Britomart’s new temporary entrance is open

The new temporary entrance at Britomart, which I’ll refer to as ‘the shed’ and is needed while the City Rail Link is built under the old Chief Post Office (CPO), is now able to be used by the public. From next week the CPO will close making the shed the main entry to the station and the only way to access it at the western end – the entrance under the EY building is unaffected.

I haven’t been though Britomart yet this year but Cam Pitches kindly grabbed some photos for us.

And here it is a little closer up

This looks quite different from the renderings Auckland Transport produced earlier showing it looking more transparent

and

The material is translucent though letting a lot of light in as shown in this image from AT when iwi blessed the entrance last week. I wonder the choice of material was to stop the place suffering from becoming a glasshouse effect during the heat of the day.

One can see above is the new train display that’s been installed. Here’s a better look at it from Cam and to me, it looks a considerably better than the old red LED displays in the CPO (above the HOP machines and ticket counters)

With most people arriving at Britomart heading south towards Customs St, the most heavily used entrance will see passengers pouring out onto Galway St. Here’s what that entrance looks like as finishing touches are put on.

For some time now, the footpaths on Galway St have frequently been parked over by delivery vehicles, tradies and taxi’s. With thousands of people daily now about to use it, it will be imperative that Auckland Transport step up enforcement and keep it clear

Here are also some photos by Luke

One thing to note is that there are no escalators from the ground level down to the lower concourse, only stairs or the elevators.

The entrance certainly looks temporary from the outside but as Luke mentions, and what I felt looking at it during construction, it does feel light and spacious. It will also be fascinating to see how long it lasts after the CRL is complete. Temporary structures tend to have history of sticking around a lot longer than intended with a great example being the slug on Queens Wharf.

 

Update: the CRL team have sent me this

The CPO Queen St doors will close after the last train on Monday night (for three years) and the new entrance will be in operation from first thing this Tuesday.

Are we getting the Public Space Outcome at Britomart the City Needs?

One of best things Auckland is getting as a result of the great upgrade that is the City Rail Link is, at last, a proper urban public square in precisely the right place. The section of Lower Queen St in front of the grand old CPO that is now the Britomart train station, once void of all vehicles, will become the most important bit of paving in the city. Or at least it certainly has the potential to become the symbolic and functional starting point of the whole city: Not only will every protest or celebration will start or end there it is also where the city conceptually starts, down on the water’s edge. And out in front of a well used big public building that looks and feels enough like a northern european Rathaus, Italian Palazzo Publico, or north american City Hall, that relates to this public space way more successfully than our actual Town Hall ever has. That grand old ship of a building has always been rather closed off and remote, wedged up the hill too far from shore, with its entrance on the wrong side for the subsequently added public space.

Additionally it is certain to be full of people; they are delivered here everyday in ever increasing numbers by train, bus, and ferry. And in the 21st Century, I argue, the big Transit Centre is really the where the public interface with both each other and engage physically with local government in the way populations used to at Town Halls and big Post Offices. Those bureaucratic functions of city and state more usually take place online now, so the only routine way we collectively share that kind of interface is at the central station.

Central Post Office 1921

In fact I’ll go so far as to say that the new space, will it be know as Britomart Square?, will in fact help redeem the always awkward carpark roof that is Aotea Square, by giving it a balancing other self. These two places will act like the alpha and omega of the heart of Queen St, forming a shape like the cartoon drawing of a dog’s bone, or weights on a bar: in turn making this difficult-to-love gully floor into a more contained and bounded city spine. This, the flatter section of Queen St, will at last have somewhere to be from and to. Of course the redemption of Queen St also requires the painfully obvious removal of pointlessly circling lost private vehicles, a task that all our elected leaders and city apparatchiks have thus far failed to achieve, to the on going bewilderment of everyone. But I digress.

