Otara interchange Otara interchange

The Otara interchange project is a great example of development that has actively sought community engagement to provide a high-quality urban space that reflects and responds to the values and needs of users and the community's unique heritage.

Project overview

Otara interchange

The primary aim of the project was upgrade of the Otara Bus Interchange shelters and adjoining public toilets, both of which had been misused and vandalised. 

Aspirations for the project included cultivating a safer community space which would provide a boost for the local economy. Additionally, planners sought to connect with local people through promoting a sense of identity, particularly for the many young residents who use the bus interchange. 

A high level of community buy-in was seen as crucial for delivering a quality urban space that is both used and respected by the community. This was achieved through a range of mediums including an open day, letter drops and meetings with the Community Local Board and local business groups. 

The end result is a public space that provides both an effective transport solution and an improved urban environment. The final product features designs and motifs that reflect the unique Pacific Island and Maori heritage of the local community.

The project was considered for the award for Excellence in Community Engagement at the 2012 New Zealand Engineering Excellence Awards.


Auckland Transport commissioned Opus to provide full design services for this public transport infrastructure upgrade and streetscape improvement to the Otara town centre interchange. The scheme was based on the concept design report presented to the previous Manukau City Council in 2010. 

The preliminary site investigation highlighted that the potential for improvements to the area was considerable. The project team considered an integral design approach to public transport infrastructure improvements and localised streetscaping and connectivity issues to the bus interchange from the neighbouring Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) and Otara mall.

There were issues that required design intervention to improve the safety and amenity of pedestrians in the area.

Otara interchange upgrade complete

Other matters included a shortfall in shade and shelter in the bus area, a derelict and graffiti-prone environment around the toilet block and dense foliage creating hiding places and diminished sightlines. A lack of a coordinated design effort had resulted in disjointed spaces.

The project has now been imbued with an urban design “place-based” approach, under direction from an active local community board. 

The design of the new interchange builds on the rich cultural diversity and strong sense of community in the area and will now be supported by various communal activities such as the weekend market, performances and artworks in the Mall and will provide an attractive, safe and coherent public space. 

Central to the interchange upgrade is the new plaza connects the different spaces created by transforming the underutilised road reserve and the site now includes upgraded bus shelters and public toilets, sculptural seating platforms and a kids’ play/art area in a landscaped setting. 

The plaza will be an important new addition for this vibrant community, combining diverse activities typical of the area with new leisure spaces and paths, creating opportunities for a diverse range of communal activities. 

The interchange design incorporates an oversized shelter to accommodate additional numbers of seating and improve the visibility and clarity of the pedestrian movements. Integral to the development is the community artwork, developed by the local artist Filipe Tohi in collaboration with Michelle Ardern. This will help achieve a unique identity for the Otara interchange and contribute to the character of the area. 

The resurfacing of the area uses an abstract wave theme, which is an extension and continuation of the surrounding streetscape. Large triangular seats located under the trees are another highlight of the plaza concept. They aim to recreate the traditional gathering points of the Pacific community and double as amphitheatre seating for informal meetings and community gatherings. 

The existing taxi stand and clock tower were refurbished in their current location to define the eastern edge of the plaza. The new taxi stand incorporates basalt stone from original structure and the canopy design relates to the bus shelter. The design bridges the old and the new to continue the legacy of this space. The existing ‘Otara’ sign was made more visible and welcoming by integrating its current location within the plaza edge landscaping.

Community and partnerships

Maori blessing of the opening of the Otara interchange after improvements done

The project was first identified by Manukau City Council and responsibility transferred to the new Auckland Council and Auckland Transport when the local government changes occurred in November 2010. The work was co-funded with Auckland Transport responsible for the bus shelter and the taxi stand upgrade and Auckland Council for the plaza portion and the toilet block.

The project was then progressed as a joint venture project with Auckland Transport being responsible for the physical delivery of the project. After the local government amalgamation and Auckland Transport formation this project was a unique and successful example of collaborative and joint venture delivery model for such projects. 

Understanding the community's needs

The project had its origins in Manukau City Council’s Otara Neighbourhood Accessibility Plan (NAP) which began in 2009. A key part of that study was to identify stakeholders and interested groups inside and outside of Council to develop strong understanding of the issues faced by pedestrian and cyclists in the local community.

As part of the NAP study the Otara Bus Interchange and surrounding area were identified as being in very poor condition and uneconomical to repair. Antisocial behaviour by a minority of the community had led to overall decline in the quality of the space through vandalism and graffiti.

Consequently, rather than focus narrowly on the bus interchange island and shelters, as would be expected of a traditional renewal project, the decision was made to extend the study area to include the public space to the east of the island linking to the main entrance to Otara Mall.

The preliminary site investigation highlighted that the potential for improvements to the area was considerable. These would be achieved with an integrated design approach to improving the public transport infrastructure, localised streetscaping and addressing issues with how the bus interchange connected to the neighbouring Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) and Otara mall.

Problems needing to be solved included the under provision of shade and shelter, the existence of multiple pedestrian routes from the east, increasing traffic conflict situations.

A high pool fence, defining the interchange area created a sense of disconnection for people using the area. Dense foliage in the vicinity provided hiding places and diminished sightlines, which made the pedestrian routes less safe for people entering and leaving the area.

Central to the interchange upgrade is the plaza that will encompass the diverse range of pedestrian movements and extends the interchange area to link with the Otara mall. the pedestrian areas.

Delivery of the above project gives effect to the aspirations of the Otara Community Advocacy Plan 2008-2010, within which the local community board set goals to:

  • Cultivate a safe community.
  • Provide for youth.
  • Educate.
  • Boost economy.
  • Promote health and well-being.
  • Connect and promote a sense of identity.

Building relationships

A high level of community buy-in was seen as crucial for delivering a quality urban space that is both used and respected by the community.

To achieve this aspiration a range of engagement techniques were used including:

  • Providing Maori and Pacific Wardens regular updates on project.
  • Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) whose students make up a majority of bus interchange users regularly updated via MIT Property Manager.
  • Businesses and residents in the surrounding catchment were contacted and informed of the project and this included use of Korean, Catonese, Mandarin and Indian language interpreters to ensure equitable coverage of community.
  • Promotional materials including posters and leaflets displayed and distributed to local businesses, community facilities MIT and Flea Market vendors. 
  • Project representatives met with the Otara Community Board several times over the project life to discuss the design. 

Various components of the design have focused on echoing local themes to encourage community “buy in” to the project.

The project team worked with the Otara Fresh Gallery exploring opportunities as to how public art could be integrated into the scheme. The end result was collaboration with renowned Tongan artist, Felipe Tohi, who has created art that reflects the Pacific peoples of Otara and the history and sensitivities of the area.

One such example is the site of the fatal stabbing of a young man being marked with a piece of art representing a cross glazed into the surface treatment.

The colour selection, pattern selection and material selection have generally been influenced by local issues. While the overall layout is aesthetically pleasing, the underlying materials are also robust to ensure durability.

Need more information?

Contact Auckland Transport