Airport terminal on the rocks?

Love it or loath it, ‘The Rock’ at Wellington Airport, welcomes visitors to a unique place, with a unique building. It doesn’t directly add any more visitors to the airport, but it does make their arrivals and departures more memorable and this is clearly its purpose.

30 years ago we did the same thing for Whakatane Airport. Our clients, the District Council, wanted a ‘gateway’ building that would welcome visitors to the Bay of Plenty.











They felt their district was off the tourist beaten trail and that overseas visitors landed in Auckland,  went to Rotorua and then on to Wellington and the South Island. They were missing out, they thought, and their brief to us was to do something special as an introduction to the charms and wonders of their region.

The building met this brief and succeeded in meeting our client’s expectations.  In the year that it was built it won a Tourism Award and 25 years later it won an NZIA Enduring Architecture Award.

Now its future is uncertain.  There is a plan to expand the airport, and it could be demolished.

While its humbling to note the support for the building from architectural historians, the circumstances surrounding the buildings development also add weight to its historical value.   The determination of the Whakatane District Council, pressure  on the Government from the local MP Percy Allen, who at the time was also Minister of Works at the time.

Civil aviation agreed to the Control Tower surmounting the building, so that offshore Whale Island could reference a mounded form in the flat landscape.  It was a significant improvement on the previous control tower which was a van, generally prked in town, that was driven to the airport every time a plane was due.









Unlike heritage buildings covering a limited piece of land,  the Whakatane Airport Building is a tiny footprint on a huge site and there seems to be no impediment whatsoever to its retention.








The Bay of Plenty is one of our fastest growing regions and infrastructure needs to reflect this growth.  My message to the people of Whakatane:  You can retain this heritage building, and still have a new terminal to meet the needs of the new century.

With some imagination, it could, like The Rock, be easily be incorporated into a larger building as part of an expanded facility, remaining as an iconic reminder of the Whakatane District Council’s historic desire to put their region on the map.