Women take the lead on central city redevelopment

Publish Date : 24 Feb 2017
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Left to right: Elspeth Gray, Senior Architect at Stevens Lawson Architects; Karina Mascarenhas, Senior Project Manager, MPM Projects; Yvette Overdyck, Lead Architect, Stevens Lawson Architects; Karen Ehlers, Lead Landscape Architect, Isthmus Group; Cherie Armer, Stakeholder Liaison Manager, JFC Ltd; Lisa Spasić, Senior Project Leader, Auckland Council.

The project to redevelop Freyberg Place and the Ellen Melville Centre is being driven by a team of female project leads – something Ellen Melville herself would’ve been proud of, believes Auckland Council’s Senior Project Leader Lisa Spasić.

The $10.71 million project, funded by Waitematā Local Board and the City Centre Targeted Rate, has women in many key roles, including senior project leader, project manager, lead landscape architect, lead architect, and manager of the contracting team.

It’s a fitting team for such a project: Ellen Melville was an international feminist and campaigner for women’s issues, was the second woman in New Zealand to qualify as a solicitor, and was Auckland’s first female councillor, serving for 33 years.

“I feel like we’re doing Ellen proud – we’re celebrating the things that she believed in, the importance of women in leadership, and in particular women involved in civic affairs in Auckland,” says Ms Spasić.

The vision for the project was set by the Waitematā Local Board in 2014, calling for a thriving community hub to serve the city centre, and a place where all members of the community could feel comfortable and welcome.

The new facilities will open mid-2017.

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An artist's impression of the revamped Ellen Melville Centre, Freyberg Place and Courthouse Lane. 

Ellen Melville Centre: Where the community can gather

The Ellen Melville Centre will be a fully programmed community centre with spaces available to hire, suitable for everything from mother’s coffee groups and dance classes to bigger events like presentations and exhibitions.

On the ground floor a large, open-plan area will be available to all as an ‘urban living room’ that will spill out on to Freyberg Place connecting the community facility with the public square.

Ellen Melville will be honoured by way of NZ artist Lisa Reihana’s bronze artwork Justice, to be installed on the side of the hall, and with the renaming of the facility as the Ellen Melville Centre.

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Terraced stairs and seating will cascade down the hill in the same spot a lava flow once did.

Ancient lava flow inspires Freyberg Place design

The square’s makeover will include terraced seating, a water feature, native planting and a plaza area, designed in collaboration with Isthmus Group and NZ artist John Reynolds.

The steps and platforms will cascade down the hill as a lava flow once did in that spot, with a ‘stream’ running through, and native planting will pay homage to the Nīkau palm grove that once stood there. The terraced area has wheelchair access at all three levels.

A new shared space on Courthouse Lane will connect Freyberg Place to Chancery Square.

The statue of Lord Freyberg, New Zealand’s seventh governor-general, will be returned to a prominent position within the terraces, welcoming people to Freyberg Place.

Creating a ‘cohesive space’

Ms Spasić says it was a priority to create a public space that works as a whole, while respecting the area’s heritage.

“There’s a real art in celebrating the equally important but very different historical figures of Ellen Melville and Lord Freyberg while acknowledging the history of the land and creating a cohesive space that works for the community.

“I’m proud of this team of women who have used their skills to create an outstanding public space that Aucklanders can really start getting excited about.”


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