By Anna Wood
The Auckland Urban Design Panel is an independent group of design and development experts who individually are recognised as having significant and superior experience and skill within Auckland’s design and development industry.
Comprised of almost 40 individuals, the urban design panel is still compiled of representatives of the four founding professional bodies, joined by some of New Zealand's leading urban designers.
The urban design panel provides advice to Auckland Council's urban designers and planners and the individuals and organisations proposing development projects within the city. In reviewing a development proposal, the urban design panel offers support and/or critique to the proposed design. The amalgamation of experience from the different disciplines that members represent is fundamental to the value that the urban design panel offers, by bringing an in-depth understanding of the complexity that exists within any development.
To review a development proposal, a panel of four members is called, with a mix of professions as appropriate to the specifics of the project.
The applicant's urban designer (or design team if no urban designer is involved) prepares documentation to present the project and, most importantly, the site and context analysis and the extrapolation of this that has led to the design of the development proposed.
A panel meeting is typically held as a confidential meeting during the pre-application stage (before a development proposal has been formally submitted for resource consent). The applicant team presents their project to the urban design panel, outlining the strategy behind the development proposal and the fundamental design decisions that have led to the proposed building and site programme, form and appearance. The urban design panel’s chair directs panel members as they ask the applicant team any questions for clarification. Once questions and answers are complete, the applicant team depart and the urban design panel further considers the proposal and prepares its advice.
The urban design panel compiles a set of recommendations for the proposal, identifying where further work is required. The urban design panel is also able to signal its support for a scheme or specific design decisions within it. The recommendations are a collective view of the four panel members and are to be used in two ways – both as advice to the applicant and their team, as recommendations of changes to make, and also to Council's urban designer as an additional round of design review. The Council’s urban designer considers the urban design panel’s recommendations as an input to their own formal review that they will undertake once the final version of the development proposal is lodged with council as an application for resource consent.
How does the Auckland Urban Design Panel help Auckland demand good design?
The Auckland Urban Design Panel provides a valuable injection of scrutiny to the design and development of Auckland. As an independent body, it operates within the freedom of providing critique from a professional best practice perspective, in a forum where their advice and opinions can be free and frank. As a result the urban design panel not only identifies any areas of a development proposal that will create a risk or weakness to the project, its surroundings and its future users but panel members are also able to challenge the applicant and their design and development team, as their professional peers, to strive to deliver the absolute best outcome possible for the development. The delivery of what could be regarded as professional peer pressure is instrumental to the urban design panel's ability to both challenge and collectively lift the definition of high quality design within Auckland.
The constituency of the urban design panel provides all applicants and teams that present to the urban design panel with an untapped resource of design and development skill and experience. In providing recommendations the applicant and their team benefit from advice from the collective wealth of the four panellists, each of whom is viewed as an expert within their field. Therefore, taking a project through a design critique from the calibre of the panellists provides both the development and the individuals behind it with an opportunity to benefit from the input of leaders in their professional fields. The urban design panel delivers best practice advice that is grounded and rigorously implementable.
The urban design panel provides a service to applicants that adds value to both the development proposal and the design review process as a result of the following factors:
- Participation is by invitation, targeting development proposals that will have a significant impact on their surroundings
- The urban design panel is a critical friend, assisting developers ranging from the industry’s largest operators to the smaller ventures
- The urban design panel’s mandate looks solely to achieve benefits for the developer, future occupants and the wider community
- A panel’s advice can range from concept design through to detailed design decisions
- Use of specialist advisors contribute specific expertise to a panel’s review
- Presentations to the urban design panel engage effectively with key project stages within the design process, including at a masterplanning stage or during detailed design
- Applicants and their design teams present to their professional peers, gaining access to input from leaders from within the development industry
- The urban design panel functions as a tool to help deliver upon council’s and Aucklanders' vision for the future of the city.