Town Hall Dunedin Centre architecture for a What if? second

Today DCC and its project team presented the “new proposal” for the Dunedin Centre’s redevelopment to stakeholders and interested people at the Glenroy Auditorium.

In previous days I’d heard very positive murmurs about the design. Indeed, today’s reaction to the plans was almost uniformly positive. Councillors have received the same presentation.

Channel 9 news coverage speaks to the main drivers of the project.

### Channel 9 Online July 1, 2009 – 6:42pm
Town Hall Redevelopment Plans Announced Today

Official plans for the redevelopment of the Town Hall were announced today by the Dunedin City Council.
Video Link

The redevelopment will ensure the old Town Hall building meets contemporary user needs and compliance requirements, as well as protecting heritage values throughout.

The changes are predominantly to the building interior, improving wayfinding and incorporating several level changes between the Town Hall building, which incorporates the Glenroy, and the Municipal Chambers.

A “glass cube” entranceway that only lightly touches the Town Hall’s classical façade to Moray Place is a new addition, one which allows an uncluttered reading of the old building’s scale and detail.

A new square is created on Moray Place, serving as a gathering and flow space for events attracting large crowds of between 3,000 – 4,000 people, such as graduations and rock concerts.

The Glenroy will be gutted to create a new multipurpose hall and conference facility. According to the independent business plan, conference use will help fund community function of the building.

Harrop St (to be incorporated into the square) will be closed to through traffic, to provide an access way for pedestrians and service vehicles. This to my mind is a reasonable compromise, ensuring the District Plan’s protection of the vista is upheld. Landscaping of the square will include stair access to St Paul’s Cathedral gardens, independently due to undergo new landscaping work.

The $45 million Town Hall project goes to Council for approval next week. It is hoped that construction will begin at the end of this year.

The project will be staged to work around user bookings and the continuing operation of the Dunedin Visitor Centre* on the ground floor of the Municipal Chambers. Closure of the Glenroy during gutting and construction will be necessary; as will closure of the Town Hall during programmed upgrades. The council indicated datelines for these today.

*The Visitor Centre will be moved temporarily; the Metro will be closed for about four months, and then intermittently. The council’s property department would have to shift from the Municipal Chambers to the Civic Centre permanently.


The proposed plans will result in a strong, contemporary architectural solution that successfully complements the existing building.

We couldn’t hope for more. The budget is tight and the design brief is manifestly tough – the internal solution is unbelievably complex, but has the right firms, Opus Architecture and Octa Asscociates, to deliver on the programmes.

Opus architect Jeff Thompson correctly identifies the project as an “urban design problem”. He has been working alongside architect Eqo Leung from Opus Architecture in Auckland.

I maintain we really need some new “design edge” in central Dunedin, the conceptual designs for Moray Place and Harrop St ‘square’ achieve this. Thanks to both architects for their innovation. I look forward to seeing the developed design if today’s presentation is any indication.

One of the most pleasing aspects of this project has been the consultation process as it evolved through 2008 and leading up to and including today, in no small part due to the facilitation process guided by Dunedin consultant Liz Rowe. Some real “listening” to public concern has informed directions and architectural solutions, admirably.

The contrast between this project and the handling of the stadium project, in terms of meaningful and respectful consultation process can be summed up as WORLDS APART.

The Dunedin Centre Redevelopment project exemplifies the way forward for local authority consultation processes; the maintenance of loyalty and respect between the council, stakeholders and interested parties should be celebrated.

It’s not a speedy process, deliberations can be lengthy and protracted – nevertheless, keeping the faith can deliver great results and significant architecture projects.


I turned up to the presentation with an open mind, having had a short email exchange with art historian Peter Entwisle last week.

Peter isn’t easily convinced about the use of contemporary glazing in making new additions to heritage buildings…and would prefer that the original detail of the Harrop Street façade is restored to remove picture windows that were added in the 1980s.

