Launch Pad 5: City to Sea bridge


The WCC Long Term Plan has proposed a re-design of the 1992-designed Civc Square; part of a project to Revitalise the Civic Square precinct which includes a national music hub, and an earthquake strengthened Town Hall.  The plan describes a re-thinking of the squares connections to the CBD: “Upgrading Civic Square and improving links with surrounding streets … Possible “opening up” of building groudn floors so that cafes and shops can open on to the square, and people can more easily see into the square from surrounding streets.”  A plan? and what about the City to Sea bridge – in this proposed context should it stay – or should it go?

JOIN US on Friday 22 May 5.10pm for our online discussion about potential futures for the City to Sea bridge as part of our virtual launch of our givealittle site to fundraise for our involvement in the Basin Bridge High Court Appeal opposing NZTA.

Featuring: Gerald Blunt, Dale Fincham, and Guy Marriage.

We’ll kick off with GUY, what are your thoughts?

The City to Sea bridge is one of Wellington’s most distinctive and well-liked pieces of urban infrastructure: a device that single-handedly allows the Civic Square to connect effortlessly with the Waterfront, that forms a backdrop to the Lagoon, that hosts a pyramid, a grassy knoll, a children’s museum, seating, viewing points, sculpture that you can inhabit and even sleep inside, as well as being a walking route across a heavily trafficked urban motorway. And yet, every few years, architects cry out for its removal. Why? Are architects so out of touch with the needs and the wants of the public?

There are, admittedly, two prime reasons for wanting to expunge the City to Sea bridge from our collective architectural memory. For some, the bridge commits the crime of blocking the view. It’s more than that of course – with the bridge removed, an important visual connection right from Willis St to the harbour could be re-established, and Civic Square dwellers could visually connect right up to the Rimutaka mountain range. The bridge, while forming a backdrop to the square, really does also form an impenetrable visual urban barrier, and also acts as a bit of a psychological barrier as well. Surely it would be better gone? Surely we should just cross the road instead, as we do elsewhere, by ground level pedestrian crossing? What’s wrong with that?

The other real reason for wanting the City to Sea bridge gone, is that it looks untidy. Some would say it looks worse than untidy – that it is an eyesore, and that the timber cladding looks like it is about to fall off. Others dislike the poorly made concrete panels that festoon the bridge, and the lack of structural logic of the bridge, a visual affront to the modernist vision of form follows function. Still others have an objection to the sculptures on top, having been made by a sculptor who has since been besmirched by allegations and convictions of rape. Yet there are also those who stand up for the bridge, who enjoy the evident Maori aspects of the design, the folksiness and untidiness being just another facet of Wellington’s eclectic design portfolio, the bridge itself being both a sculpture itself, and an urban ambassador for art and Maori aspirations to reclaim their birthright connection to the waterfront. In this small city, to merely voice an opinion to knock something down because it is ugly, is to inspire another pressure group to pop up and try to save it. We love ugly. We love quirky. We may be the city of the verb, but we are also the undoubted creative capital of Aotearoa, and rejoice in a city that has no discernible architectural style.

It’s true that the City to Sea bridge is no Rialto, no Ponte Vecchio, no Pont Neuf, no London Bridge. The style and grace of those international design classics, and many more, speak for themselves. Carefully modulated, beautifully proportioned, classically inspired, delicately curving – all these descriptions leveled at the European bridges above, cannot ever be leveled at our own ugly, clunky, awkward, rectangular, concrete slab monstrosity that spans our waterfront. Would the bridge be better if it was beautiful, or would it just be better if it did not exist at all?

Arguably, of course, the best of both worlds would exist if the mad waterfront ring road was put underground, and made to exist in a ditch, so the Civic Square should just connect visually, physically, directly, straight over the road. But after weather like we had in mid-May, would you want to drive through a ditch so close to the sea? Would it just fill up with water in a storm? And who would pay for the undoubted multi-million dollar bill for placing the roading and associated piping infrastructure underground? While there is a definite argument there to be had, there really isn’t enough to back it up into a full-scale debate. Once a cost of tens or even hundreds of millions starts getting bandied about, you’ve lost the argument before you even start.

Personally, I’d like a better designed bridge. If we just had another pedestrian crossing, less than 100m away from the existing ones on either side, then we open the Civic Square up to traffic noise and it becomes a less special place. The bridge we currently have, although ugly and badly made, as a structural performance that is an affront to any person with even a glimmer of proportion and aesthetics, it does do the job. It provides a backdrop to the tourists taking photos, it permits a raking vista either towards the city, or out to sea. But what if we were to have a new bridge, a better piece of design? A beautiful, sculptural object, spanning the road, that in itself did not look like an extra from Mad Max, but instead had the grace and style of a 1958 Corvette, or of Queen Amidallah’s spaceship? A bridge that was still useful, but also a bridge of which we could be proud? Not an ugly urban flyover, but a bridge worthy of the name? A bridge of remembrance, a bridge of sighs? Why don’t we aim for a bridge of beauty, for the rest of the world to come here and swoon over? Why don’t we have a bridge to be proud of?


