History Of Upper Symonds Street Cultural Studies Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Mt Eden developed in the late 19th and early 20th century as a fringe city suburb due to the increasing population and the development of public transport, most notably the tramline in Mt Eden. It is though that the original foundation of the town was a gravel walking track built on the ridge by the European sellters of the 1940's. Like most traditional town centres it took a linear formation and functions as the main gateway between the central area and the southern suburbs, joining Newton Road, Kyber Pass Road, New North Road and Mt Eden Road(3). It was host to a number on typical characteristic which will be discussed in detail in relation to the MEPC.

The Design

The Mt Eden High Performance Centre (MEPC) is a mixed purpose community building aimed to contrast to the high density environment that the development in urbanisation has caused in the Mt Eden area. The centre is comprised of a Gymnasium, sports arena, multipurpose hall and market space that are open for general public to use. The design was visualized as a place in where both sport and everyday activities could interrelate. The programme was chosen to take advantage of the vibrancy of pedestrians and interrelate sport and architecture to avoid another sporting facility that lay dormant outside event times.

The site in which the design occupies in Mt Eden is a corner site that links the cross roads of Mt Eden Road and Upper Symonds Street. It is unique in that it is a long and narrows with a ninty one meter street frontage. The site bends round the corner of the Mt Eden reservoirs, where a void left by an already removed tanks creates that negative space that the stadium is situated in. The site faces the street to the North west, and has a gradual slope toward the Southern edge where it joins with the neighbouring buildings.

The driving concept behind the street frontage was the idea of "Parklands and reserves" which the designer deemed there was a deficiency in the area. He believed this translucent facade would be sympathetic to street which I believe has been sacrificed over the past century because of the urbanisation. Even though evidence still remains of past residential buildings, the area has become highly commercial due to the capital value of the land. In my opinion the way in which the majority of the buildings address the street is very harsh due to the guidelines for design set out by the Auckland City Council.

Site frontages

Like most traditional town centres, Mt Eden has narrow street frontage creating a diversity of shops and buildings. This subdivision pattern generates a repetition, giving a vertical rhythm to the street (9). The district plan set out by the council protects this by not allowing new developments across multiple lots. The design of the MEPC ignores this as it is spread across the ninety one metre street frontage and had the ability to very dominant in the landscape. However because the MEPC does not include this division that numerical individual shops provide, the designer has created a sense of division by dividing the entire site into three parts. This has been done in two ways. The MEPC has a grand stair which as well as function as the main entry to the stadium creates a visual divide between the geodesic domes and softens the transition between the varying stories of the building.

Secondly the repetition of the geometric domes creates provides vertical division to the street from the building. The five to eight meter diameter division of the domes replicate the legal boundaries of the adjacent building on Symonds Street. The entire design emphasises a consideration to the greater area, which has evolved into this contemporary form. This consideration of culture and site is highly characteristic of contemporary design, in contrast to Modernism of the early 20th century where theorists such as Le Corbusier believed building could be universal and adapted to fit on multiple sites. However as innovative and advanced as Le Corbuiser's theories to urbanism and being sympathetic to the urbanisation, we must consider that the development of Auckland, especially Mt Eden, has not be determined on rational terms. Therefore in order to be sympathetic to the street Architecture must consider everything as a whole.

Building Heights

The buildings of the Mt Eden township centre have been built at similar heights to ensure an element of visual consistancy remains and the linear profile of the township is enhanced by the enclosure over the street. Further to this the traditional buildings use parapets that to create a transition between the top of the building and the sky. By capping the top of the building they create an illusion of height and give the building a more imposing frontage than it would otherwise have (14). However I argue this harshens the nature of the streetscape, not only as a result of it opposing form but as a result of increased solar gain in the early morning and late afternoon. The Mt Eden performance centres aim to address the harsh shadowing the surrounding buildings by the transparent nature of the facade. By using this translucent facade it allows daylight to pass through the building, onto street especially over pedestrian walkways. The orientation of the site means that during winter the buildings along the North east edge of the road create large shading problems to the footpath in the early morning. Further to this the sympathetic shape of the form and the sloping of the building volume with contour of the street allows for greater sun exposure especially to the southern boundary of design.

While it is noted in the district plan that the variation of buildings between one and three stories helps create diversity and visual interest, it claims that an order consistency need to remain in regards to the height of new developments (11). It also entails that, buildings that are lower that adjoining buildings result in the exposure of blank side walls and erodes the continuity of the building enclosure (11).

The adjoining buildings of the MEPC are of varying heights. The building to the North of the site rises to 12.09 metres above ground level where the building adjoining to the south eastern boundary rises to a height of 8.40 metres. When considering the natural fall of the site with Mt Eden road there is a varying in height of approximately 4.5 metres. In addition the exposure of these walls that remain due to the varying heights add to the character of the street due to the historic nature of the ornamentation. It also must be noted that the two adjoining building were the original post office and Mt Eden public library.


The district plans states in order to be sympathetic to the street a consideration to arrangement of the building facade needs to take place. New developments should be of existing proportion with the use of ornamentation, parapets, and openings of measured in equal proportions (15) to create diversity. In that sense the design of the MEPC is a complete rejection of these of these guidelines.

