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Britomart - Auckland

Fast facts

Location: Quay Street, Auckland City

Construction: 2003

Owner: Auckland City Council

Design: Mario Madayag Architects, JASMAX Architects

Case study researcher: Shyrel Burt, Auckland City Council

Key statistics

Site area: 5.2 ha

Retail: 236 m²

Photo: Aerial view of the site.

Photo: Interior of restored Chief Post Office.

Photo: Britomart main entrance.

Introduction

Britomart is major transport, heritage and urban renewal project by the Auckland City Council. The $204 million project brings trains back into downtown Auckland City for the first time in over 70 years, and creates a public transport interchange for trains, buses and ferries. Development included the transport centre, restoration of the historic Chief Post Office, and improved streetscapes and planting.

The Britomart site occupies 5.2 ha of land and buildings in the city's downtown. The site is bounded by Britomart Place, Quay and Customs Streets and Queen Elizabeth Square. The Britomart project is the largest construction project to date for a local government in New Zealand.

This case study demonstrates the application of urban design principles and extensive public consultation. It also demonstrates the difficulties for a local government of translating a major project into reality. The case study touches on the difficulties of providing integrated transport solutions when operators, policy-makers and funders are diverse and fragmented. The controversy surrounding the project's history is also discussed.

Design process

Three mayors have so far presided over the Britomart project, and it has also been subject to review by the Audit Office and the Environment Court.

In 1995 Mayor Les Mills proposed a Britomart scheme that included:

  • a five storey underground transport interchange
  • a train station with four rail lines and the provision for light rail
  • an underground bus terminal
  • major high-rise development
  • 2900 car parking spaces
  • putting Quay Street underground
  • new public spaces.

This ambitious project generated strong opposition. Major concerns about the project included a lack of public consultation, the bus operators' reluctance to operate in an underground terminal, the large financial risk, and the lack of success obtaining a resource consent for the de-watering of the site.

Auckland City Council committed $125 million to the transport centre, but developer Jihong Lu missed contractual deadlines and the project was cancelled.

A new Council was elected in October 1998 who resolved to rethink the project. The new Mayor, Christine Fletcher, promised to 'open the books' on Britomart. In 1999 there was a recommendation to proceed with a revised version of the project following public consultation.

In 1999 Auckland City Council adopted the principle that the future of the site be determined with the help of its owners, the Auckland public.

Urban design issues

Several consultation exercises were held to seek people's views on features that they would like to see in the waterfront area. Results from the consultation were used to create a set of principles that guided the Britomart development:

  • a transport interchange for Auckland including bus, ferry and rail services
  • a gateway to the CBD and the waterfront
  • people coming and going 24 hours a day
  • a safe, welcoming place for people
  • exciting and vibrant public spaces
  • enhancement of the downtown waterfront to open up the city to the sea
  • extending the Viaduct Harbour success story.

Using these principles, Auckland City Council embarked on a two-stage design competition to make the best use of the Britomart site, and including the Chief Post Office as a major part of the development.

Mario Madayag Architect and JASMAX Architects won the design competition.

In 1997 Auckland City Council established a centre with displays and models on the floors of the old Chief Post Office. The display centre became the central point where the public could provide input to the design as well as find transport information.

Evaluation - urban design principles

Context

The Britomart site occupies 5.2 ha of land and buildings in the downtown area of Auckland city. The site is bounded by Britomart Place, Quay and Customs Streets and Queen Elizabeth Square. The Britomart terminal brings trains into the central city for the first time in over 70 years and provides a significant transportation interchange linking three different modes of public transport.

The project was advanced in two stages. Stage One of the Britomart development consists of a bus and train station, and some associated shops located in the former Chief Post Office.

The second stage of the project known as "Britomart Above Ground" will redevelop the existing heritage buildings and bring retail, offices and residential to the precinct.

