One of the most curious ideas ever advanced for the Wellington waterfront was proposed in the DomPost’s editorial yesterday morning. The newspaper wrote that a new National Art Gallery could be built “between the existing Te Papa building and Circa Theatre.”
It’s true that the open space between the two buildings is under-used, apart from the temporary sculptures. But there’s no way that either Te Papa or Circa would agree to have their front doors obstructed by a big new building.
The other space that’s been discussed for a new National Gallery is of course equally unacceptable.
Five years ago, this design won a Wellington City Council competition for a new structure to occupy the “transition zone” east of Te Papa. (The space is currently used as a car park.) But such a building would contravene the council’s Waterfront Framework, which requires that “the design and use of buildings should be orientated outwards to maximise the unique value of the waterfront location.” There’s no way that an art gallery could fit this requirement.
The city council is however capable of ignoring its own rules. Two examples:
The Framework lists the Overseas Passenger Terminal as a heritage building, and says heritage buildings “must be restored and used to contribute to the vitality of the waterfront.” But the council is allowing it to be demolished and replaced by a new structure.
The council’s Design Brief for Taranaki Wharf states that “the vista from the City-to-Sea bridge will be retained and enhanced … maintaining a strong visual connection between the Civic Centre to Te Papa.” Yet the council has allowed construction of the wharewaka, which blocks the visual connection.
At first glance, yesterday’s DomPost headline gave the impression that something might be happening soon. But the article had no substance. Two Te Papa Board members want a new standalone National Art Gallery, but there’s no finance unless a private donor is found. So the spaces on either side of Te Papa are not threatened by construction work.
That being so, it’s time for the museum to take a more creative approach to the expanse of paved space outside its front doors. And it’s time for the city to acknowledge that a car park is not a good look for open space on the waterfront. Last time the public was asked about the transition zone, it favoured landscaping. Which is a much better idea than car parking.