However the ornamentation for the centre comes by a metaphorical implication of these principles. The designer intended that the expression of exposed construction techniques and building technologies used would generate a visual complexity that is similar to the ornamentation of the surrounding buildings. It can be assumed that Le Corbusier stimulated this movement in his publication 'towards new architecture'. Le Corbusier rejection to ornamentation came from his studies into classical sources of western architecture. He "rediscovered not its surface appearance, but its underlying principles and structure". He saw the beauty of classical architecture in it rational design principles and proportioning systems. This is expressed by the junctions between the ETFE panels that join together to form the building envelope. This constant repetition is the true expression of how the building goes together.

Looking along the streetscape of Mt Eden, there is a strong division created by a veranda line between the street level and first floor. According to design guidelines it is desired that there is a division between the ground floor and above floors. The upper floor are traditionally divided by bands(16) and the overall facade of the building was proportions most commonly in thirds. The typical building would be divided so the first third of the overall height was to the base of the veranda, the second third was to the top of the first floor and final third was to the top of parapet to help with the overall transition of the building to the sky. The greater form of the MEPC has also been proportioned into thirds supporting this rationalised system. The street elevation has been divided into thirds, the first third spanning from the ground to the underside of a large cantilever overhang and the remaining two thirds comprising of the facades. This large cantilever facade is reciprocates the job done by the tradition veranda but also recovers some of the ground space in which the upper floors of the centre occupies. This principle is one of Le Corbusier's five points of architecture, which by elevating the building on pilotis, ground space is recovered that can be used as green space. Le Corbusier continued with these ideas for the planning of his two conceptual cites, where the entire city was elevated above ground 'freeing' it as a pedrestian domain.

In the case of the MEPC, it has created a wide pedrestian walkway, that can be softened by the planting of gardens and vegetation without affecting the pedestrian through traffic. Further to this point by recessing the ground floor from the street the dominance that is created by the by the size of the building becomes less imposing on the street. I feel that that due to the lack of rules and proportioning systems in some contemporary architecture, scale can be neglected and affect the overall success of the building. An example of this is Frank Gehry's 'Fred and Ginger' building in Prague where the complexity of form requires over structured elements and creates wasted spaces, especially onto the street. However this use of proportioning can be high conjectural, as opinions whether a building is sympathetic to the street is highly personal.

Street Definition

The District plan states that the enclosed street space is further enhanced by verandas. While these do serve as public protection from wind, rain and summer sun, it can be questioned if they enhance they enhance the overall streetscape. We must question whether there is an alternative solution that does not limit the pedestrian by the horizontal enclosure of a veranda roof. The Mt Eden Performance centre interacts with the street edge on multiple levels by creating mixed used civic space on the first floor level. These external courtyards drag the public off the street and allow them to maximise unused commercial space. The courtyard divides the two main wings of the building to allow light exposure into a deep site.

By incorporating this courtyard between the two wings and a roof garden over the southern pavilion of the building public can interact with the building above street level. The design duplicates Le Corbusier the principal on the points in housing by providing a roof garden to recover the ground area that the building occupies. The introduction of a roof garden to creates an inner city green space that softens the street environment that is very imposing on the pedestrian. It also elevates the pedestrian above the street level that is so dominated by the traditional buildings and provides the people with a sense of depth as you can see the walls of the adjoining reservoir at the rear of the roof garden. Le Corbusiers saw the roof garden as the solution to urban sprawl where the increase in population could be accommodated by high density housing, such as his Unite d'Habitation.

Addressing the Street

There is a block of Shops that line the western edge of Mt Eden road which impose on the footpath and crowd the streetscape of the street. The signage and billboards of the shop add to the crowd the footpath and with car parallel parked along the road it forms a tunnel in which pedestrian become trapped.

The Mt Eden Performance centre sit directly opposite these shops on the other side of the road. The use of small steel joinery and large glazed panels offers a contrast to this density. It has been designed to so that the entry blend from the street as the centre is part of a cross roads network. The continuous glazed frontages of the MEPC are aimed to protray a sense of lightness to the street. This

In contrast the upper floor challengers the idea of having multiplicity of window that overlook the street by adopting a partially transparent facade that is moderated by the growth of vegetation.

Architectural Style

According to the district plan the Mt Eden area is not dependent on a particular architectural style, but rather on the repetition of architectural elements and design principles (7). But what syle is sympathetic to historic town centres? Is the are current street forms that make up the streetscape still relevant, or is it possible that we have advance our knowledge far enough that we can prove that there are better methods and contemporary ways of proving the success of a design.

Construction and Materials

The council promote the design of new buildings that incorporate new materials and construction techniques that respect and reinforce the existing traditional streetscape context (7). Regardless of whether the structure was brick, structural concrete or reinforced steel the buildings are finished so as them resemble solid masonry (17). But is this sympathetic to the streetscape? On one hand we can consider that in keeping with existing style we are being sympathetic, but is this promoting good design? On the other hand we can look at the Mt Eden Performance centre and a contemporary solution to what was historically relevant at the time of construction.

Thickness of the building and structure should be expressed, for example by glazing should be inset deeply to express the thickness of the wall (17). Building materials should aim to achieve a similar visual effect (22).

vels are defined by spandrel panels, window and cornices (16). The area above the veranda is generally comprised of three to six times as much cumulative area as the opening to make the frontage appear solid (17).

Conclusion paragraph; However this may be a very conjectural to opinions as the overall conclusion of whether a building in sympathetic or not can be highly personal. A contemporary architecture attempts to