In the typical manner of the bus, where you wait forever and then three buses come at once, so it feels for topics of conversation this week. I was going to write, I thought, on the possible move for Reading Cinema and Shopping Centre to leap back to life, having been so moribund for so many years. Then I thought, no, no, what if I was to do a double act with the potential rebirth of the Johnsonville Mall at long last, if that is indeed to have any prospect of a condition other than terminal. I actually went there to J’ville and its “Mall” the other day and almost slit my wrists before getting to the exit doors. What a disaster.
Then I wanted to write about the Architecture Student design awards held last week, which sounded amazing and looked even better – except that they have already been and gone, packed away never to be seen again. Too quick, Vic Uni ! What’s the hurry?!?!?! Oh – no winners for Vic it seems, with the prizes going to AUT student Matangireia Yates-Francis and Highly commended awards to Unitec (Keisha Rawiri) and to Auckland (Will Martel).
Or the NZIA National Awards for Architecture, held just the week before – again, some actually brilliant stuff there from our multi-talented architects. Some Wellington based practices won big, and some even won double big – Patchwork Architects (Sally Ogle and Ben Mitchell-Anyon) won two National Awards for two of their quite frankly brilliant houses, while Studio Pacific (with a workforce of a hundred or so it seems) won two National gongs as well, for Brandon House and for the old Massey University Rectory building. Congratulations to Lianne Cox and Marc Woodbury and many many others there I’m sure.
But the big news this week has to be the somewhat silly news that the Dixon Street flats are being emptied out and there is not a clear story of what happens to the building next. This is not a sob storey like the Gordon Wilson Flats just around the corner – well, at least, it hasn’t started off the same.
“The Dixon Street flats, built between 1942 and 1947, are one of the first examples in New Zealand of the International Modernist style and are a key building in the development of Modern architecture in New Zealand. They were constructed as a part of the First Labour Governments state housing programme and they symbolise a significant period of New Zealand’s social development and history. The Dixon Street Flats are a feature of the Wellington Central area and have attained landmark status. The project was of a magnitude unprecedented in the history of domestic architecture in New Zealand and caused considerable excitement at the time.”
Of course there is a link – the Dixon Street flats were designed by the government’s Department of Housing Construction and the lead architect was Gordon Wilson. He was the same bloke whose name is on the Gordon Wilson flats just a gumboot’s throw away from the top of Dixon Street – but of course the Dixon Street flats was strongly rumoured to be designed by Ernst Plishke, if I remember right. WCC’s wonderful heritage notes record the Dixon Street flats like this:
“The building was designed for the Department of Housing Construction although the designer remains unclear. Gordon Wilson was Government architect of the day and is officially the ‘architect of record’; however noted Modernist architect Ernst Plischke was employed by the Department of Housing Construction at the time and is thought to have had a significant part in the design. The apartment block was constructed between 1941 and 1943 by the Wellington contractor J.L. Wilkins, the ten storey building was the first slab apartment block in New Zealand and contained 115 one bedroom apartments and one two bedroom caretakers unit.”
And another common link is that the DHC eventually became the Housing Corp, then it became Homes Land and Community, then HLC became Kainga Ora, which is now the biggest housing provider in the land – except that they don’t want their two biggest buildings it seems.
The Gordon Wilson Flats have a slightly different heritage tale to tell, with a slightly less hopeful outcome. WCC heritage notes again:
“The Gordon Wilson Flats have architectural value as a good representative example of 1950s Modernist high density social housing, that though common internationally, is relatively rare in New Zealand. The flats are associated with the social policy of the government of the day and were an endeavour to solve a chronic housing shortage. They were the last of the high-rise tower-block social housing developments designed by the Ministry of Works & Development. The flats are also associated with economic recovery in the 1950s which led to a boom in the building industry. The flats were designed by Government Architect Gordon Wilson, who died while the flats were nearing completion. It is for this reason they were named in his honour.”
