A road no longer runs though it – that’s just one of the things we’ll be able to say about Freyberg Square if the council’s proposal to upgrade it and the adjacent Pioneer Women’s and Ellen Melville Hall goes ahead. This is great news as both the square and the hall are well used despite being a bit run down, an upgrade on both are well overdue.

I think it is also good that both the hall and the square are being upgraded at the same time and integrated together. The upgrade to the ground hall will see the ground floor become a flexible community space. Combined with the removal of the road which clumsily bisects the square and which offers little to the overall transport network the works should enable the area to perform much better as a people space.

The work will also tie in nicely with the fantastically upgraded O’Connell St by way of extending the shared space south partly though Courthouse Lane. This section of Courthouse lane itself will further be changed by only allowing traffic to travel uphill towards Albert Park meaning we will no longer see cars travelling at speed downhill. It should also mean a reduction of vehicles that need to travel down O’Connell St as currently O’Connell St is the only option for drivers who come down Chancery St. Of course all this work will once again serve to highlight how poor the environment in High St is.

In total the upgrade is expected to cost around $7 million with it being paid for by the Waitemata Local Board and the City Centre Targeted Rate.

Here’s are the overarching design objectives for the projects

  • the design of Freyberg Square as a world-class place that is a distinctive, safe and popular destination, where locals and visitors choose to frequent and linger
  • creating a community facility within the central city with greater user flexibility
  • providing greater pedestrian priority and connectivity and a more usable and child-friendly public realm
  • providing better pedestrian connectivity between Freyberg Square and the surrounding network of streets
  • creating a high quality, attractive and durable public open space that contributes to a sustainable and maintainable city centre
  • designing an improved integration between Freyberg Square and the Pioneer Women’s and Ellen Melville Hall, to create a vibrant inner city hub which will become the community and cultural heart of the city
  • enhancing and redeveloping the Pioneer Women’s building while maintaining the heritage of the building and meeting current seismic and building codes
  • creating a versatile and fully accessible community centre that can be configured to accommodate a greater number of uses and users
  • honouring Ellen Melville and pioneering women of New Zealand, and continuing to honour Lord Freyberg

And some images of what’s proposed (click to enlarge)

Aerial perspective view of Pioneer Women’s & Ellen Melville Hall and Freyberg Square showing the removal of the Freyberg Place roadway to create an integrated public space and community hall. Concrete seating terraces and steps extend up the bank towards the Metropolis, interspersed with native tree and shrub plantings and an interactive water feature, creating a destination public space in the city.

Freyberg Square Proposed Design

Plan view of the Pioneer Women’s & Ellen Melville Hall and Freyberg Square showing the removal of the Freyberg Place roadway to create a fully pedestrianised public space with seamless integration between the upgraded community hall and square. Stone paving, public seating and native street trees create a pedestrian prioritised environment in Courthouse Lane, with vehicular traffic restricted to one-way traffic up-hill towards Albert Park.

Freyberg Square Proposed Design - Plan

This view from Courthouse Lane shows the re-instated verandah and relocated glazing line set back 3 metres from the columns, which honours the heritage of the building and better connects the building with Freyberg Square. The entrance is reinstated under the verandah, providing a more generous and welcoming foyer. The original brick wall is re-instated, reflecting the heritage of the original design.

Ellen Melville Hall Upgrade 1

This view over Freyberg Square shows how the removal of Freyberg Place roadway and the upgraded building will enhance the interface with Freyberg Square, creating a visual and permeable connection allowing the building to flow out in to the square and activities in the square to flow in to the building. There placement of the building’s current blue glass to a cast glass similar to that used originally, combined with the use of a lighter, warmer material palette will create a more inviting community facility.

Ellen Melville Hall Upgrade 2

This view shows how the proposed ‘Urban Living Room’ will help integrate the building in to the local context, encouraging activation of the spaces and interest in the community facilities available. This flexible ground floor community space can be re-configured to suit various activities such as conferences, market stalls and art exhibitions.

