The Eye of the Fish

December 16, 2015

Gordon Wilson flats

The hearing on the future of the Gordon Wilson flats is in it’s last day, and opinions over the building and it’s possible future are varying widely. “Specialists” viewpoints are widely opposed, of course, and currently the “developer” Maurice Clark’s opinion that the building would be like a “turd covered in glitter” is getting some prominent airplay. The media loves a good soundbite… But Mr Clark is not really a developer – he is an Engineer and a Building Contractor, and just about the most experienced person we have in NZ on restoring big heritage buildings.

I find it interesting that this is getting a lot of attention now, because when I wrote a post on this in July last year, no one seemed to care a bit. Today the people presenting evidence include Ken Davis, an architect who studied the history of the building – probably the world’s living authority on the historical aspects of the building – as well as Dr Julia Gatley, who literally wrote the book on the subject of the history of the modern movement’s architecture in New Zealand, and also the Architectural Centre, who are Wellington’s voice on matters architectural since 1946. They’ve been part of the Wellington scene since this building was just a hole in the ground. I hope that the DomPost gives them as equally prominent coverage when they present their evidence.

The public’s viewpoints are, of course, totally rabid, spectacularly uninformed, and sad/amusing to read. Despite the Gordon Wilson flats being one of New Zealand’s most ground-breaking pieces of Modern architecture, people out there just don’t get it! I present some of the choice examples of NZ public giving vent to their opinions….

It’s a fugly building, just like our (Auk) old council building & police station. It’s time the public (rate-payers?) got to vote on the monstrosities that are fobbed on us, esp. many apartments. Good buildings should get a break, eye-sores a penalty.

It doesnt look like a stunning example of architecture we’d want to keep! Can’t imagine tourists flocking to it

Both sides are telling porkies. Concrete “cancer” is common and generally not a big deal. It would be rectified during the refurbishment and strengthening works….. the developer is clearly there to prevent a biased, worse case scenario! That said these buildings have absolutely no heritage value what so ever, its not an example of outstanding architecture unless find beauty in uninspiring, soulless concrete boxes. They should not be heritage listed simply because they’re 40 or 50 years old. Heritage listing should be reserved for structures of real historic value or intrinsic beauty and creative not some depressing monolith that wouldn’t look out of place in a J’burg slum…… their time has ended and the bulldozers should roll!

ack daniels
Heritage? Looks like it’s straight out of a UK housing project! Drab old ’60’s-’70’s dunger! Knock the dump over!

If this is a shining light of NZ architecture I despair.

Heritage listed?! What were they thinking? It’s one of the ugliest building I have ever seen.

The flats are ugly and the building is entirely out of place/wrong size for its surroundings. Bulldoze it.

Baron d’Holbach
A listed building?Are these folks for real?Looks like a Soviet era apartment block in Moscow.They could make a few bucks selling tickets to see it demolished.BOOOOM…ah a better view now.

16 - 12 - 15

Tragically mis-informed, the lot of them…

Alex E
16 - 12 - 15

Yeah, it was sad reading comments on Stuff.. People just have no idea what architecture is, they don’t get it.

16 - 12 - 15

Luckily, there are some people that do – and they’ve been speaking today. It would be amusing, if it was not so sad, that people still tragically mis-understand Modern architecture, and can’t see the quality in the design. Of even more concern for me, is that some people are muttering about the university students behaving badly (i.e. trashing of a hostel ceiling a few months back), and therefore the university shouldn’t be able to build more student hostels. Totally, totally logically incoherent, but then that is the brain of the average stuff commenter. Not well developed…

But onto more important things – the knowledge and understanding of the people on the panel who are adjudicating on this project. Will their knowledge of architectural history equal their understanding of structural refurbishment and re-piling techniques? Certainly, what Maurice Clark says makes a lot of sense – while the building has history and style on its side, it does not have any sense of solidity with its concrete cladding panels (which could be replaced) or its concrete floor slabs (which would be more difficult). Of most concern is the method used to apparently place the concrete in the piles – aggregate placed in first, and then water and cement grout poured down the hole later – a nice try, but possibly a disaster in any seismic event. It would be a brave person that took that project on as a refurbishment, given that Mr Clark, who is possibly the only person with enough experience to do so, is clearly not interested in trying on this one.

16 - 12 - 15

I wonder if there are similar rants against the Modern architecture of Corb in Marseille, with the famous Unite d’Habitation. It went through a bad patch with it’s residents for a while, but as far as I understand it is very popular now. Similarly with Goldfinger’s tower in London – once groovy and modern – later reviled and hated and full of grubby people, but now a virtual Mecca for lovers of Modernism. There may be a similar effect in Wellington if they actually tried to restore it back to its original splendour!

21 - 12 - 15

Apologies for the sometimes on-again, off-again nature of this blog. We’re having some technical difficulties. Hopefully fixable…

23 - 12 - 15

Happy Festivus to all the fish. Thanks for another year of cetacean blogging without the blubber.

24 - 12 - 15

Why thank you Starkive, Kind of you to say so. Hard business to keep a blog going – not overly helped when the website keeps crashing and you lose readers every time. Worth me giving it another year?

Andy Foster
24 - 12 - 15

Hi Levi – and all your readers and contributors – absolutely worth keeping going – the Eye has always been a great forum for intelligent articles on interesting issues and for constructive and informed dialogue. I like that people don’t leap to concrete conclusions until they’ve got information – that’s refreshing !

Best wishes for a brilliant Christmas and New Year – look forward to discussing important stuff in 2016.



25 - 12 - 15

Definitely keep going

Seamonkey Madness
5 - 01 - 16

As Dory says: “keep on swimming!”