Architecture of the Synthetic the Spectacular and Belligerent : Constructing Wynyard Island and its Urban Littoral
This thesis project speculates upon a reconciliation of Auckland City’s relationship with the Waitemata Harbour by means of a designed intervention at Wynyard Point. In the project, this once private, reclaimed peninsula is re-appropriated through a sea scaped island and a mutable urban littoral. It contends with the accumulated history of Auckland’s reclaimed land, its perceived ownership, and the ever-contentious public and private debate over access. It tests the propensity of an architectural landscape hybrid to capitalize on the opportunities offered by the post-industrial port. This affordance resides with sea and the tides.
The Architectural Review
Wynyard Point goes by many other names. On the Waitemata Harbour in Auckland, New Zealand, the area is prosaically known as ‘Western Reclamation’ − a no-nonsense name for reclaimed land on the waterfront’s western edge − while more colloquially ‘Tank Farm’ nods at the vast amounts of petrol and liquid chemicals stored there for over eight decades. In recent years, since its industrial purpose has waned, more winsome aliases have been put forward, with ‘Kahurangi’ − Maori for ‘blue/precious jewel’ − losing out to the sanitised and predictable ‘Wynyard Quarter’.
‘We are in an era where capital, return on capital and consumption are the drivers of redevelopment,’ says graduate Frances Cooper. ‘The large-scale regeneration of any place is faced with the underlying corporate demand for an iconic architecture − one that is capable of being branded, and thus presenting an image of a new place acceptable to these financial interests.’
Her thesis positions itself against the waterfront icon ‘vision’ proposed by the city’s leaders, and instead seeks a much more episodic, contextual and distinctive architecture for Auckland. To achieve these ambitions, Cooper has undertaken copious precedent research in the three categories outlined in her project title: Architecture of the Synthetic, the Spectacular and the Belligerent. Including fake beaches and plastic laminates, the first looks at how synthetic materials can make new ‘grounds’, an enquiry that has particular piquancy for a contaminated post-industrial site.
The ‘Spectacular’ focuses on projects using water − from the theatrically re-enacted naval battles of Ancient Rome to Aldo Rossi’s Teatro del Mondo for the Venice Biennale in 1979 − while ‘Belligerence’ brings in extreme examples, mostly militaristic, constructed for either offensive or defensive purposes. ‘The history of land ownership forms much of the history of New Zealand,’ says Cooper. ‘While it was contentious historically because of the unjust terms of trade, exploitation and the disenfranchising nature of colonial rule, the most recent expressions of this conflict have been public and parliamentary debate over the ownership of land adjacent to water, foreshore and seabed.’ After a close reading of the ownership of the local seafront, Cooper’s proposal seeks to make Wynyard Quarter ‘fervently public’.
There are two primary architectural moves. The first is the removal of the contaminated soil to be safely stowed in a new concrete-capped island, creating a volcanic cone accessible by foot only at mean low tide periods every six months or so (at other times it can be waded, swum or boated to). The second is the creation of what she calls a ‘mutable urban littoral’, a kind of low-lying tidal pleasure garden animated with various amusements and recreations, which particularly seeks to engage children in the use of public space.
The design progressed through prolific bouts of making models, sketches and collages. Taken together, they describe an imaginary world of programme, material and form that − like dashed-off notes for a novel − formed the potently suggestive material from which the magnum opus has sprung. Cooper sees these ambiguous modes of representation as perfectly aligned with her anti-iconic thesis.
‘They retain the capacity to keep recognisable elements while remaining open to interpretation and multiple readings,’ she says. ‘It makes them the ideal medium for public consumption as they cannot − unlike a rendering − be reduced to a singular, iconographic simplistic image.’
Quoting neurobiologist Colin Blakemore, judge Peter Carl made the distinction between complexity and richness; in architecture the difference between complicated for its own sake (particularly enabled formally by the computer), and something that has layers of meaning and cultural depth. This project, while not being immediately graspable at one level, is certainly in the latter camp, for its sophisticated synthesis of the critique and the proposal. And it was this mature marriage between conception and expression, between authorial intent and graphic signature, which convinced the judges that this was the winning project.