So the time has come at last: the first of a presumed wave of proposals to demolish perfectly good buildings in Wellington. Christchurch has had to put up with a swathe of demolition over the last couple of years, and they are getting so good at destroying everything down there, that they have forgotten that it is not compulsory. Cranmer Courts is their city’s latest disgrace – the Harcourts building is ours.
Somewhat bizarrely, the Harcourts building, owned by elderly eccentric Mark Dunajtschik, is not at risk of collapsing in a seismic situation. It has a strong steel skeleton frame, and does not need to be demolished. It is a Chicago style building, so we are told, yet has none of the verve and excitement of a Louis Sullivan original, nor the decoration of the facade in the manner that truly befits that name. But the building is there, has been there for quite a while, and doesn’t actually need to be demolished.
Instead, there is the chance for bits to fall off in a quake, and as the bits are large, then they could kill. Consequently, Dunajtschik wants to demolish the whole building, and start again – ooh, going up to 25 floors as well. The reason being touted for this work is the cost of earthquake strengthening, but the real reason is that the developer wants to build a bigger building. The sort of thing that would happen in the 80s was that the developer would just start demolishing, and that was that. No asking permission. But here we are in the 10s, and now the public has a chance to partake in the discussion.
The developer, Mark Dunajtschik, is of course furious that the public has been allowed a chance for input into the discussion. The public, we hope, are overjoyed at the chance to contribute. The Fish, I think, is here to help facilitate that discussion.
I’m not sure if the proposal is just to demolish, or if it includes a proposed replacement yet. The DomPost editorial today advocates that the use of a polystyrene replacement facade be permitted, and that the Historic Places Trust should just pull its head in and stop complaining. HPT presumably thinks that they would rather poke out their eyeballs with a blunt stick than permit a poly palace replica.
I’m more worried about Dunajtschik’s track record – the excrescence that is the IRD tub of lard HQ – the appallingly bad Asteron House is not a good precedent for thoughtful and sensitive insertion into the urban fabric. Dunajtschik, of course, is more worried about “the Loony left” and the “fruitcakes” having a say. It’s our city too, Mark! Your thoughts, please?
Update: more about the existing building available here.