Architecture of the Spectacular, the Synthetic and the Belligerent

Frances Edith Cooper
01 F Cooper Hero Landscape Axonometric 1237 1116 Frances Cooper

The agenda of Auckland’s leadership in 2012 which aspired towards creating an iconic building on the waterfront similar to those of Sydney, Bilbao or Canary Wharf, was the prime motivation for this thesis. This thesis argues instead for a condition that is vernacular to and therefore unique to Auckland. Given this disposition towards the iconic, this thesis sought to mine other architectural precedents that have negotiated the intricacies of water, surface and resilience. These precedents reside in research titled Architecture of the Spectacular, the Synthetic and the Belligerent. Informed by these precedents this thesis speculates through a designed intervention in Wynyard Point a reconciliation of Auckland City’s relationship to the Waitematā Harbour.

This once private, reclaimed peninsula is re-appropriated through a seascape island and a mutable urban littoral. It contends with the accumulated history of Auckland’s reclaimed land, perceived ownership and the ever contentious issue of public and private access. It tests the propensity of an architectural landscape hybrid to capitalise on the opportunities the post-industrial port affords. This affordance resides with sea and its tides, and encourages a hybridity between disciplines and historical precedent to project opportunities inherent in the context of Wynyard Quarter. This, in an era by which capital, return on capital and consumption are the drivers of redevelopment. The large scale redevelopment of any place is faced with the underlying corporate demand for an iconic architecture, one that is capable of branding, thus creating an image of the new place acceptable to these corporate interests. This thesis proposes instead an iconic edifice, a symbolic island and public urban littoral that is constructed by architectures of the spectacular, the synthetic and the belligerent.

Queen Victoria instructed Governor Hobson to reserve places “…for the recreation and amusement of the inhabitants.”1 However in reality the public do not have the legal right to use2 the foreshore; it is an act that is ‘tolerated’3 by the Crown, but the public do have the right to navigate over and fish the foreshore.4

The implementation of the Queen’s Chain as an organisational device is not just a vestige of a Victorian ideal, but rather a projective construct towards a gestural rule that positions the public interest first, over that of any other individual or corporation. This is in response to the increasingly private nature of our waterfront as an urban condition.

Wynyard Island, located at the tip of the peninsular, is the new repository for the contaminated soil of the Western Reclamation. The soil remains on-site as an island, as monument to our consumptive existence. The removal of ground in sections to construct the island, leaves behind permanent fingers of ground interlaced with strips of the ever-elastic sea; this latter element seeking the in-between. The sectional drawing of both The Island and the Teeth of Boredom describes the contaminated soil capped and covered with impermeable concrete. The infill above this concrete capping is formed from soil dredged from the surrounding basin.

By permitting the sea to pass between the fingers of land, the Queen’s Chain has agency over the entire peninsular. The Island is positioned as an addition to Auckland’s volcanic field. Modelled as two cones, it is intended to notionally replace the two lost cones of the Three Kings volcanoes that were quarried away during the 1930s and 40s. This common tradition of Auckland’s - the shifting of soil to compose new grounds – is in this case used to create a new spectacle of familiar form, most particular to the Auckland isthmus and Waitematā.

  1. Kay Booth, “Public access and protection on private land,” in Handbook of Environmental Law, ed. Rob Harris (Wellington: Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand, 2004).p.428
  2. By ‘use’ I infer recreational activities such as camping or swimming.
  3. Booths use of the term ‘tolerated’ infers an acceptance of use with forbearance.
  4. Booth, “Public access and protection on private land.” p. 431


The Armada of Amusement exploits tidal flows to animate the beach. These thematic objects; the Ha-Ha Barge, the Buoyant Red Setter, the Copacabana Oyster Seats and the Hide and Seek Barge, to name a few, are new surfaces of performance to accompany and enhance the frivolity and fervent publicness of the beach. As a Leisurescape Spectacular, these buoyant grounds, both synthetic and spectacular, persist as junctions between landscape and architecture. Both encumbered and enabled by the tide, these objects suggest relational scenarios within the ever expanding and shrinking territory of the sea that encompasses this part of Wynyard Quarter. Such is their location within the tidal beach that each buoyant ground acts as a fixed visual coordinate thus enabling users to orientate themselves whilst also constructing a spatial relationship between them. This marking of places, the betweenness of places in relation to the shifting territory of the sea, makes the experience of the beach both familiar and programmed with trajectories for exploration.


Finished Product

Within this short section, the sea (rendered in yellow) and the ground (rendered in black) demarcate thresholds of occupancy that are determined by the buoyancy of the ground and the state of the tide. Consequently, movement through this section becomes tidal dependent. At high tide an undulation up and over these barges is required, while at low tide a direct horizontal crossing is possible. These tidal variations provide for the visitor and user alike an endlessly changing experience of surface.

Barges composed of alternating specific surfaces are deployed onto the water. These buoyant grounds exploit the tide as a temporal device, rendering the ground’s relationship to architecture in a continuous state of flux. At low tide, the ground extends towards the island, and at high tide, it is reduced to pockets nestled within the confines of the fingers.

Rousseau’s jungle is a walled green arcade which owes its location and scale to its major function,  that of negating the prevailing south-west wind, visually ordering the site into two parts. It is bisected by the axis to the tide building. The one point perspective of Rousseau’s jungle is of the entrance to the second section of this element. The step into this walled jungle of green is its only entrance, rendering two land bound islands of jungle within the site. The look-out towers from Rousseau’s jungle are intended to be part of the itinerary of experiencing Wynyard Quarter. Additionally they offer the public an above canopy view of the exotic plantings and urban surrounds.


Critic's Text

Discursive while maintaining a deceptive structural rigour, Cooper’s thesis is both a critique and a proposal for an alternative to the re-colonising of the endlessly disputed Auckland Wynyard Quarter waterfront by a singular architectural iconic building such as an equivalent to the Sydney Opera House. 

Instead, she imagines an urban zone where the unexpected is the norm: a mountain-island of toxic landfill sets the tone, the ocean tide inundates café daily, and strange objects and events promote a hyper-saturated dream-like unreality. Not only does she weave together a scholarly argument, she unleashes a miraculous range of research thinking and production in which contingency intersects with allegory and logic with form. Writing that the value of collage is in part that it resists a singular consumption, her media relies on re-reading identifiable architectural icons, but Cooper employs an even more powerful mechanism: juxtaposition. 

To juxtapose ideas, models, names and histories is to posit relationships as critical counterpoints to the singular structures of the world. While this strategy might be vulnerable to the critiques of the arbitrary and the insubstantial, Cooper deploys it with a disarming and opportunistic genius. Her disparate precedent categories have a metonymic allure and her catalogue of individually named models evoke the conviction of a complex field of interrelatedness. 

But resistance to categorisation is everywhere here. Cooper’s captivating models and drawings whimsy jostle with a hilarious air of deliberation, and in-text humour illuminates serious scholarly rigour and conviction. This thesis gained the prestigious Architectural Review ‘Global Graduate’ first prize in 2013.

— Jeremy Treadwell, supervisor