I replied that under the ICOMOS Charter of New Zealand the use of glass is acceptable but it obviously depends on how it is used. I said there could be a cost issue in seeking the restoration of the Harrop Street façade within the current project budget, and suggested this could be staged in at a later date… We left it there and looked forward to the presentation.

Not surprisingly, Peter raised these matters with the project team today. His could be a lone voice on the matter of using glass, I suspect. It will be interesting to gauge wider public reaction in the next few days. Peter may have supporters. No doubt he will use his fortnightly newspaper column or other media comment to underline his views. I noticed Radio New Zealand gave him some recording time today… [but this didn’t go to air]

As it turned out, retired architect Ted McCoy, with whom I don’t always agree on design matters, echoed in greater detail my congratulatory comments to the project architects today.

Hands off Harrop president Judith Medlicott also offered her congratulations to the project team.

I’d say the project team has cracked it. I hope the councillors will sign this through with no regrets. The budget has been held in the council’s annual plans for last year and this.

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr


Filed under Architecture, Design, Economics, Hot air, Inspiration, Media, Politics, Project management, Site, What stadium

38 responses to “Town Hall Dunedin Centre architecture for a What if? second

  1. Phil

    That is excellent news about the Town Hall. The current state of decay perhaps pushed the decision makers into a corner. But it’s still the best venue in the city for serious formal events, and will continue to be so.

    The atmosphere given off by a truely stately environment cannot be matched and evenings with the symphony orchestra, or Dame Kiri, seem somewhat cheapened in lesser venues. I went to watch the ballet once at La Scala in Milan. Could hardly see a bloody thing from the tiny viewing boxes. But, being at La Scala, that somehow didn’t seem to matter at the time. The whole point, historically, of many of those venues was not to see, but to be seen.

    Do you know what decision was made with regard to the Metro cinema theatre ? There was a scheme about opening up a hole in the beautiful Moray Place facade where the theatre is today, to allow for B Train truck access.

  2. Phil

    Brilliant. Now, if they can just entice the pigeons away it would be about perfect.

  3. LG

    I’m not sure I have the imagination to visualise some of this change, but a square out the front.

    The majesty of the town hall is quite something, and certainly imbues graduations with a very special feel. There was some suggestion that the might use the stadium, especially for the health sciences graduation, but I think the move to more graduations is a far better move.

  4. Phil

    A couple of classic gems from todays news:

    Firstly, with regard to the Town Hall redevelopment:

    Mayor Peter Chin said the project was “exciting”, and would give the city a top performance and conference venue.

    and then, with regard to the Highlanders business venture:

    Mr Harland said “….The majority of revenue in the new stadium will come from professional rugby”

    From the horses’ mouth, as they say. Or is that “out of the mouths of babes” ? I’m not sure which fits best here. Seriously, does no one ever check the press releases before they burst into song ? How much time and money has been spent on the publicity campaign of the stadium being the multi purpose entertainment facility that the city needed to survive ? You would think they would at least read what they were saying before sending these things out. One step forward, two steps backwards.

  5. David

    An argument used to back the stadium was that the conference facilities included were desperately needed in Dunedin.

    An argument used by council to back the town hall redevelopment was that it was well known across the country that conference facilities away from city centres do not attract many conferences.

  6. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and not every conference is suited for the new stadium, just as not every conference will be suited for the new Dunedin Centre redevelopment.

    I love this new development, it’s a stunningly thought out architectural response to the current buildings.

    It is the glass add-on to compliment Ted McCoy’s brutalist addition to the cathedral, and for that very reason it works a treat.

    To draw comparisons between the two processes is also a little cheap and not really applicable. Sure there are comparisons to a certain level, but there is no way that any amount of public input into the stadium would have seen anything other than lipstick slapped on the pig that is Carisbrook (no matter how many people adhere to the theory that decrepit and decaying is the new black when it comes to stadium suitability).

    The Harrop St addition was a poorly worked through solution, the new stadium is a stunning solution to so many problems.

