Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is the Property editor of the NZ Herald

Beauty or a beast?

Some Aucklanders say a new skyscraper in downtown Auckland is a blot on the landscape. Others think it's a landmark building that will revitalise the area. Anne Gibson reports

An artist's impression of the NDG building and its place on the Auckland skyline to the left of the Sky Tower.
An artist's impression of the NDG building and its place on the Auckland skyline to the left of the Sky Tower.

When the Herald broke the news online this week that a new 52-level skyscraper would be built in the heart of downtown Auckland, public reaction was swift and furious.

"It's absolutely revolting, so will be right at home in Auckland," wrote Bryan Searle on nzherald.co.nz's Facebook page about the NDG Auckland Centre planned on the site bounded by Elliott St, Victoria St and Albert St.

"I think $350 million is a lot of money to spend on a design that looks uninspired, drab and quite ugly," said Paul Radcliffe. There were hundreds of comments, many in a similar vein, from Eileen Darwin - "What a pity, another skyline eyesore"- to Charles Moxham - "Old hat and yuk!"

Dushko Bogunovich, Unitec associate professor of urban design, said NDG Auckland Centre "looks very 80s or 90s" and he also thinks it shouldn't be built.

"It's dangerous. This tower is a potential death trap. I don't believe in concentration of population and putting several thousand people in a building of [that] size is risky in terms of fire, earthquakes, terrorism," he said.

Writer, art curator, arts consultant and social commentator Hamish Keith said because the tower would be the biggest new building in the city, people deserved to see far more detail because if it looked bad, it couldn't be disguised.

"You won't be able to plant trees in front of it. Do we want a bland slab of glass?" Mr Keith asked, calling for excellence in detailed design.

Paul Brown of Paul Brown Architects, designers of the tower, replied that Auckland's skyline was dominated by dreary-toned buildings.

"Auckland has a lot of beige, brown and dark colours, so we were looking for something that would be light. The glazing is cantilevered on the northern and southern ends - it goes past the corner of the building and out into space. That gives a lightness to it," he said, likening that to the University of Auckland's Owen Glenn Building.

The tower had been designed to be skinny, partly in a nod to the Sky Tower.

"It really is thinly proportioned on the north and south elevations. It's a thin tower. There's a spire on the top because such a prominent building needs to have a crown that celebrates that. It's designed to relate to the Sky Tower."

Tall towers divide opinion around the world. In London, controversial big new towers are given names which make them immediately recognisable. The Shard is now loved by many but was also called the skyscraper that ruined the city's skyline and its Gherkin also divided Londoners. Last summer heat radiated from the cladding of London's new Walkie Talkie tower melted car and bike parts, forcing pedestrians to shield their eyes.

Sydney's Toaster has been called the city's ugliest building for its squat design, while the nearby Opera House is now embraced after initially causing outrage.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown said the new tower would be "a world class development for Auckland that will create hundreds of new jobs, energise the CBD and boost Auckland's GDP".

The tower's design would enhance the area around it and connect well with the footpaths, Mr Brown said.

Auckland Council design champion Ludo Campbell-Reid said the Auckland tower would revitalise the area between Albert St, Victoria St and Elliott St, partly because of its cinemas and swimming pool which Mr Brown said would be about 30m long.

The block would complement the area because Victoria St was like a mouth with missing teeth, he said. The addition was welcome in the area to get the International Convention Centre and the Victoria St linear park to link Albert Park with Victoria Park. The area around Victoria St suffered from a dominance of roading infrastructure and poor quality streetscapes, he said.

"The Elliott tower site has been a blight on a crucial corner for over a decade and, as ever, car parking unfortunately seems to be the default use. This gives nothing back to the public realm," Mr Campbell-Reid said.

Auckland Council documents showed NDG Asia Pacific can build the pool and a gym on level 10 of the block, which will have six underground carpark levels. Restaurants will go on levels 47 and 48 and levels 50 to 52 are for plant and equipment.

Institute of Architects Auckland branch chairman Richard Goldie said he was disappointed the site had been vacant for three decades so was glad to see the scheme.

"It will be very dramatic but the images are a bit scant. It challenges the Sky Tower for scale. We have a CBD and the more that happens, the more exciting and dramatic it is as a critical component of the city," Mr Goldie said.

Martin Dunn, of apartment realtor City Sales, praised the tower and its design.

"Auckland is morphing into a sexy city. Empty-nesters, who are now millionaires given the ongoing value of their homes, will now choose and can afford a London or New York style of high-rise sophisticated living," Mr Dunn said.

Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney was also enthusiastic, saying the tower and its design were hallmarks of change.

"People don't write with quill pens anymore. There's a new world out there and this is part of it. It's a wonderful metaphor and example of confidence in the city. Let's face it, you're never going to get that on Broadway, St Lukes or Albany. It's hard to disagree with the mayor's statement around the impact of the rail link," he said.

However, Auckland councillor Cameron Brewer said the underground railway had nothing to do with the skyscraper's genesis.

"To try and claim it's going up because of the City Rail Link is just nonsense. It's going up there because its CBD Auckland and it's a vacant site."

- NZ Herald

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