Stuart’s 100 continues:

4: Aotea Arts District


What if Aotea felt like an Arts District?

The area around Aotea Square is home to a surprising number of performing arts venues. I say surprising because it’s not often that you feel you are in an arts or theatre district walking around the square or that stretch of Queen Street between The Civic Theatre and Town Hall.


Wouldn’t it be good if future changes to the area brought this arts focus to the fore? For starters, how about a ticket kiosk near the Queen Street edge of the square selling tickets for all the nearby venues? More prominent digital arts media and promotion?


Restoring the St James, while big a big ticket item, also ultimately seems a no-brainer. Imagine if you had landmark restored heritage theatres on both sides of Queen Street, with future changes to provide more room for outdoor dining, gelato, and more leisurely strolling under atmospheric lighting strung across the street. Then it could really start to hum.


Boston image: Khoury Levit Fong Architects ( )

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  1. Yes agree. The area had improved over the years with the new gallery, aotea upgrade and opening up the metro centre but still has a way to go. I did like the idea a few years ago by somebody to have a war on white spaces especially around this area to bring in some colour and art.

  2. In addition their is the academy behind the St. James and the Art Gallery up the hill, all of the pieces are in place.

  3. It already is an arts precinct. And plenty of ratepayer $$$ going into programming and arts facilities e.g Town Hall, ASB Theatre, Civic – 2 min stroll, interactive art, a waharoa…what more do you want?

    1. Well at present Queen Street out front is an unappealing car filled dirty area, there’s no need for all those cars to be there, and no need for the St James to be left rotting.

    2. It’s an arts precinct in name only. It neither looks nor acts like one. Its invisible still. Put those Khoury Levit Fong-style atmospheric lights in however and the area becomes visible. String them across Queen Street over the block from the Town Hall up to Mayoral Drive.

  4. I agree. Aotea Square is an Arts Centre already and has some excellent venues but it is such a soulless hodge-podge of mismatched architecture styles. Of course the refurbished St James Theatre is the key to the entire complex but I would hate to design the new buildings facade.
    Maybe a gloriously vulgar illuminated fountain in the centre of the present concrete prison yard surrounded by outrageously coloured floral beds. Rip the urinal tiles off the exterior of the IMAX Centre and install an incandescent display of neon lighting. Make it fun, make it exciting, make it somewhere where people want to be.
    At the moment the Aotea Square looks like something left over from the Wesfield Freezing Works demolition job.

    1. I think of Aotea Square as a place where things happen, it comes alive when events are setup inside the square.

      The arts precinct extends all the up Queen street to the Classic Comedy Club and includes a number of performance spaces and artist related services.

      I like that everything doesn’t look the same, having Q theatre next to the Town Hall is great.

  5. I recall reading somewhere that the opening up of the Force/IMAX/Sky City Metro/Event/whatever they call it now centre is the start of a long plan to refit the entire space.

    If they could open up a bit more to Queen St, Aotea and Bledisloe lane, plus redesign the space for grown ups as well as teenagers, that could be a solid anchor for the theatre precinct.

    The big stage theatres are great, but it’s the more mundane things like the movies that get people in there every night.

    Queen St between Wakefield and Wellesley (at least) should be two narrow lanes for buses only. No need for all those cars there just to rat run up the main drag. And a proper taxi rank at the corner of the square where the open air carpark is.

    Oh and you forgot the classic comedy theatre… I can still remember walking past when that was the classic porno cinema! How times have changed.

  6. And what will a refurbished St James be used for? Movies are never going to play there, so is there a need for another live venue?

    In Takapuna we have the Bruce Mason Centre that has to be propped up by Counci and the Arts Centre that is asking to be. Do we need other venues like this?

    1. The St James has the best live acoustics of any theatre in the city. It should take over the ‘opera house’ functions of the Aotea centre, which has terrible acoustics, and leave that for talks and presentations rather than music and performance.

      1. That was the plan. Live music at st james, conferences at asb theatre (reason why it’s got refurbished with white wooden panels), musicals at civic. Then the govt fell in love with skycity convention pokies deal and so fuck you aotea

  7. I often wonder why people take their cars into Queen St. Expecting to park is a pointless exercise. Many years ago a pedestrian only precinct was trialed between Fort St & Wellesly St but it didn’t work. Like Wellington’s Manners St it still had buses creeping up & down and was a bit nerve wracking. But other smaller cities have either pedestrian precincts like Napier or very limited traffic flow like Whanganui and Rotorua and it seems to work. And yet Onehunga’s Mall seems to have been a disaster.

  8. Totally agree with this. Light up the centre!

    I would include the Auckland Art Gallery, the Academy Cinema, the Maidment Theatre, and the various private (but publicly accessible) galleries in this district. I suggest that every one of these venues would support this plan – perhaps its time to ask them if they’re keen to commit to pushing this?

  9. Thanks for promoting this idea. I remember going along to a council meeting some years ago where people were asking for funds to save the St James, and was very frustrated that they failed to emphasise how much potential that area had as an Arts district. This needs to be in the public consciousness.

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