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When is a square no longer a square?

  • 18 November 2015
  • Author: Graeme Scott
  • Number of views: 2132
When is a square no longer a square?
November is a big month for Queen Elizabeth Square in Auckland.  After a short life of only 45 years, it faces a death sentence on the serious charge of being ‘unsuccessful’.  Its fate was duly argued starting 3 November in front of Commissioners David Hill, Basil Morrison and David Mead.  

The Auckland Council and the would-be developer of the land on which the publically owned square currently sits (Precinct Properties Ltd) are in agreement that the land should be sold to enable a larger downtown shopping centre, and the proceeds from the sale will perhaps be used to upgrade public space elsewhere, probably along the downtown waterfront.  The Council’s proposed allocation of land use on the downtown block is shown in diagram A.

The only substantive objectors were a collection of design professionals – The Auckland Architecture Association, the Auckland branch of NZIA, and this Urban Design Forum.  I appeared for UDF, and, to reduce my argument to its essence, I posited that a square needs to have a square-ish shape and some enclosure around its edges - it needs to be a centred space. The proposed rectangular pedestrianised section of street wide open at both ends is a linear space undeserving of the name, and not memorable.

To support a middle-ground option, apparently bypassed by Council and Precinct Properties, I tabled diagram B, which preserves the best part of the square as public space and forecourt to the former Post Office building.  It also significantly widens the pedestrian connection eastward from the Square to Albert Street (due to become a major bus transport hub), thereby ensuring an increased public benefit is delivered on the site during the development.

We await the commissioner’s decision.

Click the "Read More" button for the longer argument.




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