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How to transform Auckland's CBD for the America’s Cup: Architects weigh in

With the champagne no longer flowing and the celebrations winding down, the time has come to seriously consider Auckland’s prospects as the host city of the next America’s Cup. What needs to be done to its design to ensure the CBD is an exciting, innovative space for visitors to flock to from the world over? We reached out to several architecture and design firms to see if they had any ideas up their sleeve.

In the America’s Cup just been, experts estimate the tiny island of Bermuda forked out around $77 million to get its surroundings up to standard for such an event.

A similar investment into Auckland’s infrastructure and urban design will need to be made, should it host the next Cup (and most are certain it will), but both the Government and Auckland Council have been frank about the high costs involved with putting on such an event.

ATEED estimates changes such as extending Halsey St Wharf could cost between $80 to $100 million, but with Sir Ralph Norris estimating the economic benefits could exceed $1 billion, it’s likely the powers that be will dig into their pockets and find a way to fund it.

This means the prospect of another Cup being hosted here creates the opportunity for forward-thinking design minds to pitch some concepts that will help the city’s urban regeneration as a whole – as well as any blue-sky ideas that might not usually get as much traction.

The Viaduct Basin is already a glittering feature of Auckland City and has come a long way since the last Cup was hosted there in 2003. It’s now home to a bustling food and beverage scene along the viaduct and in Wynyard Quarter, as well as various hotels, apartments and businesses, while Silo Park is a spot often frequented for events.

It’s a strong foundation to build from, but there’s always room for improvement.

Here's several architectural and design firms' takes on what should be done to Auckland’s waterfront to make it a more exciting, dynamic place.

Context Architects – A Waterfront Spin

We want to bring our emotional America’s Cup win into a personal, more connected experience, reclaiming Auckland’s waterfront for the people. Context Architects proposes a modular pontoon system that connects to bike paths and walking trails around the city, and on and off the water. Tap on with your HOP card and extend your journey by jumping on a water pedal bike, ferry, city bike or water taxi.

Pontoon modules can be used to create usable land space, urban beaches, protected lagoons, positioned in the harbour to watch a race and used as islands for entertainment, restaurants, accommodation, green space and floating live coverage screens – a paddle-up version of a swim-up bar!

Context recommends moving ferry terminals to the end of each existing wharf, to increase ferry reach and bring more people friendly space to the water precinct. Syndicates Village will be placed to the western edge of the Tank Farm, increasing public engagement. With a new canal link through to Westhaven Marina, Auckland can establish art walks, café and bar crawls and family trails which will operate day and night for the America’s Cup celebration in 2021.

Ultimately, we’re enhancing the experience of our city’s waterfront through innovation, and connection: Enabling hands on creation of your own experience. Prioritising pedal power and pedestrian activity. A Waterfront Spin serves our city for 2021 and beyond, creating fun, dynamic, people-focused spaces. 

– The team at Context Architects

RTA Studio – a new linear Park for the America’s Cup base at Westhaven

Imagine a one kilometre long, North facing new linear waterside park stretching from under the harbour bridge eastward toward the entrance to the Westhaven marina. The Royal NZ Yacht Squadron would become the gatehouse to a new linear park, anchoring a promenade, an America’s Cup Base and New Zealand’s yachting history into the home of the America’s Cup. 40,000 people could stretch across the waterfront promenade to farewell and welcome the racing yachts as they set off and return on each race day. The South side of the new peninsula would accommodate the team sheds and shore crew facilities, while the North face of these sheds would offer cafes, bars, hospitality venues and retail outlets during the tournament. The yachts would be safely moored in behind with easy access the open harbour.

Beyond the America’s Cup life cycle, the park will become unique in Auckland as a North facing, harbour edge, linear public space and promenade that would be used every day as a recreational space, but also offering viewing for regular harbour racing located at finish line of the Harbour Bridge. The sheds would be replaced with any variety of possibilities: clubhouses, cafes, venues, restaurants, yachting supply retailers even a yachting museum. The park would be a stopping point for the new Sky Path cycle way, an urban beach, an event grandstand, an exercising strip, a destination dining experience - a kind of Auckland marine version of the NYC High Line.

– RTA Studio founder Richard Naish

RCG - Tai Whakaruru

The current waterfront threshold is very abrupt, and although we live and interact on the sea’s doorstep, we are out of sync and separated from its power, rhythm and motion. With an event like the America’s Cup on the horizon, it would be great to have public/urban architecture that references the ocean. Architecture along the Auckland waterfront threshold has the ability to embody organic periodicity and acknowledge the presence of the natural world within our built environment. 

