City |

One hundred and
eighty-nine steps.
Freyberg Place.

Freyberg Place, Auckland CBD


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.

Above The narrative ‘One hundred and eighty-nine steps’ by artist John Reynolds.

Below A number of physical models were made through the design process to test the design thinking. Integral to communicating the complexity of the space to the client and consultant team and to stakeholders and the public.

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.

Above Due north orientation of the steps, with an informal arrangement of nikau and pōhutukawa provide for seating in the sun or shade. Intricate patterns of shadow are cast across the more linear arrangement of steps on a sunny day and by lighting in the evening.

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.

Freyberg Place, Auckland CBD
Freyberg Place, Auckland CBD

Left Referencing a stream that once flowed near the site, a water feature descends from the upper reaches of the steps to the level plaza area. Within the water feature is a carved artwork by Ngati Whatua artist Graeme Tipene, across which the water flows.

Above Intersecting flights of steps and terraces provide a variety of spaces for people to inhabit, and to find a path through. Vertical elements – lighting and trees, provide a contrast to the horizontality of the step modules.

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.

Below Steps for seating.

Freyberg Place, Auckland CBD
Freyberg Place, Auckland CBD

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.

Right Water bubbles up from the pavement near the top of the steps, before descending down to the plaza below.

Below Water in motion, animating the space with noise, flowing into a still pool at the base of the steps. Interaction with the water is encouraged, with stepping stones through the pool connecting up and onto the steps.

Freyberg Place, Auckland CBD
Team Members
David Irwin, Travis Wooller, Sarah Bishop, Nada Stanish,
Past Team Members

Evan Williams, Karen Ehlers, Alfred Chan

John Reynolds
Stevens Lawson Architects
Graham Tipene
Holmes Consulting
Traffic Design Group
MPM Projects

JFC Ltd – main contractor and plaza
Corbel Construction – Ellen Melville Centre


Auckland Council


2018 Best Awards – Silver Pin – Public Good

2018 Best Awards – Finalist – Public & Institutional Spaces

2018 New Zealand Property Council – Warren & Mahoney Civic and Arts Property Award – Ellen Melville Centre & Freyberg Place

2018 NZIA Auckland Local Awards – Heritage Category Winner