Isthmus

Coast |

Working class.
Kumutoto.

Approach

Kumutoto is composed of two key spatial moves: push the city out and let the sea in. The project extends Wellington’s grid down to the coastal edge and provides new pedestrian connections – but it also ‘declaims’ the buried mouth of the Kumutoto Stream, once lost to the city, letting the sea in and giving people a place to enjoy sun and sea.

Above The 1840 shoreline overlaid with the current edge of Wellington’s inner harbour. The Kumutoto Stream has long been hidden in a culvert under reclaimed land.

Straddling active fault lines and blasted by ocean winds funnelled through the Cook Strait, Wellington is, by necessity, a resilient city that nestles into steep hills girded with a green belt of vegetation. Where sea meets land there was once a fishing kāinga, Kumutoto, with an ancient stream makes its escape to the sea. Since the late 1980s, with port operations relocating, Wellington began to swing back to the harbour. In 2001, with the Wellington Waterfront Framework’s broad principles for the design and development of the area, the waterfront was re-envisioned as a sequence of open spaces from Oriental Bay, through Waitangi Park and Taranaki Wharf.

Above A heritage photo shows the wharf against Sheds 11 and 13, with Queens Wharf beyond. This basin was filled in the 1970s to increase the harbour board’s land area.

Right A relationship with the city, with the water and with history: the terraces at the end of Kumutoto Plaza offer city workers plenty of seating options, and connect back, past the waterfront’s sheds, with the city’s urban grid.

Kumutoto, the northernmost site – and closest to the CBD – was the final stage of the reorientation. In 2005, Studio Pacific Architecture and Isthmus developed a masterplan for the area that envisioned new buildings and public spaces at Kumutoto. At that time Kumutoto was little more than a car park, with the once-important stream buried in a culvert under decades of asphalt. Public space was the driver of the new site planning – with history, climate and views the influences that would dictate the look and feel of the new urban spaces and connections.

Today, Kumutoto is a vibrant part of the city centre and a shelter point on the Capital’s wind-riven promenade. The design reconnects city with harbour by extending the urban grid down to the water. The historic wharf gates have been opened and through new pedestrian crossings the thousands of workers and shoppers who once had to negotiate four lanes of traffic can now directly access the waterfront. They are guided to the sea by a procession of lighting structures, rugged furniture and pōhutukawa. At the water’s edge, sheltered concrete terraces spill down to the sea, while in nearby areas, there is shelter, more contained areas that invite passers-by to rest on the oversized furniture.

Ultimately, if you stick with ‘quality’ as your main driver for any piece of public space, you will achieve a successful outcome every time. The ‘long-winded’ process we had to go through to finally reach the construction stage meant that our design rationale and thinking were well tested through a number of stakeholder engagements and it was this constant testing that produced a well-considered design.

— Andrew Howie, Wellington Waterfront

Throughout Kumutoto’s spaces the surfaces are varied and textured. Robust exposed-aggregate and honed-concrete panels provide an evocative tapestry that contrasts with the rugged grain of reused wharf timbers; large kerbstones along the new laneway create a visual connection to the heavy stonework of the old sea wall, while re-laid timber setts bring heritage charm and warmth to the ground surface.

Kumutoto’s concept expresses a number of intentions: the stitching of the city with the harbour through the reinstatement of the Kumutoto Stream mouth and the extension of Wharf Plaza; the retention of the promenade as artefact; the acknowledgement of the historic sea wall edge through the establishment of a laneway; and the opening of the historic port gates, welcoming visitors to the waterfront.

Team Members
David Irwin, Daniel Males,
Past Team Members

Evan Williams

Collaborators
Studio of Pacific Architecture

Consultants
Beca
Rider Levett Bucknall

Contractor
Brian Perry Civil

Client
Wellington Waterfront

Awards
2010 IFLA Merit Award
2008 NZILA Supreme Award
2008 NZILA Gold, Urban design