On Friday Te Komititanga, Auckland’s newest public space was opened to the public. It’s a fantastic addition to the city and will be even better once the refurbishment of the old Chief Post Office is completed in March allowing the thousands of people using trains to exit out on to it.

Te Komititanga just as the fences were starting to be taken down

It’s a great improvement and it’s good to have a space that thoroughly embraces being an urban square. Though perhaps a few more trees on the eastern side might have been good.

It’s also a space that has seen many changes over the years, so I thought I’d look at some of them.

To start with, if you tried to stand outside future location for the CPO when Auckland was founded, you’d definitely need to know how to swim as it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the land was reclaimed.

Ever since it was reclaimed it’s been a place to meet and a place of transport. It was the main way to access the city’s first railway station and many of the trams serving the growing city ran through it. In the late 20’s the station was moved out to Beach Rd making it much less useful and I wonder how different transport in Auckland would be today had that not happened, or if the planned earlier iterations of what we now call the City Rail Link had been built.

Lower Queen St in the early 1900s

In 1912 the CPO was completed

Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W1533
The area in the 1930s – Alexander Turnbull Library ref: 1/2-100894-G

In the 1950s the trams were ripped out and the space dedicated to cars. The last tram ran in 1956.

CPO Lower Queen St 1960s
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 580-7806

In the late 70’s the road was closed to cars and made into a pedestrian space with Queen Elizabeth Square opening in 1980.

Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 1021-207
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 1021-503
Looking towards the old Downtown mall with the ‘Wind tree’ sculpture, designed by Michio Ihara, which is now in Wynyard Quarter

Because I know some of you will raise it, I think key difference between the square of the 80’s and what we have now is the quality but also the improvements to surrounding buildings with Commercial Bay and of course there will be a lot more people thanks to Britomart.

In the early 2000s the area changed again with the opening of Britomart. The main part of lower Queen St once again became a road, but this time for buses only. People exiting the station were often running across the road in front of buses, something somewhat reminiscent of some the shots from a century earlier.

A view of the space from a double decker

The last buses ran through the area in 2016, which was when works on the City Rail Link started and eventually saw the tunnels dug through from Britomart.

Tunnels being built out from under to Old CPO building for the CRL. Next year this space will be a stunning new public square and restored train station entrance.

With the tunnels complete it was time to restore the area giving us the space we have today.

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112 comments

  1. Great space, but personally I think forcing people transferring from the Rail to the Bus interchange in Albert street to traverse it with absolutely no weather protection until they get to Commercial bay was a mistake…

    They should have left/rebuilt the underground passage and connected Britomart to Commercial bay to allow totally protected travel between Rail and Bus…

  2. Which one are you saying had the higher quality. The previous one that was larger, that had seats and planter boxes to define space and a fountain? Or the new one that is smaller and looks like a street that got closed off but nobody really knew what to do with what was left?

    1. The alignment of the landscaping really does give that impression, doesn’t it? I’m a little bit surprised, I really hoped we would have more of a ‘place making’ space than just a corridor with some seats down one side.

  3. Te Komititanga? Seriously? That’s a fairly lame transliteration of Committee, is it not? You want Auckland’s new main square to be called, effectively, Admin place? Was there not a name more worthy of Tamaki of a Thousand Lovers? It looks great – its just a bit of an uninspiring name….

    1. Ngāti Whātua Ōrakei and the CRL’s mana whenua forum gifted the square’s name – Te Komititanga. It means “to mix” or “to merge” in te Reo.

      1. Words evolve in all living languages. In future Te Komititanga will mean “(noun) -that disappointing barren space at the bottom of Queen Street.”

        1. Pūtahi could have been more fitting. It also means confluence/intersection/meeting place/centre but on top of that:
          (noun) long clouds, stratus – cloud forming a continuous horizontal grey sheet.

        2. No John D I said Auckland had a shortage of stairs and the Freyberg Place plan would go a long way towards addressing that shortage.

    2. Maybe I’m wrong: But I’m not expecting this name to stick anyway. People will just walk over it, maybe set up stalls on it and not call it anything.

    3. Don’t you just love how pakeha are apparently far better judges of the appropriateness of the new name for the square than the local iwi who considered the issue carefully and whose proposal was accepted?

