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Putting the 'public' in public spaces: A look at Auckland's Freyberg Place redevelopment

Think refurbishing a public space can't make a difference? Think again.

Here’s the thing: when it comes to architecture, Auckland is a pretty polarising place. Come to think of it, it’s polarising about a lot of things, but definitely the architecture.

That includes the newly refurbished Freyberg Place in the CBD. On one hand, people can praise its open design, and numerous steps where people can sit down underneath the tall palm trees and chat about anything and everything, read a book, or just watch the world go by. But on the other hand, one could also argue it looks like a terrible remake of American “lifestyle centres” (read: strip malls with sidewalks) or a dime-a-dozen Southern California university campus. The fact that it also cost $11 million and took months to build only further divides opinion.

Funded by the Waitemata Local Board and the City Centre Targeted Rate, the area is next to O’Connell Street, Courthouse Lane and Chancery Square in the heart of the City of Sails. The innumerable steps naturally make it a pretty cool place for kids to play (especially with the darker steps that look like flowing lava. You heard it here first). There are also heaps of interesting sculptures to admire, giving adults that particular option while the young humans they may be with scamper about. If there’s one word to describe the whole assemblage, it’s “layered.”

The number of people living in Auckland’s city centre has tripled to more than 34,000 in the last 12 years, with few signs of slowing down anytime soon. Freyberg Place is a collaboration between artist John Reynolds, landscape architects Isthmus Group and Stevens Lawson Architects, and represents a push to make the Super City more accommodating and open to the people that live in it.

Oh, and Stevens Lawson Architects also refurbished the nearby 1962 Pioneer Women’s and Ellen Melville Memorial Hall as an urban community centre while the main work on Freyberg Place was going on. Named after Eliza Ellen Melville – the first female city councillor in New Zealand and one of the country’s first women lawyers – it’s well worth a gander.

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