Written by Vicki Holder
“The Unitary Plan is a step in the right direction,” says Brendan. “In the long term, Auckland has to densify because it will make everything work.”
Malcolm Walker of Malcolm Walker Architects agrees. The Unitary Plan is the opportunity for good design and innovative planning. But it has to be done with sensitivity. It can’t just be a free for all.
Brendan says, we can come up with some really innovative solutions for sites that, under the old rules wouldn’t go anywhere. “It’s going to take about five years for the Council to get their head around it. The Council has to accept there’s an ethos in progression. They need to be more flexible and pro-densification. Because at times, he has found, they can be hard work.
He admits, he has had a couple of skirmishes over the design of projects. But he concurs, ultimately debate is good.
“Old housing stock just can’t stay the same because it’s not meeting people’s lifestyles. Keep the best and do it with sensitivity in context and scale. Some projects will definitely benefit from the input of the Urban Design Panel."
He adds the Council has issued a set of guidelines for apartment living by the New South Wales government, which are worth architects looking at if they haven’t designed an apartment before.
Brendan also believes the infrastructure in place needs to be able to handle more intensive growth. And responsibility for that infrastructure should not simply be passed onto developers. That’s not fair, he says.
“It’s not so much what you do as how you do it. You have to be sensitive to things around you. You’re not just putting a box in there. It has to relate by contrasting or melding. It has to say ‘how do you do’ to its neighbours.”
Malcolm Walker says they’ve taken out quite a few controls within the new plan. So he says, you need intelligent controls. “Densification is a recipe for exploitation so it needs to be careful. Informed control is a good thing."
“We have to be reminded that we’re building houses, not just products. The house is bigger than the building itself. We need great shapes, open spaces, pleasant spaces and simple access. If you densify, which I agree with, it has to be careful. It affects everything around you."
“It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. In future, they will bring you before a review panel of architects/designers and property people who will review the building and say, ‘this building is not good enough – go back and try again’. That process is useful for everyone. There are mechanics for managing it and it is collaborative rather than authoritarian. You get to argue your case.”
“Developers now realise good design makes a profit. Car dealers worked it out ages ago when they started building flash premises to promote the quality of their products.”
We have already learned poignant lessons to help us move forward. The pain people went through with fly by night developers and their leaky buildings and class actions has had a positive outcome, discouraging that hell to leather, rough-shod approach in our cities, reminds Brendan.
He warns, to expect fights before it all settles down - from the heritage brigade and the nimbys. “As far as the Western Bays area is concerned, now that the pre-1944 demolition rules have been removed, we’ll see a lot more densification particularly on 600m2 plots where we can build three apartments instead of one standalone home.”
But we shouldn’t worry. Now that the buyer market is better educated, Brendan says, “We’re seeing a better planned, better built, better integrated, high density environment than Auckland has ever seen before.”
Everyone wants their own quarter acre house, says Malcolm. “Lots of houses are separated from each other by a metre. Everyone pretends they have their own thing and they can put a fence around it. It’s wonderful and silly. Houses weren’t oriented to deal with their neighbours. A lot of new subdivisions are still doing that. It’s wasteful and unrewarding.
“Now you’ve got to think about what you’re doing. The review panel should help with that. In future, you can use the same amount of land and get a huge amount more housing – and decent housing too. “But it’s easy to do badly.”
Both architects believe checks and balances in the Unitary Plan will go a long way towards avoiding many of the mistakes of yesteryear to achieve the balance required between growth and retaining Auckland’s heritage.