      1. Don’t you just love how internet punters are apparently far better judges of what Auckland’s transport network should look like than the local transport organisation with thousands of employees who consider the issue carefully and who’s proposals are accepted.

    4. More importantly why did they feel the need to rename the Square. Not everything needs to be renamed.

      I prefer the older 1990’s square with the wind chimes, plants and fountains, this new square is more bland gray concrete, it’s dull, even the previous version with kauri tress and volcano is better than this mess. Why have we transformed into a monochrome society, what’s wrong with splashing some colour around the place.

  4. I struggle to see how its not going to sit empty outside of peaks with people travelling to and from britomart. To sunny in summer, to expose in winter. There are going to need to work hard to fill that space – hopefully they will be generous with street licences for adjoining businesses to enable them to colonise a decent amount of area with tables, chairs, umbrellas etc for some al fresco dining/ drinking etc.

    1. Commercial Bay only has retail stores on the ground floor. There is just a kebab shop, McDonalds and possibly the China bank on the other side that can have outdoor dining. There are limited options to fill the square.

      1. Le Petit Cafe remains, they’ve just shifted 50 metres away to Customs St and continue to offer excellently priced coffee (get the prepaid card).

        I believe that coffee kiosks or other commercial activities will be added to the area at some point, perhaps they’re waiting for all the other surrounding work to be complete first.

    2. I think the idea is that it is a lot more flexible to fill up with special event “stuff”, furniture and hundreds of people. Otherwise yes it is pretty plain, but that is it’s beauty in a way. Focus is on the pavement design.

      1. Bring back the Wharehouse grass and Deck Chairs like they had before it was dug up . And they could throw in a few Sun Umbrella’s to make it more homely ‘

        1. And it goes to show the Westpac one was designed by people that will use that space and not by a committee that only turn up when some bigwigs are there and then never come back , because they don’t want to be seen with the local riffrafe .

        2. Key difference that was designed and maintained by the developers of Britomart precinct and owners of the buildings. It is clean, well designed and well maintained, and an area you won’t to use. This one has been designed by public servants and committee and probably with no public input and will be a disaster

  5. I find it weird that there is little outdoor dining in this new square. It would be a great people watching spot. If this was a European city square it would have plenty. I guess it still has the wind issues but that can be worked around. It just seems a bit barren and characterless.

  6. I’ve been walking through there and it has become quite dirty already. They need to use a pavement cleaner on it. It already looks tired.

  7. Need to add some soul/vibes/life with few more trees, shelters and maybe sculpture or fountain? Is there is a lights for the vulnerable people walking alone at night?

  8. I see in the 1912 photo that there were once gorgeous duel arches at entrance to Tayler and Galway Streets. I think we should bring this back in some form (perhaps a more contemporary reimagining). I am thinking of how to apply urban theories but the likes of Cullen and Sitte.
    Gorden Cullen wrote his book ‘The concise Townscape’, where he approaches the city as a serial vision with a sequence of revelations’ often using gateways and arches as the focus point of transition from one space to the next.
    Camillo Sitte wrote his book ‘City Planning According to Artistic Principles’ and focused heavily on public space; often recommending the addition of building rather than subtraction to ‘hug’ and shape the public space.

    1. “I see in the 1912 photo that there were once gorgeous duel arches at entrance to Tayler and Galway Streets.”

      Those weren’t (yet) the entrances to Taylor and Galway – those were the entrances to the train station behind the COP, by going left and right around it!

  9. A couple of those Edwardian buildings that were on the other side of the road were beautiful. It’s a shame that they made way for that horrid Downtown mall.

  10. Would of been 100% better if they had of done this in the 1920s when the surrounding buildings had a more human scale and way better architectural merit than the heinous plain ugly monolithic monstrosities opposite the railway station.

  11. Thanks for the post. Interesting to see the history laid out like that. There was a lot I didn’t know.

    I’m impressed with the paving design; it looks really artistic.

    I hope the buildings surrounding the square will gradually open up more to the space. Cafes, bars, and restaurants, with their tables and chairs. Other activities too – exhibitions, even civic design exhibitions. And is there anything preventing activities, like the French have their boules and table tennis tables, with tables and chairs around them that aren’t part of a cafe? In fact a civic space with recreational equipment right there, next to the square, to allow it to be easily rolled out, would be great.

