The Rock – Preview
This week the Wellington Airport took the bold step of inviting a number of architects and property people to have a preview of The Rock, prior to its official opening next week. The preview was not only the first chance for us to look around the building but, as the hoardings had only just been taken down the day before, was a first viewing for much of the project team.
The subject of much media debate, the external appearance of The Rock has been unfolding for some time. As the airport further develops its plans, the view on arrival will make this part of the building, more and more obvious, acting as a billboard of the company’s architectural intent to make this airport stand out from the normal conservative architecture of airports around the world.
Looking like a gigantic rust nodule on a piece of painted steel, this addition sure stands out in full contrast to the Ministry of Works terminal behind. Even SPA’s stated antecedent of Wellington’s rocks is clearer in reality than in computer render, with the naturally weathering copper and eroded, layered form very much echoing the geological formations at Red Rocks.
The great delight for me, however, was not the outside but the interior. With the huge push for retail space in airport terminals, it is a real treat to find a space for passengers that allows respite from the bright lights and colours of the commercial backdrop. In more usual terminals, waiting space tends to have all the comfort of sitting in a busy corridor. Here, we are given a generous, restful auditorium of warm natural finishes and organic softness, just perfect for those of us visiting in a sleep deprived state. The space is communal and active and is designed to work in a soft way with all the senses, thanks to the addition of a generous café counter wafting out the smell of freshly ground coffee which has become synonymous with arrival to the domestic terminal.
Nudging such an organic shape against the formalist architecture of the existing terminal would have been a real challenge. Again, a design challenge has been converted into a feature with the older structure laid bare and contrasted against the new, pristine form and gently separated using natural light filtering through a glazed gap between the building.
Probably most memorable from a first look, was the high level of detailing which successfully transforms an idea grown from a foam model in to an architectural delight. This is testimony to a collaborative approach of the two architectural teams (SPA and WAM) and the work of Mainzeal and their craftsmen crew. The triangular timber panels floating on a black ground that form the interior and the tiling work of the inner ‘ramped rock’, showing that fine work can be achieved in this commercial world.