Just as the press is all about the coming end of the property market, and the apartment market crash in Auckland, another development appears on the horizon.

Barrio is the latest high rise apartment building designed by architect Campbell Pope, interestingly just next to his previous work: the Bellagio. While Bellagio seemed a random choice for a name, implying an Italian background, Barrio seems outright wrong – normally meaning a poor neighbourhood in a Spanish speaking country. Not quite a favela, or a slum; but not far from it. Perhaps not what you want rich property investors to be thinking – presumably the developers are assuming that kiwi investors won’t be fluent in Spanish. One word to you then: Pajero.


Barrio is designed on the same rationale as many of the Archaus projects, whereby you buy two small apartments linked together as one package, and can then rent out one and live in the other. Inevitably, one is a dubiously small studio apartment, while the other is a ‘one bedroom’ flat, often little larger. Its depressing, to me at least, because while it caters well for the ‘get rich quick’ mentality of the rabid property investors, it adds little back to the city in terms of quality living choices. A mix of one, two, and three bedroom apartments would be so much more sustainable for the city – but lets face it, the site is not a premium quality space, and so: cheap and cheerful investor apartments it is. Actually, not cheap, nor possibly that cheerful.

The website shows a fantastic view out towards the harbour, conveniently not showing the other planned developments that may soon be built, such as the longer overdue Watermark. There’s also a low rise Tse building in front too that must surely be crying out for redevelopment. On the other side of the view is of course Pope’s former building, the 12 storey Bellagio (although Bellagio appears to have been first designed by Architecture Plus). How come then that Bellagio is 12 storeys, and Barrio is only 9 storeys, seeing as they are covered by the same height limit? Is that just a gesture of being nice from one development to another, with Barrio promising to stay smaller than Bellagio? They have the same architect and construction company – and probably the same developer (the Barrio website is not saying).


The story behind the extra storeys is of course that the developers uncovered some remains of maori whare, ponga logs imbedded in the mud of the former Te Aro pa. There seems to be reasonable evidence that the Te Aro pa should still be in the hands of the local iwi, although a long time ago it was decided that it was far too untidy to have maori living in the middle of the main street in Wellington, and so their land was taken away. Compensation, of course, was promised but not given. The developer knew that his project was to be built smack in the middle of a former pa, and that the likelihood of finding maori artifacts was high. That whare were found should not therefore have come as much of a surprise to developer or council, and while it is great that they have been found, and kept, I still have a major issue over the council granting the developer the right to extend the Bellagio by two extra floors.

The lower level apartments, fronting onto a narrow lane, are virtually worthless, usable only as car parks or basic student digs; while the prospect of two more levels of penthouse apartments, guaranteed not to be built out, must be near priceless. Until, that is, the Barrio builds in front of them, presumably also on the edge of the pa. Lets hope that if the Barrio also hits archaeological treasure, the council does not grant extra height. Developers should be bound to preserve historic remains without being paid (read: amply compensated) for their heroic efforts.

All that aside however, Bellagio has turned out better than was originally hoped for. Perhaps it is petty to pick out the faults with the building (overly fussy small square windows, tiny shaded decks down a narrow lane, etc), but while the window and balconies on the west facade combine to give a heightened vertical feel and keeps the building looking slim and almost elegant, the length of the building back into the block presents a massive wall to the south.

However, this south facade (overlooking Molly Malone’s – great paint job, by the way: makes me thirsty) has opened up what could have been a dull blank wall, utilising (overly repetitive) window and balcony manifestation that makes the awful eclectic mass (or mess) of the pink and green Courtenay Apartments look somehow not quite so out of place.The rooftop penthouse Dalek eyepods give the building some character and once they are occupied, hopefully some soul. Although Bellagio the building is not as elegant as the city of Bellagio, it bodes reasonably well for the Barrio.