    The current resolution of the issues for both buildings will now give us some public architecture that will give many of us civic pride.

    No they aren’t going to please everyone, astonishingly there are folk in Bilboa who think the Guggenheim is a blight on the city, and of course there are still people who think that Centre de Georges Pompidou in Paris is an eyesore – but as I say you can’t please everyone.

    Dunedin 2011 is going to be vastly different (for the better) than Dunedin 1997 and thank goodness.

  7. David

    Paul “Dunedin 2011 is going to be vastly different (for the better) than Dunedin 1997 and thank goodness”

    Just becuase of a roof and a renovation?

    Neither will make a great deal of difference to the majority of people lives, except for larger bills to pay.

    Will the roof make any difference to how well the harlanders perform? Especially to the 90% of Dunedin people who don’t go to the rugby?

    We would have been better spending money on things that are used every day by locals and tourists – pier, trams, cycleway, gondola etc.

    It’s ridiculous spending $200m for a stadium that will be 100% empty for around 350 days per year, and nearly empty when it is used i.e. forecast to be 65% empty (super 14) to 85% empty (for NPC).

  8. Phil

    A centre city location for conference facilities is certainly the preferred option. For hotelliers, the hospitality industry, tourism, and the guests themselves. I prefer to be able to walk to the venue from my hotel than have to arrange a cab, and to a local bar after a day of sitting.

    However, there may be the case that there exists also occasions when a location away from the centre city is preferred. Perhaps a one day conference, where people move in and out of the city on the same day. In which case the stadium is a good candidate. I’ll gladly accept that.

    But therein lies the crowning clanger of yesterday’s press release, being the complete absence by his worship in mentioning the stadium in the same sentence as ” a top performance and conference venue “. It would have gelled so well to have said TWO, or MANY, or SEVERAL. Instead of which, the official party line to the public is that the Dunedin Town Hall will give “A” venue to the city. That’s pure PR suicide and just fuels the fire. Again. Yes, the moment was about the Town Hall, but did it have to be at the expense of the stadium ?

    Think of the whole picture before you speak, people. When you put Peter’s comment with Jim’s, you get “football stadium”. The very stigma that the stadium team have been trying to overcome. Honestly, yesterday both of them were just plain dumb.

  9. For pity’s sake David, nothing this city ever does is going to make a single ounce of difference to people’s lives, accept it and get on with things – that ulcer really is brewing isn’t it.

    Unless that is you look at:
    all the park improvements
    sewage upgrades
    water upgrades
    improved services left right and centre
    better roads
    curbside recycling

    omg the list is way too long to even think about.

    Yes with a bloody Roof and Renovation.

    I have no idea if the Roof will improve the situation of the Highlanders, what about the 90% of the country that doesn’t go to Rugby at all (if that figure was even remotely close to your 1000 year repayment fantasy, then it would be interesting), but we are all still forking out millions to host the rugby world cup.

    Pier – where? How and why – and DON’T say out into the water at St Clair – hold on to your hats and the kids. Still it will bring in more employment, police rescue craft, reporters – there’ll be more people in the drink than presently on the UPGRADED Portobello Road.
    Tram – ditto, Mornington isn’t exactly a destination any more, and what a bloody boring thing to be stuck behind going up High St.
    Cycleway, yes cool, shit look at what they’re building one, along with the walkway between Company Bay and Macandrew Bay – spoilt public.
    Gondola – where to the fog on top of the hills – please.

    Yes it would be absolutely outrageous and a complete bloody travesty if the stadium was used for 6 – 12 days of the year.

    But that’s where your conspiracy theory falls flat on it’s bloody face, because it’s not going to be used for just Rugby, and you in your wallow just can’t get your head around that – too bad.

  10. conferences PLURAL – in the total sum of the word. One would never thought CHCH would have stolen the Flower Show off Auk, but it happened.

