Land banking or profitable business, the on ground car parking occupying the central city locations at Victoria street and Fort street are a bit strange. If not the worst activity for a central city site, they are a complete vacuum of activity, with the only benefit of delivering small numbers of people by an inefficient mode of transport.
A city thrives on activity, exchanges of monetary and social capital, diverse building types and relying congregation points and connection pathways. People and business’s go to the city for proximity and connection to others, giving and taking to various degrees. These car parks form a vacuum at street level, symbolically residing in the carcass’s of deceased building’s like parasites.
Victoria Street West, above, is a poorly kept central ruin with potential. It is one block up from Queen street, flanked on its low side by the recently completed transformation of Elliot street into a shared lane. As an attractive pedestrian environment it connects the civic hub around the town hall to the restaurants and bars of Elliot street. This car park has the potential to anchor the end of this shared lane. Currently the “anchor” is a pile of domino’s boxes spilling over the pavement, and cars competing with pedestrians to enter and exit the car park.
The car park at 28 Fort St, is showing signs – realestate agent signs – that it is taking steps towards development. It has been vacant since the 1980s and was the former location of the Auckland Star Building. The site has a resource consent for up to 26 stories, plus basement car parking, and is listed for sale by Barfoot and Thompson. As Barfoot put it “Once a tower is built on it, no one in our life time will pull it down, so this is it.” To Right!
The stakes are high in central city architecture. The future building needs to be designed well for the benefit of Auckland, as well as the owner. An opportunity sitting clearly in front of anyone with spatial awareness is a connection through the site from O’Connell St to Commerce St.
This could be an amazing amazing pedestrian environment, but at least lets make sure it is better than the “Public Throughfare” provided by the Vero building. How does it pass as a public throughfare? It is poorly identified on street level by a sign no bigger than an A4 sheet, its hours of operation are limited, and it unwelcoming environment makes one question whether your intruding. Lets make sure the architect of the future building provides Aucklander’s with the generosity and drama comparable to the recent New Zealand Architecture Medal winning Imperial Building by Fearon Hay Architects.
Both of these car parks have had shared lanes rolled out around them, and small pop up business intruding to capture some of the activity inherent with the central city. Each site will require a specific architectural intervention which addresses contextual and owner requirements, as well as providing something back to the public domain of Auckland.
This has been done well by the Cheshire Architects designed buildings which fill an old on ground car park behind Britomart. The new pavilions are brought together by an elegant trussed roof structure and a material pallet that works well with the existing bordering buildings.
A quick note on the cover image at this point – it was simply to show the contrast between a car park and good design, no other connection was intended as each site will have its own requirements.
Good architecture is at the heart of these future sites, it is the key to cracking their potential and providing the best for Aucklander’s and the owners. Its easy to see anything as being better than a car park, but that is no reason to be hasty, as what is put up will last more than a lifetime.