New typologies for living now

Text by Bernd Gundermann. Image by Urbia Group

STAGE 1: AUCKLAND’S Wynyard Quarter begins to take shape. Everything seems to be just right: the design quality, the pedestrian-isation, the water edges; but, when compared to similar port conversions around the world, it’s quite obvious that Wynyard Quarter takes Auckland to where places such as Amsterdam were some 20 years ago. It is great in the New Zealand context but not really out there at world scale.

I miss a breeze of explorative courage. Everything has been played safely: trusted developers hiring hand-picked panel-architects, which together figure out what degree of modest novelty might be acceptable for our marketplace – assumed being conservative.

Nevertheless I’m sure Wynyard Quarter will be a huge success for the investors, buyers, and strolling Aucklanders, but will it still stir the blood of the next generation? Does it respond to the demands of a swiftly changing planet or is it just pleasing our sense for contemporary urban décor? 

STAGE 2: Since Ports of Auckland crashed with the arrogant attempt to reclaim half of the Waitemata Harbour, there is a constant undercurrent aiming for the relocation of port activities from Auckland altogether, except for a decent cruise terminal.

I think this suggested move of port functions to places with ample space — such as Whangerei and Tauranga — plus proper transport corridors needs a serious, unbiased, and transparent assessment through multi-disciplinary consultants independent from Auckland Council.

The time is ripe for leaving old-school parochialism behind; cross-boundary planning is the call of today!

However, before the real estate industry keeps on applying the same old approach to this 77 hectares of prime land as well, there needs to be some deep thinking about the relevant parameters for this urban workbench of coming decades to get it right this time. The initiative Stop Stealing Our Harbour wants a “globally iconic waterfront”, which is well-meant yet only scratches the surface of the task. 

STAGE 3: Before developing a brief there should be a discourse about current planning tools in general. Do our methods align with city life in the progressing 21st century? I don’t think so. They basically stem from the 1950s and fail to keep up even with today’s lifestyle.

One of my students mined social media data to find out how people actually use the city. Mapping the results (illustration) he documented that people’s behaviour is utmost fluid and unpredictable. Even during the course of a day there are various surges of motion across the city: grabbing a coffee, meetings, gym workouts, luncheons, shopping, home office, picking up the kids etc. Everyone is moving, yet our district plans cater for a nine-to-five lockdown of life. The only group interested in this is the real estate industry. Developers want “planning security”. The time to liberate our vivacity is now. 

STAGE 4: More homework for the next Auckland. Architects have to envisage new typologies for living nowness. A major challenge for a coastal site is the impact of climate change.

How will sea-level rise and storm surge affect the place? How to transform former berths into resilient coastal landscapes?

Also, will the complete port conversion signpost a change in Auckland’s growth pattern: turn ing inwardly instead of sprawling out? Will we build as true custodians of nature or cling to the Green Building Council’s commercial occupation of sustainability?

I’m sure Wynyard Quarter will be a huge success for investors, buyers, and strolling Aucklanders, but will it still stir the blood of the next generation?

There are so many questions, and so many opportunities for Auckland to finally leave a dent in the urban universe. Given that we tend to talk for a decade or two before action is taken, there should be enough time to push the envelope.

And if the old boys won’t move, just go to Unity Books, buy Micah White’s “The End of Protest” and learn about new ways to enforce overdue change.