Wellington tries hard to convince us it’s a big city, but it’s still really a ‘small town’. The geography doesn’t help: there just isn’t space here for big elegant boulevards and concourses. Flat land is scarce, and the civic buildings ended up on opposite sides of a street heaving with traffic.
As long ago as the 1940s someone suggested blocking one of the streets and making a square, but the opportunity didn’t come along properly until the 1990s. By then the area had got tatty, the buildings were too small, and everything needed reconstructing anyway because it wasn’t earthquake-proof. So the town planners finally realised their grand design.
This is what they ended up with, and after a few iterations over the years (including a swathe of fake grass) it’s really rather pleasant.
On the right in this photo is the City Gallery, once a nice 1920s building but gutted now, and invariably a home of rather unconvincing ‘art’. You can see an example at Chairs at Wellington City Gallery.
On the left, and better favoured with sunshine, are the glorious Art Deco city offices:
What I’d call the ‘bottom’ end of the square should open out onto another horribly busy road, but the planners took the interesting course of springing a bridge off the square and providing a way over to the bay.
The name ‘City to Sea Bridge’ is a bit clumsy but is intended to remind us that somewhere out there is the sea: the Council now make strenuous efforts to convince us that Wellington’s many processions and festivals all ‘traditionally’ started in the square and then headed out over the route of the bridge.
The bridge is decorated with various strange artworks and emblems on poles by Maori artist Paretene Matchitt. They have the merit at least of not having been blown down over the years; indeed Wikipedia suggests they’ve made the bridge a tourist attraction… for very bored tourists, perhaps. You can read about them in the Sculpture Trail handout.
Elswhere in the Square a playful touch creeps in. Nikau Palm decoration hides the pillars that hold the buildings up, and a few are even allowed to stand on their own…
The planners also squeezed in a new City Library, which wiggles around into the remaining space at the back of the square. They even managed to include a water feature, though it’s hard to see why we need this one.
Inside the library there’s a mild sense of unease: the overwhelming experience is escalators, event spaces, restaurants, and noise. I’ve not yet really made it through to the books, but this doesn’t matter because the whole building is currently closed for earthquake strengthening. Perhaps it’ll be nicer when it re-opens.