulating of the cities arterial routes along with urban street upgrades and a game of push and pull on the jigsaw that is the city. The best is still to come, with major developments awaiting final design and implementation having been planned for many years, but slow in realising.

One such is the recent commencement of the 25 year redevelopment of the city’s waters edge Tank Farm on Wynyard’s Point that will see a new and fresh approach to utilising the natural resource of the harbour to full effect. The Auckland City Council, Auckland Regional Holdings and Ports of Auckland through master planning by Architectus will see the Tank Farm re-termed the Wynyard Quarter, developed for urban living, parks, shops and restaurants to further connect people to the sea and the city in a way that positively celebrates the genus loci of Auckland's harbour-edge location. The design proposes a 2.4km long public waterfront access along the entire edge of Wynyard Quarter, from Viaduct Harbour in the east to the marine slipways in the west. It is envisioned that this quarter would in the long term become similar to Melbourne’s Docklands Park area.

Recently announced upgrade of the Queens Wharf into a cruise ship terminal and public space from its existing use as warehouses and imported car depot has met with both professional and public approval. As an indicator of ‘why’ this is a growing necessity is the record 73 cruise ships expected in Auckland for the 2007-2008 year, up 46 from last season. The wharf is to include a signature exhibition space and range of amenities to attract visitors and locals, aimed at showcasing the region's heritage. Without a doubt this will again polarise public opinion so recently raw from the debate over whether to build a new National Rugby Stadium on neighbouring wharves.

Leading the urban revitalisation charge has been the infrastructural upgrade of Auckland’s main thoroughfare Queen Street. Architectus have designed and overseen construction of this urban renewal project, dubbed Queen Street ‘Into the Future.’

The design has focussed on upgrading Auckland’s main street to become a high quality and world class environment with a look and feel that is distinctively ‘Auckland.’ The project has involved a widening of pedestrian ways, new kerbing and paving, street furniture, trees and signage and fresh instances of public art have begun to give a more serious address to what is termed Auckland’s golden mile.

One street back from this wharf lays the Britomart precinct, an area rich in history and old building stock under-going renewal building by building, turning the derelict buildings into bars, cafes, target retail and residential character apartments. The precinct has the initial partnering of Mario Madalag and Jasmax Architects to thank for the original master planning and design and revitilisation of the old Post Office to serve as the cities transport hub, integrated with a new under ground train station. Pip Cheshire of Cheshire Architects is currently heading the master planning for the precinct, as well as designs for future buildings.

Within the same precinct is a new ‘Green Office’ development currently on site designed in partnership with Australian architects Johnson Pilton Walker and Peddle Thorp Auckland is the Westpac Charter House. The ground floor includes street level retail, with office floors above which link through into 'Charter House', which is being refurbished as part of this project. The building follows Environmentally Sustainable Design principles and is intended to earn a 5 star Green Star Rating. Adjacent to this the firm is also designing the Britomart East Building, which is intended to start construction in 2008. Peddle Thorp are also at present administering the on-site work at 21 Queen Street, an existing 1970’s building under-going a major over haul. The redesign is carefully reusing existing structure, enabling the design to integrate the latest energy saving technology and sustainable materials to create a 'state of the art' office building conforming to the New Zealand Green Building Council's strict requirements for a five star design rating. The design incorporates six new levels, a double height entrance foyer and public gallery, 100% fresh air chilled beam services; and space allocated for rain water harvesting tanks, cycle and foot commuter shower and changing facilities, recyclable material storage and collection. Re-imaged with a high performance transparent glass curtain wall facade and feature building top lantern The 21 Queen Street transformation is due for completion mid 2009. One project fronting Queen Street is by con-joint practices Sydney based Woods Bagot and New Zealand firm Warren and Mahoney Architects. The 80 Queen Street Development is literally a whole city block, which will be developed, built, owned and managed by Multiplex and will become landmark office building in central Auckland. Deloittes and Bank of New Zealand will both have premium office space in the 21 storey building with the ground floor housing a number of retail units, which create an active street frontage to the four sided site. Part of the podium consists of the existing 1940’s Jean Batten Buildings façade, constructed in the art deco “moderne” style, cleverly combined into the new structure by use of alignment of new structure and echoing materiality with a portion of the new facade. The building will be the first high rise building in New Zealand to be awarded 5 Green Stars under the new NZ Green Building Council’s Office Rating Design Tool. ESD elements include a double ventilated façade, improved natural lighting to offices, low water usage fittings, extensive metering of energy and water usage and a rainwater harvesting system. Away from private developments has been a challenge to the public psyche on the topic of the discernment of art and architecture. The public have been lambasted and dragged, rather willingly in a new direction of public awareness and consciousness with the conception of the