GERALD, anything thoughts you’d like to say?

The City-to-Sea bridge should stay.

Why? It is not a bridge, but a fantastic public open space in Wellington. It has mana – it has outlook – it connects to the wider world. It is used and loved by people. The elevated views across the harbour to the Tararuas are to die for on a beautiful Wellington day. It is a place to stop and reflect, to have conversation. People are sitting having their lunch in the sun, in situ with the art.

The whole bridge is a sculpture that is synonymous with Wellington; tourists photographing their depiction of the city. What powerful images. Conceptually it is the exploration of the Maori myth of the creation of Whangaui-a-tara. The whales, the gulls, the totem poles, the seats as random artifacts. The belly of the whale; what a spot for all sorts of activities; sleeping, canoodling, or just a spot of illicitness.

The space is a collaboration between the architects and artist; John Gray and Rewi Thompson engaged with the artist Para Matchitt to create this masterpiece.

It is part of the route or connector between the city and waterfront. The Civic Square and Te Papa – two of Wellington’s important civic destinations.

The grand steps provide an alternate edge to the Square, an edge that may be used to address rallies, a stage for events, a place to stop and contemplate; the world, the city, the Square, the floating Paul Dibble.

Grade separation is not necessarily a preferred urban design outcome. The better solution is to have the ground plane an active and exciting place to engage and move around the city.

However, as in all things urban design – there is not one fit fits all.

This place works – it is an inherent part of Wellington.


GUY – any response?

There are two questions to be answered – can we do better, and as the Clash used to say: should it stay or should it go now? If it stays there will be trouble. If it goes, there will be double.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: City to Sea Bridge – the Rebuttal.

It is true that it is “used and loved by people” – but is that a good enough reason for a badly designed feature to stay? Let’s face it bridge, you’re ugly and your mummy dresses you funny. The bridge is an awkward amalgam of slabs of concrete, overlaid with rotting timber, and that itself is overlaid with crumbling asphalt. As far as a pristine purist object goes, this is not one of them. There are patches upon patches upon patches, and that’s not to say we’re building up a nice patina of age, but instead we’re trying to paper over the cracks of Doom. Its not a good look, and we should cut our losses now.

Every time someone brings up the subject of the City to Sea bridge, the issue of the totemic sculptures comes up. They are beautiful, and they do (or did) appear on the City Council letterhead once upon a time, so they must be considered worthy. But I’m a little, well, meh. It is almost sacrilegious to say anything against works of Maori art, and certainly Para Matchitt has created some tough, defining, and even beautiful objects of art in the past. But is this bridge really one of those defining moments? The wood is rotting (presumably, being pine, it will continue to do so), the totems still stand tall, and the bridge recesses are still capable of sheltering the homeless or the quiet tokers that want a private(ish) place to smoke a spliff, but honestly – as a work of design, the end result is a poor relative to a sculpture, and an even poorer relative to a well-designed bridge.

The three-sided pyramid is a visual disaster, split by a slanting pathway between its walls, and set adrift on memory bliss amidst a sea of orange brickwork, sadly compromised by the painting over of the windows that formerly looked down into the space below. Green lichen and mold grows over the stonework, in sympathy with the cold damp surface. Waves of brickwork roll towards the asphalted surface of the bridge, irritatingly curved in precisely the wrong locations, so that it is no good for pedestrians, and precious little use for skateboarders either. It’s time to accept the facts: the design is over, the time for the bridge has gone. We should rip it up and start again.


DALE – care to pitch in?

An argument could be made for removing the City-to-Sea Bridge and the question is one of place.

Currently the bridge itself is not only a bridge but also a place. A place for watching, a place for sitting and talking and more importantly a place that attempts to connect other public places (namely the Civic Square and the waterfront).

However, it is also a bridge. A bridge can only exist as a bridge if it has a reason to ‘bridge over’ something, and so by that logic it is always acknowledging the inherent condition that the waterfront will always have heavy vehicular traffic along Jervois Quay, which essentially severs the waterfront from the rest of the city anyway.

The act of removing the bridge could trigger potential opportunities / ideas / thoughts into how the waterfront itself could holistically integrate with the rest of the city – as a pedestrian only civic space for people to enjoy (instead of a drag strip).



2 responses to “Launch Pad 5: City to Sea bridge”

  1. Sam D Avatar
    Sam D

    I wouldn’t want to see the bridge removed until such time as the road is one lane in each direction with light rail trough the middle of a planted median strip. The removal of the bridge would never be a catalyst for such changes, so there remains a need for a bridge.

    The current bridge, while not being an architectural masterpiece, does a good job, is loved by many and is not ready for the scrap heap yet. At such time when it does really need demolishing, maybe a design competition for a new bridge could be run in parallel with a hypothetical competition to propose light light rail, reduced cars and better grade level connections between the city and the waterfront.

  2. Definitely agree with LRT along the waterfront, and I enjoy the rawness of the bridge.

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