Published 24 August 2012
Auckland was anything but a design-led city until the effects of having a council urban design panel started to be felt, mayor Len Brown told the newly appointed panel on Wednesday.
The Auckland City Council created an urban design panel in 2003 in the wake of controversy over the design – and unwanted impacts, including a lack of transparency over bonus floorspace – of the PWC Tower on the corner of Albert & Quay Sts. The Manukau City Council created a panel in 2006 on a pilot basis, put it on a more permanent footing in 2007 but never really used it well.
The mayor mentioned pride as a strong force among Aucklanders wanting to encourage better design. He told of quietly having a coffee in Parnell early one morning and being approached by someone who told him: ‘Every decision you make should make this city more beautiful.’
“That resonates with me,” the mayor told his Town Hall audience this week. “And that’s not just in the environment but how we build multi-level developments.”
He said he wanted to see quality in the apartment developments of the inner-city, making them an option for families as well as the mostly singles & couples who occupy the present stock.
One thing that has impressed him in the development of the Wynyard Quarter is the planting of native trees & shrubs along Jellicoe St, “in the way they are found in the bush, in groups”. He said the Viaduct Event Centre was proving to be a spark for Aucklanders’ social lives and the promenade along North Wharf “genuinely tugs at the heart strings of our people, making them proud”.
Peddle Thorp Aitken Ltd director Richard Goldie took the panellists back to 2000, when the PWC Tower was being questioned. The first change was that it resulted in a design workshop being held: “A sense was growing that perhaps the design of our city should be planned.”
Important in the process of the new panel was an ability to identify excellence, followed by the dawning of a discretion not just to create but to achieve an excellent Auckland. The city went from ’She’ll be right’ to ‘We’ll get it right’.
Professor John Hunt, one of the 2 original convenors and still holding that position, said the Auckland panel didn’t have the sophisticated designs to review that were considered in the UK by the Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment, “nor the luxury of what the Vancouver panel does: Thumbs up or down at the table.” The Auckland panel advises, without a statutory role.
“Our approach in Auckland has been one of support, coaxing, getting people over the bar and just slowly nudging that bar up.”
While the panel process had led to better outcomes, panellists had been curious why presenters of many of the rejected projects never came back: “We reviewed a large number of hastily prepared developments, chiefly apartments. The developers had a lease or option on the site, got turned down and went away, so in the early days the panel had success in stopping projects.”
Although the panel hasn’t had a statutory role, Professor Hunt said a distinctive & strong point about it was speed: “We’ve hammered out a recommendation before we went home.”
Council design champion and environmental strategy & policy manager Ludo Campbell-Reid told the panellists: “In the age of bean-counting & business cases, putting a value on design can be hard. In time, people will understand. There’s a passion which is emerging in Auckland, that things are changing and people want a better city.”
Mr Campbell-Reid spoke of pride, prevention of bad design, and progress. One word missing from the occasion, though, was transparency. It’s been the custom for the panel to consider designs in private if they haven’t been put forward for consent – and it’s some years since the panel has opened its door to media.
That’s understandable, but if the city is to take design seriously – and make building developers realise that theirs is not an isolated footprint on which they can do what they want, regardless, but is a patch on the citizens’ quilt – the council & the panel need to encourage at least a public audience, if not public participation, at an early point.
The 39 members of the new council urban design panel:
Brian Aitken (chair), Peddle Thorp Aitken Ltd, architecture
Janine Bell, Boffa Miskell Ltd, planning
Peter Bourke, Awatea Capital Ltd, property
Greg Boyden, Jasmax Architects Ltd, architecture
Kevin Brewer, Brewer Davidson, architecture
Pip Cheshire, Cheshire Architects, architecture
Patrick Clifford, Architectus Auckland, architecture
Henry Crothers, Architectus, landscape architecture
Andre de Graaf, Construkt, architecture
Rachel de Lambert, Boffa Miskell Ltd, landscape architecture
Michael Geale, Michael Geale &Associates Ltd, property
Lance Herbst, Herbst Architects Ltd, architecture
Rau Hoskins, design TRIBE, Unitec New Zealand & co-chair Nga Aho network of Maori design professionals, architecture
John Hunt (convenor), Auckland University School of Architecture & Planning, architecture
Shannon Joe, Warren & Mahoney Architects, architecture
Annette Jones, Beca, architecture
Andrew Lamb, Infratil Infrastructure Property Ltd, property
Gavin Lister (chair), Isthmus, landscape architecture
Jane Matthews, Matthews & Matthews Architects Ltd, architecture
Graeme McIndoe, McIndoeUrban Ltd, architecture
David Mead (Chair), Hill Young Cooper Ltd, planning
Kobus Mentz, Urbanismplus Ltd, architecture
Dr Diane Menzies, Unitec, landscape architect
Simon Mrkusic, Pragmatix Ltd, architecture
Ian Munro (Chair), Urbanismplus Ltd, planning
Tracy Ogden-Cork, Motu Design Ltd, architecture
Andrew Patterson, Patterson Associates Ltd, architecture
John Potter, Boffa Miskell, landscape architecture
Alistair Ray, Jasmax, planning
Nigel Richards, McConnell Property Ltd, property
Nick Roberts, Barker & Associates Ltd, planning
Jeremy Salmond, Salmond Reed Architects Ltd, architecture
Graeme Scott, ASC Architects Ltd, architecture
Rewi Thompson, Rewi Thompson Ltd, architecture
Will Thresher, Thresher Associates, landscape architecture
Mark Townsend, Auckland University School of Architecture & Planning, architecture
David Turner, Unitec, architecture
Christina van Bohemen, Sills van Bohemen Architects Ltd, architecture
John Wardle, Stephenson & Turner Architects Engineers, architecture.
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Attribution: Panel function, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.