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Why is there a massive table down at the Auckland Viaduct?

The big blue table at the Eastern Viaduct, which is now a car-free space. Photo/Vomle Springford.

Auckland experiments in tactical urbanism

If you’ve been along the waterfront lately, you may have noticed a rather large blue table at the Eastern Viaduct, the area just before the bridge that goes over to the ANZ Viaduct Events Centre.

The table ‒ almost twice the length of a cricket pitch ‒ as well as various food trucks, seating and beach chairs, is part of a tactical urbanism experiment by Auckland development agency, Panuku.

“We wanted to make a bold gesture, so people would ask the question, what is this all about?” says Rod Marler, Panuku’s director of design and place.

“We’re experimenting with the Eastern Viaduct as a welcoming place, a public gathering space ‒ come and eat, because food is part of what we do when coming together as groups and communities... The big table is a welcoming gesture to the whole of Auckland to come on down and experience the waterfront.”

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Tactical urbanism, a term coined by Street Plans Collaborative partners Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia, is about short-term interventions in a public space to show how it could be used, ultimately leading to a more permanent solution.

“It’s a way to test ideas in a cost-effective way and to ensure we keep these spaces as flexible as possible,” says Marler. “We’re not being frivolous. It is a genuine desire to test as quickly and as meaningfully as possible and involve the community as part of that process, because we’ll get a much richer and more engaging result.”

The Eastern Viaduct, when it was a car park. Photo/Panuku.

Previously a car park, the area is now permanently car-free for the almost four million people that walk through there every year, and Panuku will be testing different ideas at the new public space over the coming months, the America’s Cup in 2020 being a catalyst for this project and others.

Late last year, the public was invited to submit ideas on how the space could be used which Panuku used to lead the experimentation. They will be seeing how the public reacts to the table intervention over the next three to six months to inform what they will do next.

The Eastern Viaduct is an important area which runs along the waterfront forming part of what Panuku calls the “east west axis” from Quay St to North Wharf, says Marler.

“It’s almost like a room in a large building. If you think of that space as being broken up into these series of rooms, they’re designed for slightly different functions but they’re all part of the same sort of entity.” 

People, planter boxes and deck chairs have replaced cars.

Marler, an architect by profession, has been involved in the development of the waterfront since 2010. He was part of Waterfront Auckland, which has since merged with Auckland Council Property to form Panuku. He led the design and development of many waterfront projects like Wynyard Quarter and Queens Wharf.

“For a long time the public were prevented from accessing the waterfront, there was the big red fence and it was very much a port activity a working place, it was dangerous, and the public shouldn’t be there.”

The tactical urbanism experiment is part of Panuku’s wider strategy to create a people-friendly, easy to access waterfront.

“Most cities that are on waterfronts, whether they are on lakes, rivers or sea, are rediscovering their waterfronts and discovering how important that connection between the land and water is to the people of that city.”