Panuku Development Auckland

28 August 2014

Effective public spaces are extremely difficult to accomplish because their complexity is rarely understood. 

As an urban designer and landscape architect at Waterfront Auckland, my role is to deliver high quality, attractive and vibrant public places resilient to Auckland’s environment, events and seasons; all reflecting the awesome Waitemata waterfront setting.

I am very interested in how we can test ideas on a site prior to developing a final design or spending a lot of money on implementation.  The waterfront is changing before our eyes, transforming from industrial uses to neighbourhoods, high quality streets and great public spaces. Given the fast pace of this transformation, part of my focus at Waterfront has led to a new approach: ‘fast, cheap & easy’ tools that allow the public to use a place, then monitor and use feedback from those users to inform possible uses and designs.

This approach led to the series of site trials last summer at Waitemata Plaza in Auckland’s Viaduct to consider a range of feedback responses to soften the existing hard, exposed former events plaza that characterise William Whyte’s quote.  These included an urban beach installation (with moveable loungers and umbrellas), an artificial turf area (with an ice cream pod, café tables and chairs), shade tree planters and timber decks made from cargo palettes.

The trials provided some basic amenity that attracted public to the space and linger. The moving of the furniture allowed me to directly engage with users:  Weekend beach users found the space relaxing and meditative with great views to the boats and water.  Weekday lunch crowds appreciated tables and chairs with shade.  Visitors appreciated the ice cream vendor. And while adjacent residents had some quality issues with the low cost approach, it allowed them to see the potential for a new soft, green space that people will use and respect.

Monitoring of the site trials was also undertaken using time-lapse video, website response, social media response and Waterfront communications surveys.  The response from the site trials has informed a new plan for the plaza as a green space with a very strong public art focus and a timber deck adjacent to the water for summer activation uses. The new plan was heavily supported by resident and stakeholder groups.

And while the urban beach is not remaining as part of the Waitemata Plaza redesign, we have intentions of that as a site trial feature at Queens Wharf or Headland Park in the future.

Alan Gray is senior urban designer for Waterfront Auckland. Over the past 6 years, his focus is the design and delivery of a wide range of public space projects at the waterfront and across central Auckland with Waterfront Auckland and Auckland City Council.  When he is not on site in high vis and hard hat, Alan can usually be found cycling in Westhaven, banjo picking at the Daldy Street public piano or walking the dachshund along North Wharf.

To learn more about other fast, cheap and easy projects and this way of working visit PROJECT FOR PUBLIC SPACES.

ALAN GRAY, Senior Urban Designer.
Alan's focus is the design and delivery of a wide range of public space projects. When he is not on site in high vis and hard hat, Alan can usually be found cycling in Westhaven, banjo picking at the public piano or walking the dachshund along North Wharf.

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McConnell Property is making excellent progress with civil earthworks, drainage and roads due for completion by May 2017.


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