Silo Park in Auckland

13th August 2011



    Last weekend (5-6 August 2011) Auckland celebrated the long-awaited opening of the new Wynyard Quarter, the most attractively positioned post-industrial emerging public space of our city. For a long time the beautiful Wai-te-mata, the sea of black obsidian, has washed up against the vertical poles of marine sub-structure to a farm of tanks, which have been haphazardly leaking toxic petroleum waste in spurts, spills and drips into our lovely harbour. As history observes, when the petrodollars walk away, the collective starts dreaming into new spaces of possibility.

      The Tank Farm had the waterfront seat …it still has, but the latest development, as the first stage in more to come, shows that the Auckland public are keen to absorb this once off-limits prized piece of urban real estate which has been sensitively refabricated.

    On the opening weekend the Whero bridge is like a floodgate that opens, and streams of Aucklanders find their way into this new waterscape, bringing it to life, just in the way a stream finds a new path to the ocean.

        A cafe strip of new low-key buildings keep the port history alive and palpable, one shed is clad in recycled timber, while another has painted its big wooden sliding doors red, there’s the requisite new eco-tech green wall in one space, the information centre is a tower of recycled containers, and there is storm water remediation ponds that will one day be lush stems of wetland, a living piece of new micro-infrastructure. The architectural details are subdued, intelligent, applied, unpretentious, quirky. It’s still Auckland but in a different key.
        Up on the new gantry form, one can gaze across the tank farm and see the other silo architecture, rusty stairwells, and bridges that give the maintenance personnel, precarious paths around the sea of cylinders, with sudden peeks of some of the finest views of Auckland. Here up above the tanks you can spin around and take in another 360 of the city, that is right-up-close and personal with the sub-natural zone of the industrial silo field and glimpse the sea beyond. On the gantry, I think of the canopy walkway in Kew Gardens that allows people to walk along at the upper reaches of the forest where you can look across London and see Richmond Hill or beyond.
      Last weekend there was a young man, in a wheel chair, who came from Browns Bay on his own, and found his way to the glass lift which lifted him off ground level, so he could take advantage of this new vista that has just been gifted to the people of Auckland. Down below the children’s playground is swarming, the reinstalled wind tree is swaying in its nodding fashion, and just beyond a small grove of pohutukawa look like they have been there all along. There’s a piano in a small forest and some anonymous virtuoso has slipped onto the stool, and the crowd is besotted and collecting around him like moths. This car-free space is so warmly covered in people. Below there are trams that do a quaint circuit, but those metal grooves also could yield a greater link to something more connective one day. In contemporary urban renewal the circuitry of the city is the new organising order. We understand not only from all the research on urban flows but also from chaos theory that attractors, the projects that emerge in the former infrastructure, must be trajectories rather than just destinations. A destination on an extremity is harder to sustain…..For many of us who don’t live inner city, we want to get back to this newly liberated public space, but it maybe just beyond reach. I hope not, but that’s the theory….unless of course those tram lines become the organising network for the new city…and we find our way back there in Silo Park, not just as weekend tourists, but on our way mid-week to choir practice, to violin lessons, or to buy fish, or hear someone talk, or sing, so that somehow we pass through again, this new, raw-rustic-industrial, post-petrodollar open space miracle, of the new Wynyard Quarter.

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