Coast |

Blending city
and harbour
Te Wānanga.


As Auckland grows in scale and confidence, a multi-agency approach has been employed to better connect the city centre to the harbour. With greater numbers of people commuting to, and working in, downtown there is a demand for higher quality public spaces. Delivered as part of a suite of projects, Te Wānanga, the new downtown public space, blends the boundary between the city and the harbour.

Top Te Tāngaroa, the breath between high and low tide. The Ferry Basin site exists in ‘a space between’— between land and sea, city and harbour.

Left Commercial Bay in the mid 1800’s, protected by Pt Britomart, was the site where goods and people landed.

Right By the 1930s, the old coastline had been dramatically modified.

Located at the foot of Queen Street and bounded by Quay Street and Queens Wharf, the ferry basin is Auckland’s busiest and most significant stretch of waterfront. Until now it has been a place of movement rather than habitation, constrained by traffic movements on land and water.

Site Analysis

1 Harbour Edge Interface
2 Connections
3 Form
4 Land & Water Interface
5 Microclimates
6 Vegetation
7 Building Usage
8 Linkages
9 Access & Circulation

Stitching together the land and the sea, the design brings to life Te hā o Te Tangaroa, the breath of Tangaroa the sea god; the natural rhythm and space between high and low tides has driven the design. Currently under construction, this will become a place to move through as well as to rest, an oasis inspired by our coastal and cultural environment.

Right and Above The porous form of the tidal shelf was inspired by the geometries of nature; local sponges and shellfish.

The porous public space is constructed over, and connected with, the sparkling Waitematā harbour. Designed to adapt to climate change and sea level rise, the piled structure offers habitats of prospect and refuge for people on the surface balanced with an enhanced habitat for coastal plants and fish below the waterline. Both the terrestrial and aquatic ecologies have been designed to protect and enhance native species and restore some of the pre-colonial cultural connections with this rich site.

Right and Below The public space extends out across the water in a series of tidal pools, connected to Quay Street by a coastal forest of Pohutukawa and anchored by the historic stairs and wharf edge. The space extending over the water incorporates floating kelp beds.

This urban coastline is rich with stories from the past; narratives of arrival and departure have informed the reimagined space. In the ferry basin between Princes Wharf and Queens Wharf, the concept of a ‘tidal shelf’ emerged from an understanding of the local geology – this artificial shelf will extend out from the Quay Street shoreline as a piece of public architecture, elevated above the harbour.

Below Weathering of the layered Waitematā sandstone elsewhere in the harbour has created deep undercut shelves and tidal pools that fill and empty with the incoming and outgoing tides.

Through a process of co-design, Isthmus collaborated with knowledge-holders from mana whenua. We explored the concepts of manaakitanga and mīharo, ambition for the extraordinary. This inclusive design approach recognises the evolving nature of the working waterfront environment, remembers the former coastline and respects the people who lived here prior to colonisation.

Evolution of the arrangement of apertures through the co-design process.

Landscape Architecture Waterfront Public Space

The design acknowledges the recent past through the integration of heritage elements from the former port, and looks to the future by drawing people into Auckland’s front door and making spaces for wānanga, gatherings of people large and small.

Observations of the personality and peculiarities of the harbour edge started with gathering shells from a nearby beach. The design is inspired by the breath between incoming and outgoing tides, tai pari and tai timu. The shell form represent a ‘nested ecology’ that hosts life, just as this project makes space for sea snails, seaweeds, sponges, crabs, bivalves, barnacles and sea squirts. New and existing piles have been designed to support inter-tidal and sub-tidal habitats with perches for seabirds, textured surfaces and crevices for barnacles, periwinkles and seaweeds.

Suspended marine ecology lines, technology borrowed from the mussel farming industry, will illustrate the role mussels play in water filtration. Concrete pontoons can be coastal research stations; grafted with kelp they continue the language of the tidal shelf into the ferry basin, also accommodating baskets for shellfish and kelp propagation.

“This visionary design is well researched, documented and presented. It also successfully demonstrates how lost human and natural relationships can be re-established and displayed within the context of this strategically important urban edge”
—Judges Citation, NZILA Awards, 2019

An integrated approach to the public space and future ferry infrastructure provides for a vibrant public space at the water’s edge.

Places for people. A series of passive recreation spaces extend from the west toward a public space that has a transportation focus.

Scheduled for completion in late 2020, along with the upgrade of Quay Street, the Downtown public space will be a transformative project for Auckland. Co-designed with mana whenua, it will be a unique project for Tāmaki that weaves mātauranga Māori through its spaces and narratives to offer a new invitation to the water’s edge. It will restore the edge as a place of respite and refuge; a knowledge basket for all who visit, and a breathing point for everyone and everything that filters through this busy place where the city meets the sea.

Construction Auckland Downtown Public Space

Left The sequences of images were taken a week apart for the past six months. They show how the construction of the Downtown Public Space, Ferry Basin Redevelopment, Quay Street Enhancement, Sea Wall Strengthening and Lower Albert Street Interchange has unfolded.

Tonkin + Taylor


Auckland Transport
Auckland Council


Tāmaki Makaurau Mana Whenua
Ngāti Whātua ki Kaipara
Ngāti Whātua Runanga
Ngāti Te Ata Waiohua
Te Ahiwaru
Ngaati Whanaunga
Ngāi Tai Ki Tamaki
Ngāti Maru
Te Ākitai Waiohua
Ngāti Tamaoho

Kaitiaki Working Group 
Jarrod Walker, Marine Ecology Consultant
Richelle Kahui-McConnell, Ecology Consultant
Tess Harris, Mana Whenua Selected Artist/Weaver
Reuben Kirkwood, Mana Whenua Selected Artist/Carver

Winner Unbuilt Visionary Award, NZILA 2019