Queens Wharf: Putting Rugby World Cup 'Party Central' into business

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Mon, 2009-09-14 03:01

The big red gates were swung open today and Auckland’s Queens Wharf was opened to the public – for a few hours anyway -- although by the speeches of the politicians holding the keys you’d have thought they were about to part the Red Sea.

This is the chosen site for Rugby World Cup’s 2011 Party Central, so it’s not just curiosity that sent people through those gates this afternoon:

The big red gates were swung open today and Auckland’s Queens Wharf was opened to the public – for a few hours anyway, although by the speeches of the politicians holding the keys you’d have thought they were about to part the Red Sea for good.

This is the chosen site for Rugby World Cup’s Party Central, so it’s not just curiosity that sent people through those gates this afternoon: There were any number of Citroen owners out there too – i.e., architects keen to see how their designs for the ‘Party Central’ architectural competition stacked up on the site itself.

Queens Wharf up close and personal is vast and windswept, even on a sunny day like today, and the entries for the design competition to fill it for Rugby World Cup and beyond were also posted today, both online and ‘in person’ at the Union Fish Co building down on Quay St. One or two of these ideas are probably going to cost you a lot of money between now and 2011 -- and only a few look like they’re be able to make any of it back -- so you owe it to yourself (so to speak) to see where your money might be going. And even if ways can be found to make any of these pay for themselves, whatever’s built there is going to preside over Auckland’s harbour and be beamed out to the world during Rugby World Cup, 2011 – so you’d want it to be done right, wouldn‘t you.

Which is really my way of saying that you should take a look at what’s been designed for down there. Here’s the official website. Here’s the brief. Here’s the whole pageful of designs. Here’s your information about the exhibition of designs.

There are 233 designs produced from this short two-week competition – just enough time to get a strong idea, and almost enough time to present it well – in many of whom the words sails, sustainability, “elegant sheds” and “flax baskets” figure prominently, as do knock-offs of some of the world’s most well-known architects, along with wakas, silver ferns and rugby balls by the dozen. No surprises there. Other more rigorous and more original architectural themes are also evident, which you’d expect when Auckland’s best and brightest architects put their minds to the same site: a site whose situation is, lets face it, a stunner.

When it’s finished whatever’s built there will become, or should become, the way for Aucklanders in what’s now a shambles of a downtown to head out from the heart of their city and experience the Hauraki Gulf and one of the world’s best harbours. But it has some challenges:

  • Even with the red fence removed it’s still not easy getting there over all the roads – and the new bus terminal at the foot of Queen St is more a barrier than a link
  • The scale of the harbour itself is so vast (like Sydney’s only several times larger) and the population so small (like Sydney only several times smaller) that to make something work there is a real challenge.
  • Windswept wastelands litter the world as a result of architectural competitions for public space, and this site and its context offers more opportunity than most for this to happen again.
  • A bill for development that neither the government nor the two councils involved – or, I’ll wager, most of their ratepayers and taxpayers -- really wants to pick up. Which is why two sheds are supposed to be retained which are so unattractive that if they were on a back block in Piopio you’d probably knock them down – yet here they are in a prime spot about to have the world’s eyes on them, and all the talk is how to bodge up some way to ‘make them work.’

So how have the designers solved these problems and summed up the site? The brief was to put a Cruise Ship Terminal, Rugby World Cup ‘Party Central’ and a rigorous and lasting public space down there. Most of the better solutions have included at least a few of the following features:

  1. Good pedestrian links to Queen St and Quay St.
  2. Sheltered (and partially covered) amphitheatres as gathering spaces.
  3. ‘Look-outs’ at the end of the wharf to present the Hauraki Gulf to visitors, and to act as a ‘destination’ for pedestrians at wharf’s end.
  4. Offering the chance for dining over water – something strangely absent in what should be the world’s best maritime city.
  5. Use of podiums to remove the Cruise Ship services and parking away from public spaces.

And here’s what I spotted doing some of these things well. To see them properly click on the image and a PDF image of the one-page design submission should open up. As the designs are all submitted anonymously, they’re referred to only by numbers (disclaimer, one of these may or may not be my own contribution):

032 032, What it Does Well: Raising the podium and making it an expanded ferry terminal makes it an active working wharf (just as long as there are ferry services sufficient to fill it) and provides much interest across the wharf’s axis instead of just along it. Good strong link to Quay St, which should give good visual presence from the foot of Queen St.

33 033, What it Does Well: Provides a strong sculptural integration of Terminal Building and (covered) public space.

55 055, What it Does Well: Its ‘entrance poles’ give a strong visual presence to Queen Street, and give a nod to the theme of ‘opening the red fence.’ Brings smaller scale marine activity into downtown. Reduces wharf’s enormous scale, retaining 'promenades.’

071 097, What it Does Well: A simple concept that takes visitors out to the water’s edge, with a ‘Lookout Tower’ offering views northwest out to the world’s best harbour.

096 096, What it Does Well: It uses the existing shed well (if you must) to produce a structural motif leading from entrance to wharf’s end. Brings in water to the public space.

125 125, What it Does Well: It’s bold, it’s strong, it links pedestrians to the complex, and it elegantly solves the problem of integrating the Cruise Terminal by using it as the ‘soundstage and screen’ for the outdoor amphitheatre.

146 146, What it Does Well: A seductively simple concept that elegantly solves the problem of integrating the Cruise Terminal and the raised public space.

161 161, What it Does Well: It’s bold, it’s strong, it embraces the scale and sweep of the harbour; its lettable space could pay for itself. It takes pedestrian from all sides of Quay St and offers them bridges over and ramps that sweep into and around (on several interlocking levels) to become first an amphitheatre, then the Cruise Terminal, and out to a ‘Lookout’ from which to enjoy the Gulf .

197 197, What it Does Well: Takes the wharf down to the water with a ‘beach,’ gives protected open space, and gives a ‘Lookout’ from which to enjoy the Gulf (you see what I mean by “some common themes”?).

205 205, What it Does Well: Brings the city to the water’s edge by bringing the harbour right into the city – to regenerate Quay St as well as the two wharves.

211 211, What it Does Well: Uses its curving geometry to give scale to the site; puts its' public amphitheatre in the right spot; offers a unique Lookout Tower to give visitors ‘an eye’ on the whole Hauraki Gulf. There’s humour in it.

212 And finally, at least numerically, 211. What it Does Well: Brings Calatrava to Auckland.

So those are the ones that caught my eye. And what will probably win? Probably none of these. Probably something like one of these two: something that’s simple and box-like and could just as easily be in a suburban park; something unchallenging that re-uses the two existing barns; something with open plazas so windswept and vast – so pedestrian and unimaginative – it’ll feel like Red Square by the Water; something without a hope of earning back its construction costs, so that you’d wonder whether it would even be worth the bother and the expense. Nice pictures but.

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