Ellen Melville Hall Upgrade 3

Overall it looks like a great upgrade that appears to really add to the area. Your move High St retailers.

The consultation is open to Sunday 27 September and there are details on the consultation page about public sessions on the plans that are available.

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  1. Excellent news and the design looks amazing! Fingers crossed that the High Street retailers see the error of their ways and join the shared space bandwagon!

  2. Looks great, although I’ve got slightly mixed feelings about the removal of the pond/ fountain bit. I kind of like having a bit of random water in the city – this one, plus the Women’s Centennial steps leading up to the Art Gallery and the Albert Park fountain, are about the only ones I can think of. Good riddance to that tiny strip of road Freyberg Place.

      1. I’m well in favour of this design but I do have one concern. The existing square is a bit like a living room: contained and segmented. If fills up nicely with people sitting most days. The new design opens up the square a lot more as a wide paved expanse, facing the hall. This runs the risk of having a great sunny terraced area to the south looking on an empty open flat space to the north.

        It seems to me the design relies on there being a lot of activity in the hall day in day out to work well and avoid the ’empty windswept plain’ effect. Is this realistic? Would it not be worthwhile having a restaurant, cafe or shops at ground level to ensure constant activity?

        1. Couple of things have been removed in this design including the tree in the middle that helps to break up the space and the large palms alongside the Metropolis

          1. Pretty sure the Palms remain, they’re on Metropolis Land and are still shown in outline in the bird’s eye view map.

          2. It’s not exactly clear, the text for N says “Metropolis Lawn (Phoenix Palms & showing seat wall removed). That could mean they just left it out of the drawing or that they’re removing them completely.

  3. I agree about the lack of fountains in Auckland – look at all of the wonderful ones in Sydney! But that one was awful even when it was first built – and the bomb-bollards too. The changes will make a really positive difference.

  4. Excellent. So good to connect internal and external people space seamlessly.

    Though is that still curb and channelling on that section of High St? Why? Run the same surface across to the shops fronts on High too, it will hugely improve the sense of place of the square, and properly calm the traffic. Give drivers a physical right of way and it will encourage more careless driving. No problem with vehicles using it, just get the physical hints right about priority. Is the Council losing their nerve on the shared space concept? Yet it clearly is a huge success, especially in this area.

    1. That’s clearly existing asphalt maintained on High St Patrick. I think it is a good move, just get the square done first and let tardy High St join in later when it inevitably looks the odd one out.

      No use delaying the square upgrade over some High St squabble, onwards!

      1. I don’t think extending the surfacing over High Street would trigger the need for consultation with High Street retailers. It is AT’s road surface, after all, and doesn’t have any consequential impacts on traffic at all – except perhaps reducing vehicle speeds through this section, which would be a good thing.

        I agree with Patrick that doing so would really help the space if the surface was extended across. I suspect the reason they haven’t is simply due to cost – once you get into the road corridor, then you’re talking about an extra level of complexity.

  5. Awesome news. It will be one of those things we look back on and wonder why it was any different to start with!

    All we need to do now is make High St car free. 😉

  6. I’d like to see a plan for linking Courthouse Lane with Albert Park above it.

    Looks good though. Freyberg Square is one of those places which isn’t in dire need of placemaking, but this will improve it further. Once High St goes pedestrian only or shared space this place will be even better.

    1. +1 – there’s a great opportunity to link from the square right up to the top of Albert Park…could be a grand stairway down into the city.

      1. Well look at the pictures. It’s a bunch of stairs to nowhere and an empty space. If that is the best they can do then plonck a building on it with shops on the bottom and some apartments or offices above.

        1. You are so last century Stu. That space is needed to accommodate all the cycle parking equipment (1500 bike racks plus 6 bikes).

  7. Do people know who Freyberg was? I see very little in this design (are they even keeping the statue) that honours his legacy and achievements.

    Perhaps some plants from Crete / Libya that could exist here, maybe a design in the tiling/flooring that reflects El Alamein etc?

