Devonport is a suburb on the north side of Auckland Harbor. Its origins are decidedly working class based on the labor required at the naval dockyard and local gas and brick works. It was the location for many early workers’ meetings and was the first place in New Zealand where women voted. Known for its activist history, Devonport’s ferry passengers used their daily commute into Auckland to organize on other issues and before the area was amalgamated into the larger Auckland City there was a lively engagement with local civic affairs. Today, it still functions as the home town for many working in Auckland, but with a distinctive “hippy” culture as early (and aging) professional pioneers have been drawn to the slower life across the harbor from Auckland and Devonport’s well-preserved Victorian charm, a quality also recognized by tourists. In recent years gentrification has changed Devonport’s demographic and the area is now one of Auckland’s wealthier areas.
Devonport was also one of the earliest settled areas by Maori of the North Island. The three volcanic cones provided good gardening soil and large tidal beaches allowed them to collect seafood. At the same time, the deep-water anchorage near the existing ferry terminal made it suitable for naval vessels and the Royal Navy arrived there early on; Devonport still is the national base of the Royal New Zealand Navy. In addition, in 1981 the Devonport Borough Council voted to declare Devonport a nuclear-free zone, the first local council in New Zealand to do so, giving it a special role in the nuclear free movement, for which New Zealand is well known.
The waterfront and ferry
Marine Square is the area at Devonport’s south edge, facing Auckland and the location of the ferry dock. In 2015, the Auckland City Council spent approximately NZ$15m “upgrading” the ferry terminal and Marine Square. Part of the upgrade, under the logic of “encouraging public transport,” included the insertion of a parking lot at the transition point between the water and the historic village. The result is not only short sighted, but out of character for the town and its history (and an example of the downside of Kiwi’s “can do!” approach, which, in planning as in other things, deals with the most immediate and practical solutions).
Marine Square is attached to a park, Windsor Reserve, which is a lovely tree-filled green area that serves the adult and children residents alike. The link between the Square and the Reserve is tenuous at best and denied all together at worst.
Travel week photos
The immediate program is to redesign the Ferry Terminal and Marine Square. In addition, you will add program that will include, among other things, a micro hotel/residential unit of prefabricated units. Auckland is currently facing a housing crisis and the Council has initiated a “Densification” directive to prevent urban sprawl (which in fact is not working). In July 2007, Devonport was given permission to be excluded from a list of local Auckland growth node centers. The Auckland Council accepted that while it was encouraging intensified growth (such as higher-density housing) around transport nodes such as Devonport, the character and historical nature of the Devonport Wharf area would make such a designation inappropriate. Our program wants to acknowledge this exception but not relinquish Devonport’s role in a larger housing crisis.
It would be appropriate to understand the program more as infrastructure than as a building. One cannot divorce building decisions from future-oriented transportation systems or procurement networks. As a nation of 2 islands with a small population (4.7 million; similar to Ireland), its resources are limited and many initiatives cannot easily “scale-up”. In other words, “futurist” visions will be checked by economic and demographic realities. Nevertheless, in a small country such as NZ and in the spirit of “can do!”, one can affect change relatively easily.
Importantly, one cannot ignore that New Zealand’s unique landscape has, on the one hand, visibly shaped the urban context (volcanoes are everywhere; access to water abounds; vegetation is abundant). On the other, a heightened sensitivity to damage done by insensitive urban growth is also evident and needs to be reinforced. Maori interest in New Zealand’s resources will be of interest in this regard.
All construction will be timber construction; likewise, this building network will be off the grid as much as it is possible for infrastructure to be off the grid.
Students will do group research but will develop schemes individually, unless they choose otherwise.
We have the advantage of working with Hugh Byrd of Unitec in Auckland who is a sustainability expert and is conducting a studio with this same program. We will rely on his expertise and generosity and share work with the students of his studio.