MaximusMarch 21, 2008
Hot on the heels of the Barrio development comes another development of inner-city apartments (first blogged on WellUrban). This one is designed by Archaus – the most prolific architects in Wellington. The site has had a couple of schemes proposed for it previously: one by Abri Architects of Auckland which was shot down in flames pretty quickly, and the other, curvy one that never really saw the light of day except for a feature in the Wellurban blog. This one may be around a little longer.
The site, is a highly sought after corner close to Cuba St, right on the edge of Ghuznee St and Leeds St. Looking at architects drawings it seems to be about 14 stories tall. So tall in fact, that in most of the shots the top of the building is cropped out, not quite lost in the clouds, but certainly too tall to show in a landscape format. Or is that just so that the public don’t get to find out exactly how many floors the building is?
At present, the site is mostly empty – an empty Shackel Motors yard that used to house incongruously inappropriate 4wd trucks for sale, but now hosts a much more appropriate Scooterazzi yard. A building remains in the centre, of somewhat indeterminate age, anda former host to both a nut shop and a brothel – no, really, they are different things. At the back of the site, next to the multi award-winning Hannah’s Building and Hannah’s Lofts, is one of the last remaining woodworking shops in the city, and then a little modernist box splendidly emblazoned with a NEES logo.
Perhaps this development has been crafted a lot more carefully than previous schemes. In the architects own words:
“Set in the vibrant heart of the Cuba Character area, this ‘mixed use’ development covers many aspects of Wellingtons’ modern life. The development through varied design and usage provides retail, commercial, office and a wide range of residential alternatives. The site wraps the existing non listed building on the heritage portion of the site, respecting its size and importance to the local built heritage. The parapet and existing cornice lines are reinforced through the design of the new building adjacent. The relationship to the new is strengthened with the units above being set well back to both the street frontage and the boundary. This reinforces the urban context and framing the existing building. The podium and tower arrangement allow further definition of the streetscape, with reference to the existing local built scale. Whilst the tower fulfils the promise of a varied architecture developed within the site, benefits from the city and harbour views. Nestled in the centre of the site, lies the duplex residential units, topped by a rooftop garden, allowing amenity space for the residents. This continues to break the transitional scale between the building elements and the Cuba street heritage area. An active frontage is maintained by individual entrances to apartment cores and with potential for commercial/retail accommodation that can be broken in to smaller scale units.”
It certainly is in the vibrant heart of Cuba. Largely overlooking the last remnants of Wellington’s so-called Red Light district (umm, Marion St has no red lights, and only a handful of tired transvestites hawking their wares / lack of wears), it is on the edge of (and within) the 43.8m height limit, happily overlooking the masses of smaller buildings in the surrounding area. On the south side of Ghuznee St, the limit is only 27m.This building will have a large shading influence over the surrounding neighbourhood, although that’s entirely permitted under our benevolent Council’s encouraging policy to develop inner city living. The neighbours won’t like it, but there may not be much they can do against it.
I suspect that the Architects have spent a long time working on this project, carefully working it to get both the maximum volume from the site, as much of a setback from Cuba St to avoid shading, and integration with the existing ‘heritage’ buildings. The plight of those incredibly well thought through apartments in Leeds St has been ignored however. But the project is not without some good points: the finishes look varied, and interesting – is it just the render, or are there see-through bricks as cladding? Or is that a mesh fence with brick-shaped proportions?
The sad fact remaining however, is that this building is tragically over-height – while it may (nearly) squeeze within the height zone (taking full advantage of council officer ‘discretionary limit’, no doubt), a 13-14 storey building is going to stand out like the proverbial sore thumb, and looks to be overshadowing a large area of neighbouring buildings to the south, east and west. WCC rules however only safeguard any sunlight to Cuba St at mid-day, despite it obviously being a highly important outdoor area for Wellington throughout the day.
Archaus have had a lot of flack in the past – most of it well-deserved – but when they put their minds to it, they can come up with some excellent buildings. Their work on the Kate Sylvester shop in lower Cuba St and the new Porsche / Audi showrooms on Cambridge Tce (based directly from the Porsche / Audi manuals on showrooms, and apparently therefore a virtual replica of one in Australia, but still excellently presented), the Boatshed Apartments at Herd St / Chaffers Marina are all good quality productions, although some, – ok most – of their designs for apartment buildings have been shockingly bad.
Not surprisingly, a number of the Archaus apartment projects have not gone ahead, the easy-money crash happening just as the projects were going to market. However, a number of their investor-focussed, low-budget nightmares are sadly still going ahead – the old Forest and Bird site having been cleared in time for a dreadful Merge development, and an odd timber floored structure ascending on Vivian St. In Auckland, last week a developer was saying how there was unlikely to be another apartment building started for the next 2-5 years. In Wellington, we’re clearly different: this is the second launch in a week, and there are more to come. Whether this, or any of the rest, will actually come to fruition, is going to be interesting to see.