Thursday, August 2, 2012

An Ode to Auckland's Wynyard Quarter (on its first birthday)

I wrote my NZ News UK column this week on the projects from New Zealand that are nominated for the World Architecture Festival Awards. I really felt, though, writing the article, that it was a definite case of images going much further than words. And I couldn't really express, in that format, just how grateful I am toward Taylor Cullity Lethlean and Fearon Hay for their beautiful work in the Wynyard Quarter.

Auckland is, of course, built around the water. When you fly into the airport, you fear that you're about to land in the water. Sometimes, people ask "what's your nearest beach?" when enquiring as to where you live. It's more likely somebody catches the ferry to work each morning than the metro. This is all wonderful. Both in tourist brochures and in reality, Auckland is the City of Sails. 

But sometimes it feels like the waterfront around the CBD is so industrial that there isn't room for promenades and vistas and making friends with boats. I love the way the lights of cranes and trucks (to the east of Queen Street) unloading crates from huge ships sparkle at night, seen from Devonport or from the harbour. From the city itself, all this activity is behind a heavy red fence... 

I don't remember what the area between Westhaven and the Viaduct Basin was like last time I saw it, to be honest. Nonetheless, I still feel justified in jumping up and down in excitement about North Wharf, Silo Park and Jellicoe Street. Taylor Cullity Lethlean and Fearon Hay have united the city and waterfront brilliantly, using the harbour's myriad of roles (leisure, industry, transport) to create a series of interesting interconnected spaces. 

Shipping crates have been used to good effect throughout the area. They form a border defining the edge of a seating area and sheltering it. They are piled up to create a podium with an audiovisual screen at the top, itself housed in one end of a shipping crate. Another has been opened up to house an icecream shop. 

The city couldn't afford to build the Fearon Hay design that took first prize in the competition to connect the CBD with the Wynyard Quarter. Nonetheless, the bridge that's there works quite well. It's delightful, too, when it pauses and rises to let somebody into the Viaduct Basin and a crowd gathers to watch the boat go through, along with the drama of the bridge rising, like a curtain framing a play. It's nice the way the practical act of waiting for traffic is transformed into entertainment, into appreciation of boats, which are such a basic part of Auckland life.

The Viaduct Events Centre looks nice. It fits well into the surrounding area (though perhaps casts a bit too much of a shadow at times), and I like that throughout the precinct boats rest so easily and so prettily beside the buildings. Kestrel, which is no longer in use, rests nearby, and it's nice that an old ferry can be seen here (alongside the ferry to Great Barrier Island, which is still in use). It's a much chirpier location than that of Toroa, the former ferry now landlocked beside a highway.

North Wharf, by Fearon Hay, is one of my favourite parts of the whole area. I love the two buildings, slick and slender and very open to the water on one side. It's hard to capture the whole in a photograph, extending as it does for quite a length, but the details are just as delightful. I love the red lettering that reads 'NORTH WHARF' and I love the way the back of the buildings, on Jellicoe Street, respond to the fish market opposite with areas utilising bluey wood that could easily have come from fish crates. Also, the pizza I had for lunch there (at Merchant of Venice) was amazing.

But Silo Park makes for a spectacular ending. Two huge silos frame Westhaven's yachts and the distant harbour bridge beautifully. You can walk through the base of one, which is beside beautiful concrete tidal steps. The pastel staircases and their shadows look beautiful, and are echoed in the crowd of silos opposite. There are reeds in the water beside the path and the lawn is decorated with huge buoys in red and turquoise, practical objects transformed into sculpture.

There are beautiful views from the raised walkway, and also (currently) beautiful white spheres that catch the light and contrast nicely with the dark angularity of the stairs.

The Wynyard Quarter turns one this weekend. Happy Birthday, North Wharf! Happy Birthday, Silo Park! I don't think I can go to the party, but am planning to return soon, take more photos, eat more pizza and sit hypnotised by the sparkling water. 

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