Mar 07 2018

Nestled in the north-west corner of Wynyard Quarter lies Silo Park, a unique and sought-after urban playground. So what makes Silo Park so desirable as a place to play? We hear from Simon van Praag about the relationship between city and space.

With the Auckland Arts Festival in town, Simon van Praag from Fresh Concept draws on his experiences of Silo Park to muse on what makes a good event space and why they’re important.

Public events and activations are a critical for any city. They bring vitality, a sense of civic pride and a chance to congregate, celebrate and most importantly connect. Coming into our seventh year of running the summer events programme at Silo Park, we’re now more mindful of this than ever. We see it in the spontaneous interactions at movies on Friday nights and we see at our concerts, with complete strangers sharing a moment together while appreciating the tunes on offer.

To create these moments takes careful thought, lots of organisation and importantly a really good space to work with. Silo Park is one of those. As a real testament to what Silo Park has to offer, it has been chosen to host the Festival Playground as part of Auckland Arts Festival, which kicks off next week. The decision heralding a fresh chapter in the 15-year history of the event, which traditionally orbits Aotea Square among other central city locations. 

Nestled at the western bookend of the city centre waterfront, the space certainly piqued interest and instilled a sense of curiosity. The immense potential the space offered was abundantly clear. It has an exceptionally scenic location with the waterfront backdrop looking out across the superyachts, onto Westhaven Marina and beyond to the Auckland Harbour Bridge. At the same time the space is far from what many would associate as being a conventional park like the more established Auckland Domain and Albert Park. Instead it is surrounded by remnants of the area’s industrial heritage – the iconic concrete silos standing guardian over the space while the aesthetically strong gantry helps to frame and screen it from the tank farm on Wynyard Point. 

Rather than hide from these markers, the vision of Panuku was about embracing them to great effect. That’s when the combination of space and event programming comes into play. Faced with a large concrete surface on a silo, it becomes a screen to project movies onto. Likewise, an empty ‘six pack’ of concrete silos becomes a chance to hold regular exhibitions in the interior. While the band rotunda-esque qualities of the neighbouring Silo 7, provide the perfect place for a community piano. While it was for just two summers it was also great to see the aesthetically strong screening power of the gantry used as a perfect giant-scale Christmas advent calendar. 

The urban design overlay has also been key. Public art, colourful buoys, fishing crates, all symbolising the area’s gritty industrial and maritime nature. These help to create a sense of identity and acknowledge history, anchoring the space to its past. Then there are recreational opportunities with the playground and basketball courts, while the North Wharf promenade provides a sense of constant activity and life to the spaces.

All these elements combined have created a space that people can engage with on their own terms. From this comes respect. From Karanga kiosk staff to event operators like myself, people really care for Silo Park and surrounds. It has instilled a sense of custodianship and guardianship by the broader public too as evident in the lack of vandalism and the fact (as far as I’m aware) the basketball hoop has only broken once in close to seven years of use. 

From a straight up event logistics perspective Silo Park has plenty of practical benefits too. The variety of spaces with the large concrete hard stand and grass areas, to the big blocks to tether things to, it is an extremely operable space. And importantly it has plenty of easily accessible power supply on site which as any event organisers know is an absolute god-send! 

As the city grows we need more places like Silo Park. It’s crazy that in many ways we’re more connected than ever, yet it feels like we interact less in-person with others. Good well-designed public space and programming address this and with Auckland moving towards higher density residential housing developments, common spaces like Silo Park will become even more important. 

Not necessarily cookie cutter versions either, as every place should have its own personality. It’s then about tapping into their potential to create events and experiences people can use to connect with each other and their surroundings. 

It’s been a privilege to deliver the Silo Park programme for the last seven years, on behalf of Panuku. I look forward to seeing where Silo Park takes us.