Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Keith's grand plan worth exploring

Wynyard Quarter waterfront. Photo / Supplied
Wynyard Quarter waterfront. Photo / Supplied

Wouldn't it be nice if the politicians and the computer boffins could agree just where the HT revolution is going to take place.

The Government-funded $1.5 billion roll- out of ultra-fast broadband seemed to signify that New Zealand was to become one giant Silicon Valley.

That the revolution was to take place in the bedrooms and backsheds of every nerd in the land.

But the other day, Auckland Mayor Len Brown and Science and Innovation Minister Wayne Mapp announced the IT "launching pad" for the country would be at 120 Halsey St, a down-at-heel, one-time marine industry building, deep in the Wynyard Quarter of Auckland's waterfront. We were told Auckland needs an "innovation base", a "mini-Silicon Valley"where our best and brightest can meet to hatch their bankable high-tech ideas.

Still, it is good to see new ideas being floated for the future use of the decaying brown fields of the Tank Farm, that make up much of this central city development site.

To fill it with bland housing and grey bankers would be a dreadful missed opportunity.

Without doubt the grandest plan is to erect a cultural exhibition space at the pointy end of the Wynyard peninsula.

Leading the charge is art consultant Hamish Keith and his heavyweight Te Papa North Planning Group. In 2006, critics of the plan to rebuild the Auckland Public Art Gallery on its existing site proposed instead an "iconic" art museum on Wynyard Point.

Advocates included then Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee and former art gallery director Christopher Johnstone. Mr Lee was against an opera house, or a convention centre "for fat guys with ID tags" but felt an "inspirational" gallery with a grand marae-style forecourt would be great for formal civic occasions. The city gallery's $121 million rebuild went ahead.

Mr Keith's proposal is a variation on this theme. His team is proposing that Te Papa, the National Museum, open its voluminous vaults, and share its treasures in a purpose-built venue, situated in the backyard of the country's main population base. It's a proposal which appeals to Aucklanders. It's always been unfair that a disproportionate amount of taxpayer funds is siphoned away from Auckland to fund national arts and cultural organisations headquartered in the small city of Wellington.

Mr Keith's proposal offers a way of correcting this imbalance, and it comes with some high-powered backing from outside Auckland. His band of advocates includes Michael Houlihan, Te Papa's CEO and Jenny Harper, director, Christchurch art gallery. They are advocating the building of a major exhibition space at Wynyard Quarter, but leaving the administration and other head office functions of Te Papa in Wellington.

Like museums and galleries worldwide, Te Papa can display only a fraction of its collections at one time. With Te Papa North, not only would more of the national collection be on display, but it would enable the country's major population base the chance to enjoy its treasures.

The size of the building, the design, the cost, and who will pay, have deliberately been left to one side. What's on offer is a proposal to add to the public debate taking place on a variety of planning documents.

As a way of the national museum finally reaching out to serve its main audience base, the proposal has obvious merit. Particularly if central government can be persuaded to fund it. It's worthy of debate on this point alone.

What's also exciting about the proposal is it's forcing Aucklanders to confront the issue of what the "iconic" building on the Wynyard headland should be.

At present, diagrams of the proposed headland park look like those ancient maps of old, with a blank section marked "terra nova" or "here be unicorns". It's unexplored territory.

We're happy talking about more themed restaurants or tram tracks or gin palace moorings. But start talking of unicorns and the shushing begins. It's as though we've bought the dream harbourside section, and all we can think of is where to put the clothes line.

Now the Te Papa North proposal is on the table, I hope it attracts other unicorns as well. Without its iconic building, Wynyard Quarter will end up as one more subdivision. It's the centrepiece. Why are we avoiding it?

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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