Now that Auckland is re-discovering the value of the urban public realm and is starting to reverse the decades of the ‘public squalor and private affluence’ philosophy imported from the US last century, a change that replacement of the dreadful and menacing downtown bus centre and carpark with the gleaming Britomart Train Station perfectly illustrates, it matters enormously how well this new public space is formed.

Britomart public realm

So here is the plan in its latest publicly released form. I am hearing rumours that the use of Galway and Tyler Sts for buses with them then entering the new public square as shown above may no longer be the plan; we can only hope that this is case. So apart from removing all [or almost all] vehicle traffic from lower Queen St the new public space is formed by the sale of the existing QEII Square to Precinct Properties who plan to rebuild the western street edge up to three stories [19m], as shown in the render below.

Lower Queen Street - public space and facade

With a promised kink to the current line of the old Air NZ building, now the HSBC building, being the only relief in the line of new glazed shop fronts facing and defining the Square’s western edge.

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Possible open space

The plan above identifies some waterside options [A, B, + C] for new public space that the Council is exploring to replace the loss of QEII square. Improvement and increase to these areas would all be welcome, and of course we’ve already paid a fortune to buy Queen’s wharf from ourselves, yet none are really urban civic public spaces like the piazza being promised here. Lower Queen St, D, was always public space, like every road. And in fact has been a people space [ie without traffic] at various times in the past:

CPO 1980s

CPO 1980s

This is a condition I can remember and was about as successful as the dreary and shaded QEII Square it connected to, but at least the unbuilt expanse of QEII Square meant in the afternoon once the shadow of the then Air NZ building moved onto Quay St it was sunny and bright.

Architect and urbanist Graeme Scott, Chair of the Urban Design Forum, fears we could be making another sub-optimal public place here with this current plan but also believes that with a relatively minor hack the potential shortcomings could be substantially improved. In his submission to the Private Plan modification to rezone QEII Square last November he writes:

 

Graeme Scott_01 Graeme Scott_02

So rather than the ‘pedestrianised street’ as proposed in the Council and Precinct deal an actual Square in shape, and critically one that doesn’t increase the shading problems already caused by the HSBC building, this is achieved by restricting the new building on the downtown site back to the line of the current HSCB building:

Graeme Scott Plan

Where #21 is the existing Zurich House #1 is the HSBC, blue shading is the part to be built on by Precinct. Scott also feels the lane through to Albert St [Pink ] is too narrow on current plans so here it is shown at a 12m width. The resultant new public space [Green] is both less shaded and more complex and offering a section of north facing wall backing on to Zurich House which will be especially valuable in the morning and less susceptible to wind coming down Queen St.

This of course means less gross floor area for Precinct to use to get a return on their development and no doubt a renegotiation of the deal agreed to by Council last year would be required. But on this issue, without getting into specifics Scott says:

Graeme Scott_04

I find Scott’s arguments compelling.

First that it is very important we work hard to get this place right. I understand that the pressure to conclude a deal with Precinct over this site must have been furious, but now that the dust has settled I think it is time to take another look at the options and most importantly the public realm outcomes here. The plan change process is not complete, so while I’m sure the desire, especially by Precinct, to move forward as currently planned is no doubt strong, the public interest must be protected too, because, as Scott says, once it’s gone; it’s gone.

Second, his solution is looks both powerful and subtle; the essence of the deal remains, but the outcome is substantially improved for everyone.

*****Update: a couple of additional images showing the bulk of the scheme as currently planned [1]  and the variation proposed by Graeme Scott [2]:

Bulk of the current scheme

1. Bulk of the current scheme

 

2. Bulk of the Scott scheme

2. Bulk of the Scott scheme

 

New Buildings at Britomart

Britomart has been an outstanding success, both from the train station – which is way ahead of patronage projections – and the redevelopment of the precinct around the station which has turned the area from one of the most run down and avoided into one of Auckland’s best urban destinations. That redevelopment has been done by Cooper & Co and has included the renovation of 18 heritage buildings as well as the construction of new ones such as the EY and Westpac buildings.