    1. I walked through the other day and was unimpressed although it is early days. I think it looks nice in pictures but in reality it’s just a big empty space with nothing to do and no shade.

      1. Exactly. Birds eye view looks nice because you can see the patterns as a totality, but at ground level it’s just a big uninviting space that lacks soul and places to linger.

      2. No shade indeed.

        Metservice informed me yesterday that the UV index was 13. While in Europe, 10 is considered extreme. So a wide open square will just not work over here.

        1. I walked through it a couple of times today. Windswept and uninviting. Apart from the pavers in the central area, I think it’s a disaster.

  12. Britomart, Lower CBD as a whole now has received over 20 Billion Dollars in some form of state money.

    Bus, train, no bus, no train, bus, train, mall, street, pipes, water, mall, no mall, walk not walk, bike, no bike train bus, train bus, fix, repair, paint bus train.

    If NZ had invested this 20 Billion of state funds Auckland could have free Public transport now for all.

  13. The square may be barren. That can easily be fixed.
    But underneath it, for the first time in Auckland’s history, and albeit 50 years later than should have been, are RAPID TRANSIT TUNNELS!!! This is the real achievement, and this is what I am celebrating. Well done Auckland.

  14. We just don’t need more irrelevant European architecture foisted upon it over here, whatever merits it may have.
    We have our own unique culture and place in the world, let’s celebrate that instead of chasing tired ideas from former colonisers.
    But the space could have been a lot better, saying all that.

  15. I agree they could have done SO much more. No real vertical aspect to it at all, just a vast blank flat area. I wasn’t arguing that the space was great, I was arguing that we should absolutely use as much Maori and Pasifika in our designs as possible rather than colonial designs which are well and truly past their sell-by date here.

    The pattern is the bit I like too, but needed far more planting, and seating and carvings and gateway treatments. But I suspect it will become a marketplace at the very least during weekends which will breathe some life into it – some pop up cafes would also be good.

    1. I agree with integrating Maori designs into public works, but why pasifika? It’s just as much of an imported culture as European or Chinese etc, it seems like a double standard. And I find plenty of colonial architecture very pleasing, please do not sell it haha. There are plenty of features from other cultures architecture that could be added and we would end up with a better end product.
      I agree with everything else you said though.

  16. Would love to know what this cost, poorly designed with no protection from the weather. It will become an area that is devoid of people except those walking through, and will slowly attract the less savoury segments of society. Yet another half baked expensive Auckland Transport/council disaster that cost millions and will all be ripped up in a few years as it didn’t work.

    1. They had to build something anyway. Last year that area was a hole in the ground. So the cheapest choice would be asphalt. Not much further up the cost list would be some paving stones. It honestly looks like a pretty cheap solution to me.

      1. Given the amount of time it took and the disruption that was caused, it is very disappointing. Classic Auckland Transport spending money that isn’t theirs.

        1. It’s a CRL project not Auckland Transport, also the majority of the time was digging out and covering up the tunnels not laying the pavers.

  17. Oh well it will all be ripped up again in 30 or so years at great expense and some other idea for a square will go in as is the way in Auckland. But hopefully they’ll bowl those awful high rise things at the same time, maybe plant a small bush area using NZ natives of course .

    1. I think the saving grace of this design is that when they inevitably decide to run buses across it in 15 years (and then re-re-pedestrianise it in 30 years) they don’t have to destroy anything. It looks like an empty street already. Just remove the kerb at either end and it will be good to go.

      1. But perhaps it should have had four ribbons of steel, arranged in two pairs full length of the square.
        Each ribbon being a complex shape of a surface level flat separated by a groove and a narrow upright back to surface level. And each pair being precisely 1435mm apart from the inside faces of the flats?
        The ribbon profiles are readily available from some steel rolling mills.
        Perhaps also a diamond arrangement of opposing crossover ribbons.
        Ah much like the steel ribbons visible in pre 1960’s photos.