    The cockies have been screaming out for a decent Field days south for so long now, it’s about time someone built a bloody great glassed monstrosity on a waterfront somewhere and got on with it.

    Actually, I’d disagree, I have plenty of conferences on my wish list, the largest of which is close to 35,000 delegates – but why bother according to David we can’t house them or transport them here, the city would burst.

  11. Are we all bloody insane – we are talking a little over 1.75km this is hardly the burbs. Have you people never been to Auckland and a conference at Alexandra Park or the like? Seemingly that’s ok.

    The big conference I went to in Boston wasn’t in the heart of the city, it was some 8km from the city, but it worked, as have all of conferences I have been too.

    Yes the Dunedin Centre will be a good place for conferences, as will the stadium for larger trade show styled conferences, there is no exclusivity for such buildings.

    And if said conferences were held outside University time – as is the case in about 99% of them, well bugger me we have thousands of beds right on the back door of the stadium. If it’s good enough for the delegates at the Foreign Policy school to stay in the Uni colleges, it will be for other delegates.

    Stadiums are not excluded from hosting such events, and in other parts of the world it’s one heck of a privilege to be able to walk on hallowed turf of famous stadia for such events.

  12. David

    Paul – you are so pessimistic and anti progress.

    A pier is a great attraction and pretty cheap. Chch did a giant one for just $4m. It revitalised the whole area, shopping centre etc, and has become one of the city’s prime attractions.

    There’s piers all over the world that people don’t fall off all the time – why would they fall off ours?

    A tram from St Clair Pier and restaurants, past Forbury Park, ice stadium, Dinosaur Park, down the main street of Sth Dunedin, warehouse and supermarket, then straight down Princes St, past the casino, hotels, brewery, art gallery, regent and info centre, shops, malls restaurants, close to the museum and university, gardens and on to baldwin st – a great asset. I agree – Mornington wouldn’t be my top choice of destination either.

    It’s the perfect match to our heritage buildings – one of the city’s main drawcards.

    And if anyone wants a picture of Christchurch or Melbourne, the first thing they ask for is a picture of a tram.

    Unlike the stadium, there’s a high chance trams would break even or even make a profit. Using the stadium’s profits to pay back the loan (instead of fleecing ratepayers) would take a thousand years.

    From a financial point of view, the stadium is a dog.

    Its prime use and income will be rugby – you may deny the blindingly obvious but even the CST and DCC have been saying that.

    What say we get a similar number of non-football events as Wellington (4 times our size), and instead of getting just 12 games of rugby, we get 18 events total. What say we double that and get 24 annual events – that still means it’s empty 340 days per year.

    Such unforecast success would mean the stadium goes from being empty 96% of the year to being empty 93% of the year.

    Or we could invest in assets that are used by locals and tourists alike, cost a fraction, actually MAKE money for the city, draw in more tourists, keep them longer, and are used EVERY day of the year.

  13. David

    Hmmm – I’m deciding where to hold a conference.

    I could go to Queenstown. Accommodation, conference, bars, restaurants, and entertainment are all within a two minute walk.

    Or I could consider Paul’s conference in Dunedin. We have a venue away from the city centre, away from the restaurants, away from the bars, away from accommodation. Participants will have to all take taxis, or walk, or all hire rental cars, or they could stay in the university colleges (because 99% of conferences are held outside university time).


    What planet do you live on Paul?

    There are conferences all the time.

    And none I know of would even consider putting conference participants in student colleges.

  14. LG

    It does rather depend on the conference audience. Academic conferences put their delegates up in student residences all the time. They also (surprise) tend to be outside of term time, because academics are teaching. That said, I can’t really see why you’d choose the stadium over the St David complex, or the Hunter Centre.

    I’ve been to one conference in Queenstown, and it was an expensive shambles. The hotel was crappy, some of the meeting rooms were freezing and others were too hot. The organisation is farmed out to conference organisers, who umm, in my n=1 sample, can’t organise. $120 for a crappy buffet at the top of the gondola. At least the wine was OK.

