There are still many good signs of a healthy construction industry in Wellington, with a number of apartment projects underway. Two of these under construction at present are interesting as they show such different methods of construction. 


One of them, the Piermont apartments, by Stratum Management (Architecture +), took a while to get out of the ground due to basements almost below the water level, and the discovery of the remains of a century old railway stop: the Te Aro station of one of Wellington’s first railways. Massive amounts of below ground work were necessary, necessitating a large hole in the ground for Piermont and its neighbour Monument, and the casting of a thick water tight slab. Above ground however the construction is proving much speedier going, with an interesting method of construction: concrete inner shear walls and then a relatively lightweight lattice of thin steel columns to secure the outer perimeter and support the composite steel/concrete floors. Scaffold cloth is making it difficult to get good views through, but one thing is clear: the zigzag outer edge of the project will be a striking effect on the facade. Rather than build blankly up to the perimeter as so many apartment projects do, at Piermont the apartment decks have all been cranked at 45 degrees to get an oblique view of Waitangi Park. Cladding is going in at present, with the building up to 3rd floor – only 7 more to go.

Another development also underway is the Duel development on Vivian St, where a very different method of construction has been used.


No deep basement here, and simple augered friction piles, with a more traditional steel frame allowed the building frame to be erected relatively quickly, although the development seems to have slowed progress of late. What is interesting here is that while there is a steel frame, all the floors are timber-based (timber joists and floors) with lightweight steel stud internal walls. It seems to be a sort of reversal of the more traditional concrete floor and timber internal walls. While I can understand the move to lightweight steel studs internally, with gains in speed and weight, and possibly cost as well, I’m bemused by the timber floors. Obviously the architects (Archaus) know what they are doing, and stringent anti-noise barriers will have been installed, although how they compare to the sound-absorbing  mass of a concrete floor would be interesting to know.

Presumably reasons this was chosen as a method of construction could be reasons of cost (timber cheaper than concrete) and also speed (no waiting for slabs to cure, etc), although as noted, the speed issue does not seem to have been that successful. Cladding to this building is also interesting, with prefabricated polystyrene panels (coloured sludge green) waiting for weeks now in the street outside, ready to be installed on the building facade. Again, speed and ease of construction would be a good reason for installing these panels, and after a hiatus of several weeks, panels are again being installed. It’s not the first multi-storey timber building – the Old Government buildings are of course the biggest and best known, although more recently some apartments in Martin Square were also timber framed (in that case, apparently without steel frame), and erected in quick time.