How the stepped design & laneways would work, show by cutting a section of the Willis Bond proposal.

Aiming up while others aim low: McGuinness style will lift Wynyard precinct

In a city with a recent track record of low-quality leaky homes but aspirations to being one of the world’s best to live in, a group of councillors tried last year to cut the required Homestar rating for developments of 5-plus units from 6 to 4.

The objectives of the rating tool are to improve performance and reduce the environmental impact, making homes warm, healthy & comfortable. For the Wynyard Quarter’s first residential precinct on the Auckland waterfront, Willis Bond & Co Ltd has won the tender proposing a Homestar rating of 7.

Mark McGuinness.

Mark McGuinness.

Managing director Mark McGuinness said in an exclusive interview on Thursday: “We want the product that stays the test of time. To get that you need quality workmanship, product integrity & pricing. We’re certainly not the cheapest, and I don’t think we will ever be. [But] you don’t have to surrender quality to get a more affordable price point.”

What those price points will be, he hasn’t said yet. I use price as an indicator of value; he uses a wealth of factors incorporated in design to achieve a price point. The first stage of the Wynyard Quarter development will go on the market at the end of the year, when pricing will be known; prospective buyers can register their interest on the company’s website in the meantime.

Willis Bond has demonstrated harbour-edge expertise with Clyde Quay in Wellington and, in December, won the tender to develop the 4.7ha Sunderland A precinct at Hobsonville Point, where the owner, Housing NZ Ltd, has been notable for demanding high quality as a standard.

At Hobsonville, Willis Bond will develop 210 houses over 4 years. In the Wynyard Quarter it will develop up to 600 homes over 8-10 years.

As with Housing NZ at Hobsonville, Auckland Council-owned Waterfront Auckland is fussy about developing to high standards. Chief executive John Dalzell said when the tender result was announced on Thursday: “The quality of Willis Bond’s design & development process and its strong track record made it a clearcut choice. We want to do things differently with this next stage of development in the Wynyard Quarter – to create a new residential community which is a model of medium-density development demonstrating the highest standards of design & amenity.

“We have selected a developer who is willing to embrace the design & high sustainability standards we have set. Willis Bond got that from the start with an outstanding bid and a professional & enthusiastic approach since, which indicates they’re committed to our aspirations in a diverse range of residential units.”

The appointment followed an 18-month competitive tender process which Waterfront Auckland led as landowner & masterplanner, drawing 20 proposals from local & overseas parties.

Willis Bond’s ensemble is all New Zealand: 3 of the country’s best architectural practices – Architectus, Athfield Architects Ltd and Studio Pacific Architecture; sustainability consultants eCubed Building Workshop Ltd; building partners LT McGuinness Ltd and Haydn & Rollett Ltd.

The Clyde Quay Wharf development team has worked together on a number of urban developments in Wellington, including the Odlins Building (now the NZX Centre), the Free Ambulance Building and Mac’s Brewery on the waterfront, and the Chews Lane precinct in the Wellington cbd.

Among the ideas to come from Clyde Quay was the parking arrangement – all parking leases owned by the body corporate instead of the individual apartment owners, which will keep the ratio down to 1.2 cars/unit, helping the long-held council policy of reversing Auckland’s usual private:public vehicle ratios in this quarter.

An artist’s impression of the units facing Daldy St.

An artist’s impression of the units facing Daldy St.

Waterfront Auckland has the intention of creating an urban village in the Wynyard Quarter, business centred on the innovation precinct plus boutique commercial spaces in the new residential areas. All up, there will be 48,000m² of commercial space, including hospitality outlets, to give the area the life that other Auckland waterfront apartment developments lack.

One thing about this development distinguishing it from the first of those waterfront developments, Princes Wharf, is that the Wynyard Quarter precinct is on the way to somewhere – it sits between the route from the Viaduct Basin, Viaduct Events Centre, ASB Bank & North Wharf at one end, Air NZ’s headquarters and the new Fonterra offices under construction across from Victoria Park at the other, and a 5-star hotel, new marine sector developments & public spaces to come.

Another distinguishing feature will be the laneways through the precinct, making walking a more interesting experience – indicated in the section image above.