Of course, I hear you say, but Dixon St is not grungy, and Gordon Wilson is grunge personified – but if you are saying that, then I think you are mistaking heritage with graffitiage – both buildings have exceptional architectural heritage. Whether one or both of them stay is more to do with who the owners of the buildings are. For that reason alone, let’s hope that the Vic Uni does not get their hands on Dixon St, to further continue their appalling record of vandalism and neglect with heritage. Or, is that pragmatism and managed retreat from responsibility? What thinks you?
Vic would not want the Dixon Street flats as they are already heritage listed and protected under the District Plan,
They bought Gordon Wilson with an eye to knocking it down (the demolition consent was a dead give away.)
They had a pretty clear plan for the site in this presentation….
Fantastic find – thank you greenwelly – that was the Athfield scheme I presume, which they were following? Seeing as the University is now crying poor, I doubt that we will see that in the short term. Always more of a long term project. I wonder though, if they had ever thought of extending it down to Willis Street, to really connect with the city?
My understanding is that Gordon Wilson Flats were protected in the Wellington City District Plan in 1995. Victoria University of Wellington purchased the flats 20 years later in 2014 and presumably would have been well aware it was in the heritage schedule.
Partially correct, but not entirely. There is being on the WCC Heritage List, and there is having a Historic Places listing, and those two things are not the same. The GWF were placed on the HPT Heritage system at the time that the University was arguing for their insignificance and demolition, just a few years ago. The WCC list does this one function: “lists” but does not do the other function “protect”. Actually, even the HPT list cannot fully protect – plenty of listed and protected heritage buildings around NZ have been knocked down, despite the HPT grade 1 listing.
They’re not the same but it’s the other way around: listing on the WCC schedule offers statutory protection, inclusion on the HNZPT list is only recognition.
Trust me – I’m both an ex WCC heritage advisor and former HNZPT listing manager :)
Thanks for the correction Amanda – shows where I have been going wrong all my life – I always thought that it was the other way round. Perhaps, and this is a big PERHAPS, there is a certain logic to having a combined list? Only the One List? One List to Rule them All and in the darkness bind them?
But let me go back to the GWF just for a minute. If they have been n the WCC List for years, then Vic Uni would have / should have / must have been well aware of their Listed status when they purchased them, despite HPT not having listed them? Because I seem to recall that the HPT listing happened as the University were busy arguing that they were rubbish and not heritage at all?
And so, then onto the Dixon St Flats – what is their status? On both lists, for quite some time on both, is that correct?
This is the Stuff (DomPost) report link https://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/wellington/130660163/heritage-quagmire-as-notorious-but-protected-wellington-flats-emptied?
This blurb from the WCC heritage inventory is interesting:
“By 1943 over 700 applications had been received for the 115 units, indicating the desperate shortage of housing in the city. Prior to completion, the Government had let 11 of the units to the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and Army Corps. Upon completion, 20% (later increased to 50%) of the units were allocated to returned servicemen and their wives. The rest were reserved for the elderly, childless couples, and people who had interests other than babies and gardens. Despite the high demand, and the praise received for the apartment’s design, the building was criticised by the general public, the opposition in Government, and from the Labour party itself. The units were not designed for families and were the opposite of average New Zealander’s dream home, and many associated them with the tenements of Europe. The apartments were also unexpectedly expensive, with a single unit costing £1619, approximately £269 more than the average three bedroom state house. These factors combined to limit the number of apartment blocks erected by the Labour Government before they lost power in 1949.”
And there is also really good discussion going on over at the Wellington Scoop site:
Our frequent commenter greenwelly makes a pertinent comment on the Scoop site:
“Its not earthquake prone, KO say its just “old and not fit for purpose”.”
And that is at the core of the issue. The building was built for single men, mainly, or couples with no children. These days, the opposite is the case: on the waiting lists at KO are many single mums with children, and a one bedroom flat just won’t cater for that.
