Englishman with designs on Auckland city

By Bernard Orsman

Auckland City's first "urban design champion", Ludo Campbell-Reid, is a big fan of the Sky Tower.

The 328m tower is not only a moment of iconic architecture in the city's short history, it has been the "mental map" to guide the Londoner around town in his first month in the job.

Dressed semi-casual London meets Auckland working style - pinstripe suit, open-neck check shirt, Tag Heuer watch - the 37-year-old looks every inch an urban designer drinking a cappuccino at the new $2.6 million central city library cafe designed by Athfield Architects, as in Ian Athfield, one of the country's leading architects.

He is impressed at how the modern addition turns the corner nicely and respects the context without jumping out and saying "I'm important".

Saying "I'm important" is not what Mr Campbell-Reid or urban design is about. Rather, the personable Englishman is a nice fit for cosmopolitan Auckland.

Having a South African mother made him want to go and see the world when he left university, and his wife Jo, a former floor production manager for the BBC, is part-Parisian.

He loves outdoor sports - windsurfing, skiing and rugby - and has tried his hand designing boats, including the rowing boat that took Stephen Redgrave to his fifth Olympic Gold, in the coxless four at Sydney in 2000.

Mr Campbell-Reid was an accomplished rower himself, competing for England at the World Championships in Czechoslovakia in 1986.

"I have had a very fortunate career. I have been in the right place at the right time. There has been a bit of luck and a bit of skill and many opportunities have come my way."

Opportunities such as working on South Africa's first ski resort and Cape Town's bid to host the 2004 Olympic Games and then returning to London in 1997 at the beginning of an urban design renaissance.

That renaissance was prompted in part by an urban taskforce set up by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott under architect Richard Rogers to revitalise Britain's cities in a design-led way.

Mr Campbell-Reid encountered "London ablaze, full of urban design thinking" and after a stint at the highly regarded Tibbalds Planning & Urban Design and designing yachts he became senior urban designer at Tower Hamlets Borough in east London, a council containing some of the richest and poorest people in London, home of London's second CBD and tallest building, Canary Wharf.

In short, "a borough on steroids".

The feeling over there is that the public sector is a place that has some great talented people, "but the money isn't as good as the private sector and it is not seen as being sexy.

"But from my experience, it is about as sexy as it gets working in the public sector. You get something back and you actually make a difference, you actually can change things."

Public sector experience led Mr Campbell-Reid to believe London needed to see itself as one city instead of 33 separate fiefdoms. He set up Urban Design London, a not-for-profit company and a one-stop consultancy.

Advance two years and Mr Campbell-Reid is halfway around the world in Auckland, a young city "revving up" for its own urban design renaissance.

The time had come for someone else to run Urban Design London and he saw the chance to work with a team to start to shape a city, Auckland, from an urban design viewpoint.

As the city's first urban design champion, although his official title is more mundane - group manager, urban design - Mr Campbell-Reid will be responsible for a team of 11 staff when it is fully assembled.

His appointment is the result of Mayor Dick Hubbard's mayoral taskforce on urban design, part of a big push by the council to halt shonky development and bad architecture passing for urban renewal.

The role of urban design champion is a huge ask in a city better known for planning disasters than good design.

What's more, he joins a bureaucracy that argued less than two years ago that it could not set out rules on design, only to be told by Justice Patrick Keane in a landmark ruling that aesthetics were "an indispensable concern in every planning regime".

How does Mr Campbell-Reid define urban design? "There is one phrase which epitomises what good urban design is about and that is good place-making. If you travel around the world, what makes you feel positive about a city or a street or a public space. It's about intuitive, very practical things done properly.

"Urban design is a common language between architecture and town planning ... about doing very simple stuff, very mundane things at times, properly, and considering the physical aspects of how something works.

"It is nothing to do with style, nothing to do with taste, nothing to do with what it looks like. Architecture is about aesthetics, about fashion, about style and is subject to changes in all those things.

"Urban design doesn't change. It is unbending, it's about doing things properly according to some fundamental principles of place-making."

Mr Campbell-Reid says he is here to move Auckland forward, not dwell on the past. Two main tasks will be to educate council staff and the public, and put more emphasis on urban design in council regulations.

The sexy part of the job will be having an input in private developments and the council's own projects such as the Tank Farm.

It remains to be seen where Mr Campbell-Reid will slot into the process. Will he become a faceless bureaucrat or have a public profile and speak out on issues?

"I don't know. I'm not a political appointment, I'm here to raise the bar across the organisation.

"I would like our urban design programme and our design delivery to be respected around the world. I would like people to come and visit Auckland and say 'how on earth did you get from there to there' and see it as a benchmark for best practice around the world."

Ludo Campbell-Reid

Position: Group manager, urban design, Auckland City Council.
Age: 37.
Nationality: English. Born Hampton Court, southwest London.
Family: Wife Jo, son Louis, 2.
Interests: Skiing, rowing, rugby, windsurfing.
Education: Westminster University, bachelor of arts with honours in urban planning studies; Oxford Brookes University, masters degree and diploma in urban design.
1992-1997: Worked in South Africa on developing the country's first ski resort, Cape Town's bid to host the 2004 Olympic Games and played a part in the master planning for the Victoria and Albert Docks in Cape Town.
1997-1999: Returned to London to work for Tibbalds Planning & Urban Design, London. Helped design the rowing boat in which Sir Steve Redgrave won his fifth Olympic Gold Medal at Sydney 2000.
1999-2004: Senior urban designer, Tower Hamlets Borough, east London.
2004-2006: Chief executive of Urban Design London, a not-for-profit company he established as a one-stop consultancy for London's 33 boroughs.

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