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.
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.
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.
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.