While much has been done, what a lot of people often don’t realise is that the redevelopment is still far from complete. One particularly large change will see a new buildings built on the central site bounded by Commerce, Galway, Gore and Tyler Streets. The area is currently home to a series of low rise buildings housing the likes of Ortolana and which were only intended to be there for the short to medium term.

I’ve been hearing rumours for a while now that Cooper & Co were keen to get under-way with the Central Building once again to tie in with the CRL – another case where the CRL is driving commercial development. Yesterday we learned that not only is that the case but also Cooper & Co have put a proposal to council to develop an office town on the publicly owned land at the back of Britomart that is currently home to the glass box extension of the former Chief Post Office and that odd little carpark. The current plans by Auckland Transport are to use it for a temporary entrance to the station while the CPO is closed while the tunnel is dug out beneath it but what happens after that work is finished is unknown.

3D view of temporary Britomart station CRL2

The temporary main entrance to Britomart

Cooper & Co say they’re currently working on the master planning for the central and western areas of the Britomart precinct and obviously see an opportunity to further increase the amount of development planned given the success of what’s been done so far. In addition they are bringing it up now as any works needed to support the development of the site could be done at the same time as Britomart was undergoing the extensive work that will be happening for the CRL. Some of their suggested changes are

  • Strengthening foundation work so as to enable possible construction of a new commercial building to the east of the CPO building utilising the air space above the Transport Centre.
  • Creating a large new concourse hall for the Transport Centre, possibly linking with the CPO building.
  • Opening up the western face of the CPO building.
  • Creating more public spaces.
  • Increasing the capacity and operating efficiency of the Transport Centre and reinforcing its position as Auckland’s “Grand Central Station”.

Their ideas for the site are shown in a presentation to the council’s Development Committee today. Their potential master plan shows a number of buildings on the central site around a square and four buildings along the edges of the site behind the CPO. You can also see they are planning a building for the site currently home to Britomart Country Club. I’m also guessing this was drawn up before the sale of QE2 Square and I wonder if that had an impact on their thinking about the potential for publicly owned land.

Cooper & Co Britomart Potential Master Plan

For the Western site those four buildings are actually low rise retail stores above which an office building would float creating an elevated atrium three to four storeys high, this is shown in the image below. You’ll also notice there’s another set of escalators/stairs down to the middle concourse level, I believe they or something similar go in as part of the temporary building during the enabling works.

Cooper & Co Britomart Western Site section

Here’s some concepts of how they think it might look, complete with ghost people.

Cooper & Co Britomart Western Site visual 1

Looking West towards the back of the CPO

Cooper & Co Britomart Western Site visual 2

Looking East from the back of the CPO

While only a concept it certainly seems like it could be an interesting building. The more I look at it the more I also think that removing that leaky glass box and opening up the back of the CPO could be quite nice. Of course in reality buildings aren’t quite as transparent and so as always better details of the design key.

There are also a few images of the proposed central building(s)

Cooper & Co Britomart Central Site visual 1

Presumably looking east a level up above the central square shown in the master plan above

Cooper & Co Britomart Central Site visual 2

The interface between the central buildings and Takutai Square

I realise these are only concepts however one thing I did notice is that there are none of the volcanic cone features shown. I’m not sure if that’s deliberate or just an oversight. It also appears that that they want to see Gore and Commerce St as shared spaces given the lack of road delineation in the images. That is also shown in the aerial view of the precinct below. Just how practical that is isn’t known as we know from CRL information that buses will still be passing through the area – particularly on Commerce St.

Cooper & Co Britomart Aerial View

Overall it’s an interesting proposal and we could do with some bolder architecture. I think should definitely be considered among a mix of other options for that site. I also think that if the council/AT end up agreeing to this and it requires reinforced foundations that AT should also consider if it’s worth changing the platform layout of the station. We already see today that the platforms at the station struggle hopelessly even with today’s volumes, let alone what might happen once the CRL goes live.