Character

Providing a sense of place is an essential element of the design. "The design needed to celebrate rail travel, and it also needed to capture the spirit of Auckland," says Mario Madayag (Britomart Architect).

The city's volcanic origins and local Maori culture provided the key. A series of skylights running the length of the station represent the city's volcanic cones. Local basalt rock also features in the station, in the polished aggregate on the platforms and cladding on a water wall.

Stainless steel mesh lines the station's walls and ceiling, and is reminiscent of Maori woven flax patterns or tukutuku.

The external form and features of the original historic buildings are retained.

Choice

The fundamental purpose of the Britomart is to offer people modal choice by enabling an easy interchange between rail, road and sea (proximity to ferry terminal).

The design of the station allows easy modification of the platform and track configuration to accommodate any mode of public transport.

Connections

The significance of Britomart is its proximity to the CBD, downtown area and the ferry terminals. The transport station integrates and connects public transport services for the Auckland Region in one downtown location. Passengers can easily change between bus, rail and ferry transport. It also serves as the inter-city rail station. A number of inter-city buses also use the precinct as their terminal. However, changes to the original design eliminated the underground bus terminal and as a result there is less clear and effective integration of bus and rail transport.

Internal connections are well designed and incorporate tactile dots for the visually impaired, safety help points, a public address system, and real-time train information. There is good signage to direct people both to the station platform and to the buses, ferries and visitor attractions.

Creativity

The Britomart design was advanced through a two-stage design competition. The design combines re-using existing heritage buildings (including the Chief Post Office) with strong contemporary design for the station concourse. Britomart has also restored the street connections at the lower end of Queen Street that was at one time occupied by the poorly used QEII Square.

Custodianship

Britomart has conserved the important historic buildings and features within the precinct. The Chief Post Office has been refurbished and now serves as the pedestrian entry to the station. The Britomart Above Ground project will also include the restoration for mixed uses of a number of heritage buildings within the surrounding area.

The glass box, at the rear of the Chief Post Office and the 'volcano' skylights allow natural light to the rail platform. The station toilets and passenger facilities also operate with water and energy saving technologies.

Collaboration

The Britomart project was fraught with controversy and evolved over a period of several years. It was finally designed by two major architectural firms with strong direction from Auckland City Council.

The design process included several rounds of consultation with transport operators, local authorities and the public before reaching consensus on the urban design approach. It was public consultation that generated the set of urban design principles that ultimately guided the development.

Lessons learnt

As with any new project of this scale and complexity there have been teething problems. In the period between the opening of the station and the completion of the Chief Post Office restoration, public access to the station was restricted. When the Chief Post Office restoration and the landscaping were completed most concerns were alleviated.

Bus stops have been rearranged to better accommodate users and operators, in response to public feedback.

Value gained

The opening of the Britomart transport interchange has stimulated patronage on the rail network across the region. Rail patronage has risen about 30% across the region since the station opened. A June 2004 Britomart patronage survey recorded 6864 rail passengers per day with a steady increase since the station opened. The Beach Road Station before its closure had about 3500 passengers per day.

The Chief Post Office contains 236 m² of retail space (excluding the ticket counter, information counter and an ATM). The eight retail spaces were readily leased and are occupied by a variety of businesses including a convenience store, florist and café.

More recently, the completion of the terminal has expedited the development of a major mixed use development above it.

Comments

"Britomart is more than just a railway station - it's a transport, heritage and urban renewal project all rolled into one. Bringing trains back into the city centre after more than 70 years will provide Aucklanders with greater mobility and a much needed link with bus and ferry services."

- Auckland City Councillor Greg McKeown

"While the architecture has been well executed, the jury is still out as to whether Britomart is a successful urban intervention. A good urban intervention has complexity that provides for good linkages to the balance of the city, a diversity of experiences, a range of uses and a variety of characters."

- Gerald Blunt, Urban Designer

Photo: Surface bus interchange.

Photo: Entrance plaza.

Photo: Rail Station interior.