With Queens Wharf's prominent role in the Rugby World Cup an increasingly distant memory, it has taken rather too long for a draft development masterplan to surface. That is often the case when a major catalyst is absent, and Aucklanders could only hope that new and innovative ideas would justify the delay. However, to heap insult on injury, the new blueprint is all about a return to the past, rather than anything resembling fresh inspiration.
The centrepiece of Waterfront Auckland's proposal is the return of Shed 11, the century-old eyesore that was removed from the wharf to make way for the Cloud, the structure built by the Government as part of the World Cup's party central. It is envisaged that it will be reinstated south of Shed 10, which has become a cruise-ship terminal and events space, and be used as a market and for other public uses. The shed mania does not end there. The waterfront agency also proposes building a new structure in a similar style to Sheds 10 and 11. It would be located north of Shed 10 at the end of the wharf and include a mezzanine level for functions, along the lines of the mezzanine floor at the end of the Cloud.
Justifying this backward step, Rod Marler, Waterfront Auckland's development general manager, talked of the history associated with Shed 11 and how it would complement Shed 10 nicely. But just because a building is old does not mean it has aesthetic appeal. The sheds are simply ugly embarrassments undeserving of any historic status. At a pinch, it may have been reasonable to develop Shed 10 as a low-cost cruise-ship terminal, rather than spend an unwarranted sum on a more extravagant building. But it was a relief to see the dismantling of Shed 11, particularly because its absence clarified the potential of Queens Wharf.
Its return and the addition of a two-storey shed mean there is far less likelihood of a popular public amenity. The wharf will be divided, rather than being available almost as a whole. And if the western side will be freed for public space when the Cloud must be replaced, that will not happen for five to 10 years, with the structure scheduled to play a part in the 2017 World Masters Games. Indeed, what follows its removal seems almost an afterthought. Mayor Len Brown's worthy vision of an innovative public open space for promenading appears, itself, to have gone walkabout. The wharf is a large structure, but it is not big enough to accommodate three large and unlovely sheds and remain attractive as a public destination. In addition, Waterfront Auckland is working with council managers and artist Michael Parekowhai to place a "lighthouse" structure at the end of the wharf's central walkway. This is intended to draw people down the wharf. It may serve that purpose to some degree, and the sculpture, a gift from real estate firm Barfoot & Thompson, is certainly a welcome architectural addition. But a more appropriate location could be Wynyard Point, a promontory in need of public features for new public spaces.
Innovative and attractive public spaces will be necessary to draw Aucklanders to Queens Wharf. More restaurants and bars, of which there are plenty in the surrounding area, will not suffice. An architectural contest held at short notice in 2009 threw up some interesting ideas, including opening the end of the wharf to the water. Far more would be gained from revisiting some of them than pursuing a masterplan that is as unlovely as it is unimaginative.