Auckland Architecture Week (AAW). Started in 2006 from the premise that the World Architecture Day was too short and the organising committees self given mission to fill the vacuous void of publicly debated & discussed architecture. The past two years have proved to be highly successful, combining Architects and students alike to present a menagerie of exhibitions, talks and launch evenings. This event is now to be held every two years, each thematically flavoured for ease of public consumption.

Another publically held event has been the introduction of the world wide phenomenon of Pecha Kucha, the first held last April 2007 at the Galatos Bar, attended by a whopping 320 guests and opened by co-founder Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham Architecture. The event has just celebrated its 6th Auckland showing with promise of more to come.

On a national award level principal Architect of Moller Architects Gordon Moller has recently been awarded an ‘Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit’ (ONZM) for his services to architecture. Moller Architects, designers of the Auckland Sky Tower, Casino, Convention Centre and Grand Hotel, Macau (China) Tower and the Point Apartments in Aucklands' Viaduct area are currently awaiting a Resource Consent ruling for go ahead for a new 67 storey building named the Elliott Tower, a residential development in the heart of the CBD. On site projects include the renovating of the historic Imperial and Everybody’s Buildings on Queen Street for office tenanting and high end retail outlet stores at street level. Other on-site projects include two new bridges in co-operation with BECA Consultants and a co-joint project for the Victoria Quarter with firms Architectus, Warren & Mahoney, Jasmax, Fearon Hay, Cheshire, Ian Moore (Sydney), Architecture Workshop (Wellington), and Innovarchi (Sydney). The venture is set to revitalise a semi industrial portion of the city long stagnated.

Moving away from the city centre, RTA Studio are administering works on a new insertion on Karangahape Road. The Ironbank complex comprises of 4500m sq. of retail and commercial office space around a landscaped plaza. The complex is Ecologically Sustainably Designed and when complete will be submitted to the New Zealand Green Building Council for a targeted 5 Green star as-built rating. The project has recently been recognized with a Commendation award in the 2008 MIPIM Architectural Review Future Projects Awards. Another project from the same office currently been designed is the extension to the Auckland University of Technology Northcote campus for two new state of the art lecture theatres, a function room, substantial foyers and ancillary spaces.

Other projects of interest are the freshly opened Auckland University new Business School by Architects FJMT + Archimedia, a trans-Tasman partnership with Sydney-based FJMT (Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp) who have also jointly been appointed to design and administer essential restoration and expansion of the Auckland Art Gallery. The gallery is to undergo a $96.4 million development which will increase its size and create better linkages with neighbouring Albert Park, as well as undertake necessary earthquake-proofing and protection of an iconic heritage building. The restoration and expansion of the building creates at least fifty per cent more space for exhibitions.

Finally, what is presented here is only a wee slice of the Pecan Pie that is the City of Auckland. It is both a blessing and a curse to work in a small Architectural community. The curse is the paralytic fear of backlash and snub reprisals that seem to stifle true debate and criticism within the design community. Therefore I am pleased to be able to present this short report and hope for more on New Zealand branded Architecture and her cities to be presented to the international community.