    1. The hall isn’t THAT high – the southern part certainly is reasonably sunny much of the yeat.

      It may not get that much sun in winter, true, but that’s a problem in tons of spaces (and nothing we can change easily anyway).

    2. According to The Photographer’s Ephemeris, the sun at 15:00 today will be on a 33 degree angle forming a line from the bottom of Vulcan Lane to the middle of the square. By 17:00, no sun to be seen… Ref: http://photoephemeris.com/

      So yeah, no sunset at this time of year…


  8. Pity it’s concrete rather than indigenous basalt. One of the joys of Sydney, Paris, Rome, etc, is their use of local stone in the construction of their public spaces.

  9. The water feature is being retained in Freyberg Square. See the Freyberg Square seating plan. Blue is the water feature flowing down the steps. And yes, Lord Freyberg is still there, more prominent than ever, no Alamein though.

    1. How about some tactical urbanism to paint in the major movements of the battle as an opening gesture? Could trace the movements of the NZers with something special…

  10. Is there enough proper seating (as opposed to sitting on the stairs). I remember when the square was upgraded last time, it was a great place to sit and ‘people watch’ while eating lunch.

    1. Not being facetious – what’s the problem with sitting on stairs? Especially since it seems interspersed with “double-height” steps as well. I guess “cold bums”?

      1. I’m with Harvey here. One of the reasons the square works well is that people can sit comfortably. At lunch there are often 40 or more people eating lunch. The short and shallow steps don’t seem so useful for sitting. I think a lot of these steps should be double height/depth.

  11. where’s the grass? Takutai Square is such a great place to sit at lunch. What’s the point of another large paved over expanse?

  12. This was one of the spaces I studied extensively for my Urban Design-Spatial Psychology research (some years ago). The fountain plays a critical role in calming the ‘noise’ of the environment around it. Water provides cooling the space in summer, and gives a focal point..it really works, so I’m relieved that the fountain is staying.
    A sense of enclosure is lacking somewhat in this design proposal, which maintains the central ‘thoroughfare.’ Raised seating is great – if it were curved around the centre slightly this would greatly improve the intimacy of the space, as well as providing an ideal auditorium to support busking/stage events and projector screen (on the wall of Ellen Melville). Bear in mind that sitting ‘above/behind’ somebody else gives that person lower down a lessened sense of comfort. Some of the seating is offset, which is a good way to resolve the issue, but this aspect could be further developed to provide better separation between lunchtime diners…we like to be close, but not on top of each other.
    Improving the link to Albert Park is the other obvious move not fully discussed – where’s the Contextual analysis….opportunities/constraints?!
    As it stands, it’s nice but I’m surprised by the high budget for a space that’s actually not bad at present and isn’t changing fundamentally. Queens Wharf and plenty of other small spaces in the city could benefit from some of these funds.
    (oops that quickly turned into a critique..sorry!!…I’ll use the public feedback form).

  13. “Queens Wharf………………could benefit from some of these funds.”

    QW is a disgrace. Purchased as a gift back to the public (through access) its clogged with two buildings, is closed when cruise ships are docked and is generally a soulless place.

    Move the Cloud somewhere else, open up the views, plant some grass and trees, put seats on the perimeter and at the end and some shade in places. Let someone open a café/restauarant at the northern end of Shed 10. Easy and cheap.

    Some greenery would make a world of difference to that part of the city.

  14. There are some big gaps between the bollards and trees, will be mighty tempting to those drivers currently going the wrong way through there as a shortcut to High St. Pedestrians be prepared to jump clear

  15. I expect I’m the only person who’ll miss the shell-shaped bollards, yes?

    Overall this looks like a brilliant upgrade. Will comment as much on the official form.

    1. NO -I would miss them also. They probably fail some obscure saftey guideline :/ It would be a real shame if all the existing har landscaping was ripped out and trashed, just because we can. Old bollards and stone steps are part of the fabric of our built environment, they make a place feel lived in and comfortable and contribute to a sense of permanence that you don’t find in brand new installations.

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