Wednesday, 15 March 2006

Rebuilding Auckland's Tank Farm

Auckland's 'Tank Farm' on Wynyard Point is Auckland latest political football, and looks likely to be so for the next thirty or so years. As oil company leases expire there (on land co-owned in the main by Ports of Auckland Ltd, and on the margins by Viaduct Harbour Holdings Ltd, and Americas Cup Village Ltd) forces are gathering to re-develop the area. As always in New Zealand, there are forces opposed to development, forces opposed to competition, and forces opposed to anything beyond the bland and mediocre.

'When in doubt, plant a tree' seems to be all too common a theme. Demands for parks, for open space, to ban "shops, offices and apartments" -- and presumably profits -- from the area are just so much nonsense." The new development should be democratic, not just the for the elite," says ARC councillor Sandra Coney, making the point for most of those opposed to mostly everything that makes any sense. "The Tank Farm will become a playground for the rich with the poor emptying the bins," says Heart of the City's Alex Swney, summoning up working-class envy on behalf of Queen St retailers opposed to competition to the west. Swney it is who has set up the dripping wet WeOnlyGetOneChance.Com in an effort to mobilise forces against business competition (you've probably heard his sneering radio ads). What an idiot.

Many of the comments from most of the usual suspects ignore the reality of the the proposed (and much-needed) second harbour crossing, for which Wynyard Point is an obvious and already mooted candidate. And too many ignore the excitement a hard-edged urban landscape generates when done well.

For once in Auckland, on a site representing such an enormous opportunity, it would be good if the bland and the mediocre and the suburban were overlooked, and a real hard-edged, working, urban waterfront could result. Don't think Quay St East (in fact, avoid Quay St East altogether). Think downtown Manhattan and Battery Park, or downtown Sydney and the Rocks. Or even London's Docklands and Greenwich. Think things that haven't yet been seen in this funny little city.

Oddly, unexpected sense and a portion of good thoghts have been rolled out by Port's Design Team, whose concept (right and below) is simple but surprisingly strong despite some occasionally bland illustrations, a still somewhat suburban scale (particularly at the point's tip), and three grave errors: 1) not taking account of the second harbour crossing, 2) assuming there are enough people in Auckland to fill even more bars and restaurants, and 3) ignoring almost totally, it seems. the needs of the existing marine industry located in the area.

Personally, I was unhappy when the fishing boats and fishing industry were thrown out of the Viaduct (with Simunovich the solo exception). If the new developments send industry even further away I'll be very unhappy, and so will they. But despite that oversight, which can be remedied now, the Viaduct works. It's was the first time the urbanity of this great harbour city really met the water properly. And as the Herald's John Roughan argues (and I agree), it has lessons for development on Wynyard Point:

But the success of the Viaduct is not due simply to the human scale of the place. It owes at least as much to the way commercial activity is combined with public areas there. That is the formula to follow.

It does not necessarily mean more apartments, restaurants and bars but if there is a demand for them, let it happen. More likely the commercial activity would change as you proceed west from the Viaduct. The high life would give way to marine industries much as it does now.

Possibly the best thing the designers could do would be to find ways that the fish markets, boatyards and every sort of marine servicing depot could continue to operate there with more generous public access to the same waterfront.

I'm sure this would present more of a problem to planners than it would to people working or walking on the waterfront. Planners abhor chaos, but left alone people would quickly resolve so-called issues of conflicting use.

Quite right. One thing all parties seem to agree upon is that the area needs a landmark building -- an iconic building to do for Auckland's harbour what the Opera House does for Sydney's. Even Councillor Coney agrees, albeit rather wetly: "A number of people say this area needs an iconic building or structure - art galleries and museums have been mentioned. Whatever is chosen should meet a number of criteria - and be of interest to the city's diverse communities... The concept of an Arrival Museum could well fit the bill..." Good grief.

For mine, John Roughan sums it up well:

All week we've been reading of ideas for the redevelopment of the waterfront from the Viaduct to Westhaven, including the removal of the tank farm and using that commanding site for a building of Sydney Opera House significance.

I haven't heard a more exciting subject for a long time. Auckland could erect something there that would define the place, dominate the harbour and swell the hearts of its citizens forever. Sydney has done that so well that anything we do might look imitative, but give us time.

The iconic building is literally the last thing we should do. That is to say, we should do it, but not until somebody comes up with the idea that is so good, so right and natural for that location that we'll all wonder why we didn't think of it.

We'll know it when it happens ...

Maybe no other construction could match the tower for grandeur but that tank farm site will inspire something exceptional. But no matter how grand the design let's not consign it to a cultural purpose as Sydney did. Let's come up with something that will have commercial life. That's where people go.

As you can imagine I agree almost completely, except to say that I see both the last few paragraphs and that piece of land beside the Harbour Bridge as a challenge. ( "No other construction could match the tower for grandeur." You surely have to be kidding!) Landmark buildings are sadly not something Auckland has thick on the ground -- iconic and distinctively New Zealand tall buildings even less so. But on that, more soon.

In the meantime, tell Auckland City Council what you think about their proposed District Plan Change to make any of this possible, and tell Alex Swney's anti-development coalition to go to hell.

LINKS: Three days to have say on city-changing project - NZ Herald (with related links)
Tank Farm proposals sweet and sour for industries - NZ Herald
Western Reclamation - Design Concepts - Ports of Auckland
Wynyard Point - Auckland City Council
An alternative - WeOnlyGetOneChance.Com
We have time to get creative - Sandra Coney
Timely re-jig for harbour- John Roughan

Jostling contenders good argument for supreme arbiter - Brian Rudman

TAGS: Auckland, Architecture, Urban Design

1 comment:

  1. Notwithstanding Sydney's use of the concept, there's nothing that lends itself to an iconic waterfront building better than the concept of sails. None of the other things you associate with NZ (rugby, beaches, sheep, alps, Rutherford, Hillary) lend themselves to a building. What's more, Auckland is supposed to be The City of Sails.

    I've told the council and the Heart of the City protectionists that the district plan should go and the land should be auctioned off to the highest bidders for use in what makes the most money (which might very well be the fuel companies) but I would like to see an iconic building there. It'd be rubbished mercilessly if it looked like the Sydney Opera House so something a little more akin to the iconic Dubai hotel would be good.

    Any chance you'll be drawing up a design in your spare time and posting it?


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