Tony Garnier: Waterfront building must have 'wow' factor

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The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was built on time and to budget. Photo / AP
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was built on time and to budget. Photo / AP

To truly become the world's most liveable city, our peerless natural environment offering Aucklanders many great and varied outdoor lifestyles needs backing up with world-class architecture that surpasses the structures that distinguish other great global cities.

Auckland was founded around its port. As we redefine Auckland's future, our waterfront is the obvious site to commission an architect with vision to design and build a 22nd-century Polynesian- themed building able to last 1000 years.

Take as an example what Canadian architect Frank Gehry has achieved in the decrepit port area of the Basque city of Bilbao. His simple brief was to build something daring and innovative. The result is the world-renowned Bilbao Guggenheim Museum building (below) clad in long-lasting glass, titanium and limestone, and more important to locals creating a redefined sustainable anchor for the city's economy.

We can also learn from Gehry's management and leadership style. The building was constructed on time and budget, which is rare for architecture of this type. In an interview, Gehry explained how he did it. First, he ensured that what he calls the "organisation of the artist" prevailed during construction, to prevent political and business interests from interfering with the design. Second, he made sure he had a detailed and realistic cost estimate before proceeding.

Third, he used computer visualisations and collaborated closely with the individual building trades to control costs during construction. Computer simulations of the building's structure made it feasible to build shapes that architects of earlier eras would have found nearly impossible to construct.

As others are saying about our city centre waterfront - and extending our thinking to other decrepit and inaccessible waterfront areas like much of the upper Waitemata, Manukau and Kaipara harbours and Tamaki Inlet shorelines - surely now is the time for the city to take a "whole of Auckland" look at genuine alternatives befitting a city shaped by and dependent on its unique geography?

The inaugural 30-year Auckland Plan makes a cautious start to capture Auckland's special character and potential, but the vigorous debating since suggests a growing courage and demand for a more fundamental rethink of its urban ambitions, and which garners all the talent, ideas and balls needed to pull it off.

A stadium won't do justice to lifting Auckland's economy or aspirations to a position as a world city of scale - an architectural statement that thinks beyond Sydney's Opera House and is aimed squarely at putting Auckland on the world map of future modern cities will.

Tony Garnier is an Auckland business consultant.

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