The ocean is not enough, Mr Wilson

Simon Wilson has had another tilt in today's Herald at sparking debate about a focal point for Auckland's waterfront (hint: it's not a stadium). I like his thinking, but reckon he's got one significant detail wrong

Auckland's One Big Thing. It's something I've long argued the city needs, as have many others. Something to act as an anchor, focal point and symbol in this city that so lacks identity.

In today's NZ Herald, Simon Wilson wraps up his wise series on six things to fix Auckland, with a plea for a Musuem of the Sea. He places it out on the end of the Tank Farm and endows it with a bunch of activities, from navigating with the stars from Hawaiki to exploring the bottom of the sea and surfing an endless wave. He even names it: Tangata Moana.

He's right to stress that we are a people of the sea and that the city is in need of an architecural adventure and cultural statement of this magnitude. He's right that it would be expensive and controversial and a pain in the neck, but it would be something that captured the essence of us all in this place.


He talks about our marine story, but then also talks about a waterfront stadium, asking why not think even bigger. So I shall. For me, the maritime theme is too limiting; it is an essential part of us, for sure, but there is a way of capturing that... and more.

Long-time readers of Pundit may remember that over the years I've made a couple of pitches for something similar to Wilson's idea. Except my suggestion is for a Museum of Exploration or Discovery. Given that Wilson's column may spark a renewed discussion, I thought I'd dig up my views on this and dust them off.

As you can see from what I wrote back in 2009, I'm in sync with Wilson's thinking:

Ours were the last major islands to be discovered and inhabited by wandering humankind; we are as described, the last, least and loveliest. We are the end point of humanity's exploration. This country is the ultimate destination for those who wondered what was over the horizon.

So the maritime theme would be a big part of it; just not all. I'd suggested a waka prow as potential design inspiration for the building. Simon also talks about a fishhook or cornucopia of sealife, but rightly says that's an issue for some wizards of architecture and technology.

But what the exploration or discovery themes allow for are a level of flexibility and scope that 'Tangata Moana' doesn't give. They are boundless compared to a self-imposed maritime focus. They would open the door to the full gamut of science, politics, culture and, well, everything really. Again, from 2009:

...what's just as remarkable is that the people who settled here have been explorers par excellence. Sir Ed in his mountaineering and polar expedition; Sir Peter Blake and others in their oceanic adventures; a multitude of pioneer explorers such as Charles Heaphy, Thomas Brunner and Julius von Haast; explorers of science such as Sir Ernest Rutherford and Richard Pearse; explorers of politics such as Kate Sheppard and Te Whiti...

These days you might toss in Peter Beck alongside Peter Blake and co. Why not space as well as the sea? Think what may have been displayed last year during the 125th anniversary of women's suffrage and, indeed, a permanent display on our 'exploration' of inclusive politics. We are world leaders, after all.

So while I reckon Simon's headed in the right direction, I'd chart a slightly different course. Let's go bigger and allow Auckland's 'one big thing' to play host to this country's sense of adventure and commitment to new ideas. Let's make it the home of discovery and exploration, regardless of time and place. In this case, the ocean is not enough. Auckland deserves more.