The Eye of the Fish

August 16, 2018


There are several topics we’re keen to explore in the news right now, including that motorway bridge in Genoa, historic buildings in Whanganui, and more on the subject of buses etc in Wellington, but right now there is one pressing subject: what should Greytown do?


They’ve had a proposal for a four storey apartment block to replace this ugly old warehouse on the main street. Should they say Yes or should they say No? If they do there will be trouble. If they don’t there will be double. Should it stay or should it go now?


Predictably, there is quite a Clash over the subject, and battle-lines are being drawn up. Greytown is by far the most picturesque of all the towns in the Wairarapa, besting even the cute little Martinborough and streets ahead of Masterton which always just makes me want to drive on through faster. A large part of Greytown’s appeal is the consistently heritage architecture present in the town – you probably knew this, but I didn’t until relatively recently – it’s not all original. That is, while it is original heritage, it is heritage that wasn’t originally there. Or reusing old bank buildings for different uses.


At some stage in the recent past (the 1970s?) Greytown started collecting nearby town’s old buildings as they were being removed, and re-siting them in the main street. So now the town has a wonderfully eclectic mix of old, while other towns nearby have a nasty bland mix of modern. Nothing quite matches. There’s weatherboard, there’s crinkly tin, there are parapets galore and there is heritage character in every detail, setting the town alight.

And then they have the odd proposal like this:


That’s undeniably a modern building. The architect hasn’t been identified in the news so far – whoever it is, they’ve tried to disguise its bulk by visually breaking it down into two pretend small buildings connected by external balconies, styled to look a bit like everyone’s favourite White Swan hotel.

white swan

But it is not really fooling anyone – this will look like what it really is: the tallest building in the whole darned town. It’s as tall or taller than the old Renall’s Joinery building (the former Wakelin’s flour mill), still in the slow process of being restored, and currently the tallest building in the whole of the Wairarapa.


The proposed apartment block is, quite possibly, the first example of a previously unheard-of genre: the Wairarapa Wonder, the rumble in the jungle, the tallest of them all: a “skyscraper”. This proposal makes it even more obvious by being situated next to what looks like one of the smallest and cutest buildings in town – the tiny little Wild West style facade with the swoopy facade:


And the proximity absolutely ruins everything. There’s what looks like an urban style entry to a carpark, right off the main street, right next to the old swoopy cutey. There’s clearly a lift tower and stairwell rising up in the background (which no one will see from the main street of course), but still: the first elevator in Hicktown – whatever should they do? Is the building too tall? Or is it just too dull?


The answer, to me, is quite simple. The building should not go ahead in its present form. With its present architects. As advised by its present planner, working to the present planning rules. Quite clearly there is a height limit, possibly of about 12m, and the architect and planner have agreed to keep within that. The form of the building, by want of being a series of apartments, is predominantly horizontal. The roofline is also horizontal. There’s a smidgeon of parapet left standing above, but this is not a piece of urban infill that fools the tourists – it’s all too much same-same. The stories above are not connected to the ground floor in any coherent manner. The building, to me, is too horizontal. I’m left…. unimpressed. But that’s just me. What do you think? What does Greytown think?


JD Sal
16 - 08 - 18

It’s a pretty eclectic town… free to do what they want?

16 - 08 - 18

Yes, it is eclectic now, but will a full four storey lump do anything to help? It might just kill off that lovely small-town vibe. Doesn’t take much to kill the golden goose.

Ben Ormsby
16 - 08 - 18

It’s a fine addition to the town. It’s going to take a lot of development before it loses it’s village appeal.

The real problem is that Greytown is not on the train line, so intensification like this is not going to be as well supported by transport options.

16 - 08 - 18

So reopen the railway line – the (beautifully restored) goods shed is still there!

17 - 08 - 18

Ben – we’ll have to agree to disagree there. I concur with Andy – its a lump, not a “fine addition”. Could do better – should do better.

Betterbee – I’ve just been looking at the map, and the rail line is irritatingly miles away. Which is odd, as it virtually runs through the centre of every other Wairarapa town (except Martinborough of course). Did it used to come down through Woodside? Pierce St? And now replaced with a crushed lime cycle path? When was it ripped up?

Seamonkey Madness
17 - 08 - 18

17 - 08 - 18

One of the main reasons why Greytown looks as quaint as it does is precisely BECAUSE the rail line bypassed the town. It restricted its economy, made it unattractive for commuters and held down property values. Other small Wairarapa towns “developed”, while Greytown stagnated. Advance a few decades and what was once regarded as being old and run-down became desirable. A crap economy has always been one of the best ways of preserving heritage (Oamaru being another classic case in point).
As for the proposed building; it really wouldn’t take much to design something that fits into the streetscape, but this is quite simply just sh*t architecture.

17 - 08 - 18

John H – I normally bow to your superior architectural knowledge on subjects like this, and you’re 90% right, except for the bit about natural decay. From memory (I’m not a native Wairarapian) there was an active period in Greytown’s past, when everyone else was demolishing their buildings, when the local Grey folk went round buying up everyone else’s crappy old bits of broken heritage, and pulling them back to Grey central, like a family of giant pack rats. Eventually, the collection of old buildings made up quite a quaint little town. But the “original heritage” wasn’t (mostly) originally from there….

18 - 08 - 18

The dubious honour of being the tallest building in the Wairarapa surely goes to the Departmental Building.

19 - 08 - 18

Isn’t that amazing – thanks Josh – the marvels of Modernism. Must have driven past it a thousand times – and never really noticed it. But it possibly adds to the general feeling of Masterton as being not an architectural stand-out.