In another comparison, this precinct will look distinctly unlike the Maritime Square office buildings along Fanshawe St, which are all 6-7 storeys, reaching the maximum height allowed there. The residential development will have 17 buildings spread over 5 sites – a waterfront site on the corner of Halsey & Madden Sts, next to the soon-to-be-constructed Auckland Theatre Co building and overlooking Viaduct Harbour; and 4 central sites between Daldy, Beaumont, Madden & Pakenham Sts, fronting the new Daldy St linear park.

Heights range from 3-10 storeys, lower at the Daldy St end then stepping up. Waterfront Auckland chief executive John Dalzell began the explanation: “When we went to the market we’d developed a reference design which included all the outcomes we were looking for. The rules are quite complex – in fact, it’s hard to build out the gfa (permitted gross floor area). Even in our reference design it was hard.

“For buildings on Daldy St, we had a configuration. Architectus flipped that on its head and created mews housing, London-style. That’s an important part of the story, getting diversity & quality.”

Mr McGuinness picked up the story: “We’re getting very different styles, mews through to pavilions – larger, timber dwellings with big decks, midrise, 4-5 storeys, to a more conventional steel & glass apartment block which is about 10 storeys. So you’re using different materials, different architects, and it has a feeling a lot more like a neighbourhood than a monochromatic look.”

And Mr Dalzell again: “The interesting thing, when we’d seen a lot of different designs [Mr McGuinness had visited numerous cities overseas for ideas], was: How do you take all you’ve seen and apply it to here, unique to us, and it’s authentic? The overall response [to the Willis Bond proposal] from the Waterfront Auckland board was, it didn’t remind you of one particular design. There were elements, brought together in a way that uniquely responded to the site.”

And Mr McGuinness: “It’s one thing for a building to look good, but this is designed for solar access, that’s not a big austere block, that’s approachable scale, and the linear park complements what we’re doing there really well. You’ve got the park, then stepping to buildings up to 3-4 storeys, and through to the highrise that delivers solar access right through.

“There are little lawn areas, a lot of the apartments are double-sided [as they are on Clyde Quay], sizes are a real mix, the first quarter of them being 3 bedrooms-plus. They’re designed for different family sizings, different age groups.

“We get involved with apartments getting sold. We’re designing these apartments for modularity, so effectively we can do a bit of bespoke designing without being inefficient.”

Ground leases, and different ground leases

The last issue, which has become a major concern for Auckland residential investors, is that the land is leasehold. The 21-year renewals through some of Auckland’s leafier suburbs are a predictable problem, not helped by the sharp escalation in freehold property values in the lead-up to the last 2 major lease renewal periods.

The 29 Quay Park leases started with a long rent holiday and came up for their first ground-lease renewal in 2011. In addition, many apartment buyers found they were stuck in a sandwich, with a developer’s lease in the middle.

At the Viaduct, Tramco led the sharp escalation in ground leases. Over at the Beaumont Quarter, where ground leases were going to head the same way, a buyout & freehold purchase offer resolved the problem.

Waterfront Auckland has been innovative in the Wynyard Quarter, but I don’t know all the intricacies of that. ASB Bank building owner Kiwi Income Property Trust entered into a conditional ground lease agreement in 2010 for an initial 90-year term with one upfront payment of $15.9 million, payable on completion of the development, and an option to renew for a further 30 years.

Willis Bond’s deal is for a 125-year ground lease, also prepaid and the same as Clyde Quay. Mr McGuinness said: “It’s the nearest thing to freehold you can get.”

The driving force behind the McGuinness thinking is a sustainable future, pursued by a diverse group of graduates, academics & professionals through the McGuinness Institute, which he & wife Wendy founded.

It’s “a non-partisan think tank working for the public good, contributing strategic foresight through evidence-based research & policy analysis… We have developed a way of working together to produce reports, papers & background information that we hope will inform, support & inspire other New Zealanders.”

Links: Willis Bond
Clyde Quay Wharf
The McGuinness Institute
Athfield Architects
Architectus
Studio Pacific Architecture

Attribution: Company, designer & institute websites, Waterfront Auckland & Willis Bond releases, interview.

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