Wheeler Place 26.1.2011


What is it about Wheeler Place that’s so disappointing?

It’s the square between the Council admin building and the Civic Theatre and it’s a challenging spot to appreciate. Good on the promotions department of Council who must have come up with this poetic description:

‘Flanked on one side by the Civic Theatre against a backdrop of magnificent date palms…Wheeler Place offers a unique event destination. Ideal for …all forms of entertainment, the versatile 1200m² open air space offers a blank canvas for your next event.’

How could any planner in her/his right mind provide so little shade – the only shade is the small amount provided by the palms on one side of the space –  and yet use almost black paving stones to absorb even more heat  in a town that regularly has summer temperatures over 35°C?

What a fantastic place this would be to plant a large tree or two. If these were away from the centre it would still allow L!vesites performances or outdoor-whatevers – salsa classes, the Da Vinci exhibition, car-and-rockerbilly nights, etc.

A few years ago there was talk of putting in a retractable fountain to ‘activate the space’ (see ‘Recycling old design ideas 20.1.2011’ . Still waiting.

At the Laman St/Civic Park design workshop/charade/charette in early 2010 one of the participants – who had only lived in Newcastle a few years – said to the group that she’d wondered since first setting  eyes on it when Council planned to complete Wheeler Place. And that’s just how it looks – incomplete. Thank heavens for the mural or it would be death by Uninterrupted Hard Surface. (Not everyone likes the work, of course, and shockingly it cost $320 000 according to this Herald article.)

At least sense prevailed a few years ago to stop a plan to move the palms from the western side of the square to the eastern side. This was so that the theatre building could be better seen… A very Louis XIV* thing to do and perhaps not a very steel town thing to do. They probably wanted to ‘interpret’ the facade – council-officer-speak for looking at something.

*Louis XIV’s Versailles was inspired by a château called Vaux-le-Vicomte built by Nicolas Fouquet; this incredibly powerful man was in charge of Louis’s purse-strings and not surprisingly became rich beyond imagination.

It took years and hundreds of workers to build his gorgeous pile in the country and when it was finished he asked Louis to a huge party to celebrate and to show it off. The king made a comment about the view from his room being ordinary so overnight Fouquet had an entire  forest transplanted.

Even the king was shocked at such extravagance. Louis was very teed-off that someone who worked for him had a grander place than he did to call home – and suspected the state’s money had paid for it – so threw Fouquet in prison for the rest of his life.

Anyway, the transplanted forest reminds me of the transplant-the-date-palms plan of a few years ago, as well as the suggestions that we should fell all or most of the trees in Laman Street and Civic Park and start all over again. (Don’t forget – fill in your survey or put in a  submission about the Draft Framework by the end of Feb. Here’s the link.)

Anyway – Wheeler Place – a winter destination. Home


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One Response to “Wheeler Place 26.1.2011”

  1. ArchitectGJA (Ed) Says:

    IMHO the biggest problem is the Council admin building – looming out of scale and character. It appears to threaten city hall rather than sit as a deferential complement. But it is unlikely anything can be done about that now.

    As for ground level at Wheeler Place, more tree canopy would definitely help and demountable shade pavilions may work for some events with white/light fabric to lessen the heat gain.

    I certainly hope a cohesive master plan evolves (including plantings) for this whole area, otherwise it will be more random and disjointed whims…

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