  18. The square is really underwhelming. A pattern (nothing wrong with the pattern) using a Maori design and voila the powers to be think they have done a good job. This place wont be noticed, instead it’ll be a thoroughfare (possibly with the hope of the planners that they can get some transport going soon again) instead of a vibrant meeting place and/or a lively square.

    Having studied it, I feel that they have accomplished a second Aotea Square.
    A place no one uses and where this countries most prime real estate is designed so that it will be avoided by people and instead left to wind, rain and birds.

    My take on this is that the decision makers own lived experiences just don’t connect with or understand what that’s required for a vibrant liveable city centre (and thousands of jobs in it).
    Having spoken to quite a few of them, my take on it is that they don’t understand why someone cares about the square, their idea of a good time is to rush into the mall where they know there is a nice food-court and a decent place for steak/burgers and beer (even some Asian fusion – since they have opened up their pallets a little bit over the last 5 years). The thought that a square outside the busiest train station in the country is prime liveable space and a golden opportunity to build Auckland, its attractions and improve its liveability wont enter their minds – its just not in their reality.

    Anyway, my issue with this square is that its designed without consideration for people.
    Who wants to spend one extra second at this square?
    It will be one of the busiest junctions in NZ yet its left empty, desolate and unfriendly to people. Its a dead space rather than a meeting place (hence I am sceptical about the Maori name and its link to purpose. Meeting place – sure this meetingplace we will all avoid and instead go somewhere else – very NZ government…).
    I wish they would have seized this opportunity and created a statement, but instead we are left with a space that serves no purpose and a copy of the dysfunctional and failed design of Aotea square. Its hmm tragic. Tragic for Aucklanders and visitors to Auckland. Nothing change.

    What could they have done.
    Cafes and bars in the middle, plenty of trees, pots and reused the plastic turf and beanbags from early in the construction. That is not costly.
    Some canvas over the walkways. Greens, benches, a decent water fountain. Created some walkways (paths that were designed for crossing) and space that were designed for people.

    The cheapest version would have been a QueenSstreet Mall (Brisbane – far from my favourite) but thats cheap, simple and improves the usage of prime Auckland CBD space by a few hundred percent.
    Better examples all over the western world, but since European examples is always met with resistance, new world ones might be more appealing.

    1. You raise an interesting point – what will CRL foot traffic do for/to Aotea Square and will something similar happen here? does more pedestrian life bring more amenity? I bet people will be looking for opportunities to take advantage of both spaces. I hope so anyway.

    2. “a space that serves no purpose and a copy of the dysfunctional and failed design of Aotea square”

      This is my concern too. Why such mono focused drive to create a new square for huge crowds to gather, when such gatherings are few and far between and the existing square we have for that purpose fails for being built for that very reason.

      Auckland has what, maybe 12 big civic events a year in the city worthy of a square that size… with two big empty assembly squares that’s six days a year each is going to be used for its purpose. Why not design the new one to work for the other 361 days a year instead of duplicate the first?

      At least Te K square is in the middle of the train station, ferry, waterfront, commerical bay etc, so there will be foot traffic. But its liable to become nothing but a grandiose crossroads for pedestrians who cross as quick as they can to get to somewhere else and engage little with the area.

      1. “But its liable to become nothing but a grandiose crossroads for pedestrians who cross as quick as they can to get to somewhere else and engage little with the area.”

        Is this meant to be a criticism? That sounds great. A giant space that makes walking easy but has the potential to host events or busking or small traders is exactly what we should be building in all of our cities. After all, many great squares serve this exact purpose, most obviously Cathedral Square in Christchurch.

  19. “Having studied it, I feel that they have accomplished a second Aotea Square.
    A place no one uses”

    I lived in the City Centre for nearly a decade (2005-2013). Aotea Square was (and is) often used and quite lively, thank you. So I’ll talk all your grump about this new square with a LOT of salt.

  20. As a Street performer, this upgrade has been long awaited.

    Auckland hasn’t had a good place to gather a crowd of any decent size for as long as I can remember. Aotea is vast and doesn’t have much crossing traffic and Freyberg square is to small and filled with awkward and pointless features.

    I will be doing my best to fill this space with colour and life myself as well as getting the local entertainment community (and eventually the international community) involved.
    Thanks for giving this busker a reason to be happy back home.

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