Yesterday, a gilded electric carriage dropped us off at the entrance to Johnsonville Mall. We were invited to the opening of the Desigual flagship store. Famous for their lively immersive fit-out, and bright textured colourful clothes, matching the vibrant expressive scene of the northern suburbs. And some competition from the Zara store next door, and the newly opened branch of Sfera down the road. And who would have thought, little bars and tapas places where the wine lists haven’t been ‘curated’ by wankers charging $20 a pop. Oh, but then I woke up in a cold sweat, pulled my face out of the food court burger meal and realised it was just a dream. A sea of black leggings and grey leisure wear, punctuated by craft beer hoodies, a Hallensteins outlet, and a newish library designed to look like the inviting entrance to a death camp. May the fruit open.
Nemo – please recruit TwoHandsMaid onto the Fish’s writing staff, forthwith!
Two Hands Maid – as Seamonkey says, your comment is great ! Would love to have you writing more often if you would like – come and join the team if you want! Send us an email to contact @ eyeofthefish . org
Iona Pannett comments on FB:
“No quagmire here, this important heritage building needs to be kept. The greenest solution is to improve it rather than demolishing it. Giving tenants some control over the building is the best way to keep it crime free.”
That’s good, intelligent advice. I wonder if anyone at Kainga Ora will listen to it?
Yes, but then someone called Brian Dawson comes straight back at her with this:
“I think you’re being very naive Iona. Having had many dealings with tenants in these flats and seen lots of attempts to deal with the issues over the last decade (including involving tenants in the running of the complex) I can honestly say they are unsafe and have an incredibly negative impact on many tenants. Very similar to Granville in City Housing. Knocked down or not (and I would say yes to that) they aren’t fit for modern social housing and no amount of mere tinkering will change that.”
Sorry, but I’m on Brian’s side for this one.
I’m not. That’s what architects are for, Seamonkey. Not Brian Dawson, who is presumably not an architect – not trained in sorting out problems, not qualified to talk about the practicalities of design. Dawson, whoever he is, sounds like he is possibly a social worker and not a design specialist or a refurbishment specialist. I’m sure he is a lovely caring person, and he may well know what he is talking about in HIS sphere of experience, but he does not have the experience in MY sphere of expertise.
Isn’t part of the problem the fact that they are all 1 bedroom? Sounds like you’d end up with a very concentrated type of lonely tenant in a social housing complex with no mix of household size.
See 60’s reply below
I understand that up to two people have previously been known to share a bedroom – even a bed when called upon. Strange but true.
Check out the next post Starkive – did it just for you. And they show a very demure 2 single beds in one room, for when the wife comes to stay. I don’t think they had invented double beds back in the 1940s, had they? Wasn’t it always a case of having two separate beds that you pushed together when occasions called for it?
Not sure that Plischke and the other members of the racy Karori set felt constrained by such bourgeois notions. If you do get inside Dixon St or GW, you should have a look for signs of mirrored ceilings.
Starkive – I went inside a place for sale recently that had mirrors on the ceiling – as it was for sale (and I did not buy it) I felt the urge to leap onto the bed (fully clothed) but I resisted this urge. The thought of looking up and seeing your own body, or someone else’s thrusting buttocks – may have made this old fish blush.
If the building itself is not an EQ risk then gutting it back to the bones and redesigning the twiddly bits (that’s a technical term) so as to make it a blend of 2 or 3 brm as well as smaller units has got to be cheaper than rebuilding from scratch or am I missing something obvious here
Sorry I haven’t been in the building before
As usual 60, you have hit the nail on the head. It may be difficult to get this simple, logical explanation past the heritage bods (who often will not budge from entrenched positions), but yes, the simple answer is to send in a team of architects to carefully design some changes to the building that will allow 2bedroom units (very simple) and 3bedroom units (only a fraction harder). Structurally, architecturally, all do-able. The hardest thing to get through is the heads of the heritage advisors.
Well, when you put it <i?that way Nemo (and 60), I would agree.
That was the main problem – dwelling size/configuration. This is a/the pragmatic solution.
Agree that it is much better than bowling the whole lot and starting again. Although you would get a much better solution, the financial and carbon cost would be much reduced by a smart & tasteful adaptation to current ‘market’ conditions.