  15. David

    LG – we have a number of clients who are full time conference organisers.

    Every sort of industry, trade and profession you can think of has conferences, and while academic conferences would obviously be outside of term time, Paul’s claim that this covers 99% is absurd. There’s a big world out there besides academia.

    I’ve also heard quite a bit of feedback that if a conference is held in Queenstown, it will get much higher numbers attending than if it were held in Dunedin (or most other places). It’s particularly popular with Aussies.

    In fact there’s conferences that used to be in a different city each year, now use Queenstown every year.

    If we want to attract conferences here, what unique edge do we have over every other town in the country that is trying to do exactly the same?

  16. David, if you think the Queenstown events centre (comparable Apples with Apples, David) where like conferences could be held, situated at the Queenstown Airport is a fair comparison to a modern dry multi-purpose stadium less then 1min taxi, under 10min walk to the centre of the city, you are in quite rare form even for you.

    Funny, all of the conferences I have been to, they try to keep all of the delegates entertained and housed within the complex, the best way to take money off the punters. Letting them wander the Octagon willy nilly isn’t a very good business plan at all.

    The best conference I went to ever was in Boston, and we never left the building. A very good friend went to a conference in Memphis, all 15,000 delegates were housed at the University and immediate area, they never ventured into town until after the conference. This is the way of the world, but if you want to invent a new way to do things, please step up to the plate, I could do with a good laugh about now.

    Imagine the shock and horror of having to find transport to a conference. It must be bloody laborious to travel 1.7km into the centre of the city when you have travelled hundreds if not thousands of kilometres.

    House the small niche conferences in the city, by all means, but let’s get bloody ambitious and bring some of the big science ones here. There is no reason what so ever (not even in the David distortion reality field) why we shouldn’t be aiming so. Ask any academic, would their dept put them up in a 4-5 star hotel in the city, or a Uni residence at a fraction of the cost.

    or conversely, I gotta get out more and get to a few more of David’s conferences: you stay in top hotels, you lear it up in town and don’t even venture 1.7km because it’s hard work.

  17. LG

    Elizabeth. I would never choose to go to the Skyline. Especially not in the middle of the winter in the dark, when it’s too cold to venture outside to catch much of what you can see.

    I do agree on the broader point about some places being better conference destinations. I’ve had some people query as to why the conferences I attend are often in interesting places. I assure them that it is entirely coincidence, and no hedonic dimension impacts on my choice. Having said that, I think Dunedin does have some saleability as a destination. I’ve enjoyed conferences in other less obvious places such as Cardiff, Bath, and Bonn, so it will be interesting to see how my Queenstown-level engagements are this year.

  18. Phil

    1.7km in 1 minute ? I want the name of that cabbie who can average 102km per hour through Dunedin. He’s the guy I want next time I’m late for something.

    Sorry about the slightly cheap shot, but the mood deserved to be lightened.

    I’ve stayed in Auckland CBD, and gone to Alexandra Park. It was possible. Took a little over an hour in the delightful Auckland traffic. That’s not going to happen in Dunedin, but, given the choice, I would have rather been at a venue where I could have wandered up the street from my hotel, wheeling my suitcase behind me. I’m not arguing about what’s possible, all things are possible. I’m simply pointing out what’s the most convenient and preferable. As a user. Who, after all, is the one who needs to be convinced. If the users don’t like the environment, the organisers aren’t going to either.

    Americans have their own ways of doing things, just as we do, Australians do, and the French do. I wouldn’t consider what one culture does, to be the way of the world. Differences in cultures require different approaches. Sometimes you can transplant an idea directly from one country to another, and it works. But you can’t take that as a given, not where people are concerned. Try serving up a lunch menu of wontons and chicken wings to a groups of Swedes and see what reaction you get.