Tai Whakaruru aims to activate this edge of the city by creating a tangible connection and embodiment of tidal activity within the urban realm. The tidal canopy manipulates the way people can move and inhabit the urban fringe. At low tide, the thoroughfare is open and transparent, whereas at high tide the shelter is a channelled and a fast moving space. The movement is pure and organic - all driven by tidal buoys under the wharf. The series of fern-like structures inhabit a wharf stretch of the Auckland waterfront, potentially in the new Wynyard development area. The whalebone-esque structure mimics an uncurling fern or sail. The glass and timber panels also draw inspiration from Maori fretwork designs. Tai Whakaruru aims to challenge the thinking of architecture along the tidal threshold and generate more awareness of organic periodicity within the built environment. This would be an exciting and engaging addition to the waterfront, especially with an ocean orientated event like the Americas Cup. To our knowledge, nothing like this has been done before.

– Andy Florkowski, associate director at RCG

Peddlethorp – extend Auckland waterfront to the Captain Cook and Marsden wharves

Auckland is hosting the Americas Cup in 2021, and it is significant events like this that propel change. The original America Cup defence in Auckland in 2000 was one such propelling moment, which set the momentum for the development of the Viaduct basin. Further partnerships between the public and private sector have also given us the enormously successful Britomart Precinct and Wynyard Quarter. It’s amazing that in the space of less than 20 years, Auckland’s gone from the colonial Queen St ‘dragstrip to the hinterland’ to a near continuous waterfront promenade.

The part of Auckland that generates serious passion and debate is the Ports, and they have to play a part in this. My view as I sit in our offices in the old Northern Steamship Building is that the mercantile shipping history of Auckland’s waterfront is important and so I’m happy to see the ports stay where they are, for now, but not unchanged. When we have four million here, that might be the right time for a wholesale departure.

What is obvious to me is that we need to complete the continuity of waterfront, particularly across the part east of Queen St, i.e. where the Britomart could extend to the water. The ‘Queen St Valley’ is defined by Symonds St ridge to the east and Hobson to the west. This natural landform defines and cradles the CBD well. So, I don’t see the need to extend access to the waterfront too far to the east. Just to Britomart Pl would be fine where the Symonds St ridge ends. Right now, the furthest east you can get to the water is Queens Wharf. This leaves the Britomart and the vibrant areas around Fort, Shortland and High Streets orphaned from the waterfront. Madness.

And this is so very easily fixed – Auckland Council can do this. It enrages me to see week after week, Captain Cook and Marsden wharves being put to the what can only be described as demeaning use for unloading, storage and distribution of cars. Auckland Council, who we are reminded is the 100 percent owner of the Ports of Auckland, could tell the Ports to release this area to the public. What do they do with the cars? Build a low-rise carpark building further east, somewhere around the cement silos they recently constructed. Why don’t they do it? Because it’s cheaper to use two old wharves. This kind of lasse faire economic argument doesn’t wash in the modern city, and it’s even more deeply offensive when the elected Council owns the asset.

So, just get those damn cars out of it. Give us Captain Cook and Marsden, then let the Americas Cup propel their development. I’d like to see the Cup bases on these wharves, right in town, then later, a saltwater swimming pool. It’s about the waterfront, stupid.

–- Richard Goldie, director of Peddlethorp

Spaceworks – bring in elements of natural beauty

The team of Spaceworks believe the America’s Cup is about celebrating four pillars of what New Zealand is known for: Water, food, wine and natural beauty.

1.       To celebrate water and to amplify our City of Sails slogan of the past, we would build floating grandstands on the water and built in sail screens to project the racing.  We also think the sunken stadium should be brought back. However, we’d need to start building now, for it to be ready in four years.

2.       Along the waterfront, we would create a nature trail that would make visitors feel like they’re in the native forest by the sea.  All along, our famous photographers and artists would have the opportunity to project their own rendition of the America’s Cup up on sails along the walkway.  This will take visitors along a journey and immerse them in New Zealand life.

3.       Along the waterfront and nature walkway will be two and three-storey bars and restaurants (pop-ups), celebrating our famous chefs and wine regions and which can double as stadiums. Like a wine tour, this will be where visitors can eat, drink and watch the race.

4.      Convert Jucy campervans into minivans and transport visitors around the waterfront and back into the city.

5.       Create an oversized artwork by installing a sail that visitors from all over the world can write and draw on. This will be our keepsake and could be installed as a permanent artwork after the event.

– Spaceworks design team