Robert Watts

Suggestions from Robert Watts
Waterways Engineer

When Kathryn Ryan interviewed Peter Townsend recently his vision for the central city included the statement: “Low-rise buildings with more green space”. This is a simple but appealing vision that others have repeated.  People can readily picture it in their mind’s eye. Its form is based on what we have already seen that we like together with what we can imagine using our individual creativity.

But for our central city, how do we work the rebuild so that it is uniquely beautiful?   What attributes should new buildings and the spaces that surround them have?  How do we successfully blend in modern concepts like sustainable building, ecosystem services, shared spaces and multiple-benefit planning and design?

Some of these new ways of thinking already exist in parts of our city.  These include:

The conventional way is to use the City Plan to prescribe set-back distances, recession plane angles and plot ratios in relation to lot boundaries. Beyond the property spaces are defined by reserves for roads, lanes, parks and rivers together with places of assembly around churches and public buildings.  Better outcomes can be achieved when there is an integrated public/private space design.  The opportunity to do this exists with the central city rebuild.

So what are the benefits achieved by integrated design?
A new tree lined pedestrian linkage between streets has the potential to provide additional office, restaurant and shop frontage, and the ability to view all three dimensions of an adjoining building.  With greater width, stormwater and the many piped springs could be diverted into created streams to further enhance landscape and ecological values that provide both public and private benefit.

The most immediate public open space for everyone is the street where we live, work or shop.  A predominately utilitarian design dominates the central city and, together with the mass of advertising below shop veranda level, have little visual appeal - especially in the eyes of European visitors.  The commercial area in Newmarket, Auckland looks far better. 

The original intention of verandas is to shelter shoppers from rain.  On older shops they are an ornamentation that is part of their architectural appeal.  The post free, cantilevering verandas on more modern buildings are an awkward to design feature. Verandas prevent a view of the sky and the building above.  They conflict with trees and create a noisier street environment by reflecting traffic noise down onto pedestrians.  New shops without verandas would on balance have more benefits and would cost less to build.

Advertising signs on the footpath reduce its effective width, and add to visual clutter.  By allowing them the CCC negated the footpath widening that was done in Colombo Street.  More footpath space together with attractive buildings and spaces around them would make shops and restaurants much more alluring.

Posted on 31/03/2011 by Lucas Associates |