    Personally I think that letting a large group of new people loose in the city makes brilliant business sense. For the local businesses. That’s usually the only chance the local economy gets to have a crack at them. Time and financial contraints don’t usually allow for 10,000 people to hang around a city for 2 days after the conference is finished. Most want to get back home as quickly as possible. Although maybe not in America. You never see the final day at a conference running over time. Stick them in a confined and insulated environment for the duration and they might as well be on the moon as far as the local economy is concerned.

  19. David

    Paul says “The best conference I went to ever was in Boston, and we never left the building.”

    Wow – that sounds really boring.

    If I was going to Boston I’d like to see and feel as much of the place as possible.

    That’s why Queenstown is so popular.

    Paul says “This is the way of the world, but if you want to invent a new way to do things, please step up to the plate, I could do with a good laugh about now.”

    I’m not inventing anything new – just saying what ACTUALLY happens in Queenstown.

    Do you realise there is a real world outside academia – with real people who go to real conferences and stay in real hotels (which often is not the actual conference venue), in the centres of real cities.

    And these conferences, from every trade, every industry, every profession – make up a little more than the 1% of conferences you say happen during term.

  20. David

    Can you imagine anything worse than being at a conference at the new stadium during the varsity holidays – it would be a dead zone down there.

    If you want to nip up to the Octagon for a bite it’s a 3.5km return walk. That should use up most of lunchtime.

    I supose you could always sit outside and eat your sandwiches, with a lovely view of the natural meandering course of the Leith and its tank farm backdrop, whilst getting your sandwiches covered in flying grit from the quarry. (the cloud of dust coming out of the quarry today was so thick you couldn’t see through it)

    So ETFE is self cleaning?

    Just like the roof of the glass cube on the town hall?

    Or are we going to toilet train pigeons?

  21. Eqo

    I am not an urban designer but a registered architect. Actually, I have just been awarded the country’s top architecture award this year – the New Zealand Architecture Medal by the New Zealand Institute of Architects.

    It’s true I am from Auckland though.

  22. LG

    I don’t know if I’d call it interesting; more highly predictable and uninformative. Such polls are not only unscientific, but the results are usually so self-selected that a highly polarised answer is par for the course, and quite conceivably can not even be in the same direction as an accurate poll.

  23. Elizabeth

    ### ODT Online Wed, 8 Jul 2009
    Councillor was advised to abstain
    By David Loughrey

    Dunedin city councillor Paul Hudson abstained from Monday’s vote on the $45 million revamp of the Dunedin Town Hall and Dunedin Centre because of his daughter’s previous involvement with a restaurant there.
    Read more

  24. The revised plans for the revamp of the Dunedin Town Hall and the Dunedin Centre seem to have met general approval. There is no doubt that the old girl is in need of a makeover, eighty years of service does show. The fact that she no longer meets modern standards of fire safety, air quality control, seating etc. are all valid arguments for taking action. I doubt that anyone would dispute that.

    The Dunedin centre – formerly concert chamber – in its present carnation is neither fish nor fowl. It meets no requirements satisfactorily. Peter Entwistle has elaborated on these aspects before, and from a position of authority on these things.

    The estimates as ensconced in the LTCCP are some $45.5m. to cover the above work plus further development of the lower floors of the main building. The fact that it is still to go to tender suggests that the final cost is likely to be much greater than the estimates.

    This is where the city appears to be over reaching, once again. The argument originally put forward by staff was that these developments were essential in order for Dunedin to become an international conference centre. A preposterous claim, with absolutely no empirical evidence to back it up. All sorts of scenarios, showing economic benefits to the city would accrue if the development was done. But as the whole thing is a moving financial target, starting at $14m., moving to $19m. then to $29.5m. and now to $45.5m. the benefit targets have also been moved to suit. Just how you can do that eludes me.

    The whole thing is a financial travesty, and why the councillors couldn’t see that, and peel the costs back to just the Town Hall and Concert Chamber is another clear demonstration of the fact that this city is run by the bureaucracy. And with the quality of bureaucrats we have this is quite frightening.

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