Why Aotea Is Too Square


It’s taken me 2 weeks but I’ve finally worked it out.

There is something radically wrong with the $80m redeveloped Aotea Square although it looks appealing on first visit.

They need to flip the design and make the entire area dominate with grasslands and park.

Aotea with an area to disengage and chill

This design instead plays to the strengths of the space in being a place to disengage - by giving Aucklanders an inner city area to zone out and disconnect for a moment from the rat race and the pace of the city.

Without this change, it’s hard to really feel there is a difference to how things were. It is very much a case of meet the new square, same as the old square.

I have been down there every other day since it was open to see how its being used trying work it out why it was that it still felt wrong.

Yes it is has been updated and improved, but it is still a concrete jungle. Vast stretches of concrete that have people dotted sparingly throughout it, using it, but often awkwardly.

There are improvements - better seating, the lighting, the simplification of the area with less stairs and flatter areas (thank god they removed those strange stairs around the Playhouse) but all that seems to have been achieved is a modernisation of an already failed design. Failed because what is going to be done on all this concrete?

Public squares, plazas and piazza can be great areas and many of them are just that - large expanses of pavers, bricks or concrete, so this isn’t necessarily a call for more grass. Is is a call for questioning why this model was adhered to after the original layout was already a failure.

When the new design for the square was published back in 2008 I asked the same question - why are we building it this way again?

No one really asked - it was just decided and here we are. The issue for me lies in a misunderstanding about our CBD, take it as a quirk of Auckland but there is no true central area or heart. Successful squares that exist around the world today, which are built around the design of open and flat paved spaces, work where they lie at a juncture, a nexus if you will, between the city’s everyday happenings, its pulse.

Aotea Square is positioned back from Queen Street and separated from the stream of the everyday. You have to choose to leave that stream to go into the square and once there you are away from it.

In fact, the most successful square in Auckland will be the one that they never build. That would be QEII, the area between the Westfield Downtown, Britomart and the opposing opening to Queen Street. If this was filled it in would be a great public area and fit the employed design used for Aotea.

The impossible Britomart Square

The council have indicated they want to use the new square for a range of cultural and public events - staged managed events - for this I am sure the square will be fitting but what happens with the square between these ‘staged events’.

They won’t let the Auckland Markets back, apparently on the dubious claim that they don’t want the space compromised for the opportunity to run these new staged events. Events that in reality will run only sporadically through any Calendar year. So instead most days and weekends the place will continue be what it was before the makeover - a concrete wasteland sans life.

There is of course the grassed areas to utilise but they are pushed back deep into the space and they somehow feel disconnected. That said, these haven’t been opened yet and so it has yet to be seen how much use they will get, especially once Summer fully kicks in (although grassed areas like this existed in the old design too).

What was really needed was a mini version of Victoria Park, a place to walk straight off the road and into a space that you can throw off your shoes, sit down and relax. I can see the design flipped in my mind, I can see the potential for how good it could have been. Instead we are left with a case of deja vu and more concrete.

Alex K is a new AKT contributor on Auckland issues




  1. Doloras says:

    “Successful squares that exist around the world today, which are built around the design of open and flat paved spaces, work where they lie at a juncture, a nexus if you will, between the city’s everyday happenings, its pulse.”

    This is simply wrong. Civic Square in Wellington doesn’t work that way, and it’s very successful.

  2. LucyJH says:

    I agree baout the lack of trees and grassed spaces. I winter, concrete in Auckland is too wet. In summer it is too hot.

    Trees are better as they provide shade in summer. They don’t work in winter but then it’s too cold to spend a lot of time outside then anwya.

  3. Andy says:

    I do think we need more grassy areas but I also know that Auckland is so wet that it would result in the area being left unused and probably fenced off most of the year.

    I do agree that it looks too similar to what it used to be. Doesn’t feel like much of a change, but then again I’ve only seen photos.

  4. Johans says:

    I haven’t had the opportunity to visit the square yet - but is there sufficient shady areas? That’s why I loved Khartoum Place - it was a secluded place with alot of shade - great for summers.

  5. James B says:

    The problem with grassing the area in front of the Aotea Centre would be that when people turn up to events in winter they will have cross wet and possibly muddy grass or skulk around the edge of the square.

  6. DanC says:

    It just needs some large planters to create spaces. Easily maintained.

  7. Alex K says:

    @johans Unfortunately there are not any sufficient shady areas in the new design

    @James B & @LucyJH - Good points although I think that this wet grass issue could be avoided with a good drainage system and irrigation.

    @DanC - The Planters are good idea but I still think it needs more grass then is available

    @Doloras - Isn’t Civic Square a cross point between the waterfront area and the central city? If so then this is part of my point?

  8. James B says:

    Even with a good drainage system I can’t imagine too many high heeled ladies wanting to walk across the grass in the wet. What I think would improve the square would be a water feature in front of the Aotea Square and maybe some strips of grass along the axis formed by the trees. Keep a clear path to the centre though. I also think the square needs to be activated more. Particularly along the Town Hall edge. Maybe set up spaces for street food sellers. That little lane could be a great little night market.

  9. Suwooop says:

    Its not the GREATEST public square in the world but it is manageable and is a huge improvement from the grey concrete mess it was before. More events need to be held at Aotea Square though.

  10. Andy says:

    Are buskers not allowed there? Come to think of it, I didn’t see many buskers there while I lived in town.

    Overseas, public spaces like these are kept lively by professional buskers. However I fear Auckland may not have enough foot traffic for it to be profitable for them. I remember seeing some good magic performances in QE Square and Vulcan Lane years ago.


Leave a Comment


XHTML: You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>