Freyberg Place, put simply, is a public space that explores the overlaps between public art and architecture; it offers an open invitation for Aucklanders to inhabit, occupy and claim for themselves.
Freyberg Place is one of a small group of public open spaces within Auckland’s city centre. Set within a network of laneways, it is a popular lunchtime destination – a breathing spot in faster-paced surrounding streets – and, now, a flexible space suitable for performances, markets and other activities. In a towered inner city, Freyberg’s due-north orientation allows for much-needed, sunny and sheltered space in the city.
The design of the new plaza is based on artist John Reynolds’ narrative ‘One hundred and eighty-nine steps’ – a design that sees myriad and intersecting flights of steps and terraces applied to the square’s banked edge. Here, the ubiquitous flights of steps often found throughout the city are amplified and magnified into ‘flows’ that might have cascaded down the slopes of nearby Albert Park.
At Freyberg Place, the horizontality of the step modules is balanced with strong vertical elements, nīkau and light poles, uplifting notes that tie back to the expressed concrete columns of the refurbished Ellen Melville Centre. Deliberately, the hall, plaza and steps were envisioned as a connected palette of contrasting textures: the landform of stairs and terraces, for example, juxtapose with the fine grain and colour of the plaza paving. Within the rhythm of elements, the stairs ebb and flow, protruding pointedly out of the landscape from some angles; nestling in from others. From above, light diffused by groves of pōhutukawa and nīkau adds to the drama by drawing intricate and dramatic shadows across the steps.
The upgrade of Freyberg Place (hand-in-hand with the transformation of the adjacent Ellen Melville Centre) delivers on aspirations for a vibrant, accessible and liveable city for the people of Auckland. The integration of the building with open space elevates a potentially great inner-city space into a premier square infused with art, landscape and building.
As a result of mana whenua consultation during early design phases at Freyberg Place, a clear and meaningful strategy around stormwater management, materials and planting was developed. The importance of the water that once flowed through the area has been acknowledged and expressed in the work by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei artist Graham Tipene. The artwork has been water-jet cut into stone, forming a channel for water to flow after emerging from the ground in a cluster of jets.
David Irwin, Travis Wooller, Sarah Bishop, Nada Stanish, Alex Foxon,
Evan Williams, Karen Ehlers, Alfred Chan
Stevens Lawson Architects
Traffic Design Group
JFC Ltd – main contractor and plaza
Corbel Construction – Ellen Melville Centre
New Zealand Institute of Architects – Heritage category winner