“VICTORIA SQUARE – A Space Under Siege” (The Text Of the Press Op-Ed)

Grant Edge has generously supplied the text of  "VICTORIA SQUARE – A Space Under Siege" that was published in The Press.

VICTORIA SQUARE – A Space Under Siege

Principal Victoria Square Landscape Architect Gary Bateman (Melbourne) and local Landscape Architect Grant Edge provide an overview of the existing design and comparatively critique the new proposal.

Awarded the inaugural New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects supreme George Malcolm award for excellence in design in 1989, this treasured city public open space has provided a place for people to sit and relax and eat their lunches, stroll along the river or diagonally cross the park to Victoria Street and the now demolished Park Royal Hotel, the Town Hall and the convention centre.

The earthquakes destroyed these buildings but did not destroy the essence of this open space or its main endearing features. Unfortunately the proposed Cera intervention is going to do that for us.

A rigorous site analysis and design process began in 1983. After much public debate, consultation and consideration of submissions (plus pressure from developers to build a tower !), the community set up an advisory committee with Architects, Landscape Architects, Planners, Civic Trust, Historic Places Trust and the Businessman’s Association. They considered that the design proposed was a very accurate response to the brief. In 1986 Council agreed to close Victoria Street and part of Oxford Terrace. Finally the $2million plan was approved for construction in 1986.

The judges remarked that it was a response to its cultural setting, and that it cleverly synthesised history, discovery, colonization and to a lesser degree the south pacific. It was an acknowledgement of Christchurch’s English cultural traditions. They said “With such a clearly conceived design theme, the designer has been able to give coherent architectural form to Victoria Square which both characterizes and strengthens the formal city condition. Queen Victoria, Captain Cook, and the bridge have been brought into relationship with each other to structure a highly formal diagonal axis across the square. …….. In the case of the Town Hall, unification has been achieved, not through the device of axial arrangement but by the counterpoint of the curvilinear path which strategically departs from the axial formality to reveal an English ‘Picturesque’ view of the water fountain outside the Town Hall. Rather more ‘Park’ than a ‘Square’, the completed project is an excellent example of city reconstruction and what can be achieved by a commitment to striving for a highly ‘urban quality in all design respects.

Gary Bateman said that the main objective of the original design was ‘to create an informal, essentially relaxed green space in the heart of the city , as opposed to the rigid formality of Cranmer and Latimer Squares and the hard paved area of Cathedral Square’.

Another significant design objective was to recognize the historic north-west axis in the city grid which came about for the need of a direct diagonal link to Papanui Bush for timber in 1855. We achieved this by creating an open vista from the main entry point along the NW axis, and aligning the statues of Queen Victoria and Captain Cook on the axis. We also revealed part of the tram tracks running along the former Victoria Street as subtle reference to the original diagonal thoroughfare.

The circular social seating areas were articulated by low retaining walls that were introduced to create the gentle sloping north facing lawn and were a means of dealing with quite a significant change in level from the Colombo Street corner to the bridge. The design gave due respect to the character of the river. The landform was gently graded to the river, and the expansive grassed areas helped to address water quality issues.

Other heritage features included the Floral Clock, the Mast and horse ramp. The pedestrian treatment of Victoria Bridge was also designed to highlight the historic significant of the bridge.

Early designs also included lightweight steel and glazed structures along the edges of Armagh and Colombo Streets for market stalls, gallery space and food outlets. Public toilets were also mooted.


Proposed Design Issues

This new design fails to reference the heritage values embodied in the previous award winning design. We are not only referring to the historic objects or sculptures, but the entire spatial qualities that make it such a special place to be in and one that has endured for over 30 years.

The square shaped space and the rigid formality of both the central lawn area and the expansive hard paving around the perimeter sit uncomfortably adjacent to the gentle meandering character of the Avon River. The relaxed atmosphere of the existing green oasis in the heart of the City is lost.

Mr Edge suggests that, forcing people to skirt the space does not provide an acceptable visual or pedestrian linkage to Victoria Street. It is generally good practice to ensure that pedestrian circulation through a space is as close to a ‘desire line’ as possible. That’s the direction that people generally want to go. The static green space in the centre deliberately blocks that natural movement.

The wide paths are reminiscent of the road and carparks that previously occupied the space and which Council rejected.

This design does not appear to accommodate the significant ground level changes that occur across the site. The relocated statues seem to be randomly placed without purpose. We can’t understand why the designers would contemplate moving the Bowker fountain.

The idea that the space becomes more active for entertainment and a market place seem at odds with any sense of spatial appropriateness or even economic viability. Adjustment around the periphery of the site to accommodate trade is possible without significant expense. Events like the Festival of Lanterns for example are attended by thousands of people. An event organiser will assess the characteristics of a space and plan accordingly. The City has much spatial variety to choose from.

Stronger Maori cultural influence and market place heritage aspects can readily be incorporated into the current layout. Queen Victoria shaped Maori history as much as she did that of Europeans.

A contemporary design adjustment to the existing space is possible without using the Avon River corridor project as a means of impinging on a space that is extremely popular with the people of Christchurch and visitors to the City. It would also offer a much more cost-effective solution for the people of Christchurch.

The writers commented that as designers they do however recognize that change can be a good thing, but in this case and in this context, the brief needed to ensure that the existing special qualities of Victoria Square remained. Maybe they could have researched a bit more and invited comment from the principal designers of the existing Victoria Square and from those organisations that made up the previous advisory committee.

Victoria Square‘s success is a product of public participation in the design process.

Gary Bateman - Landscape Architect/Urban Designer (Melbourne) FAILA

Grant Edge – Landscape Architect FNZILA (Registered)

Comments are closed.