One of the things that really annoys me in life is when people deliberately try to obscure the truth. Trump, the GOP, climate-change deniers, Covid vaccine scarers – all highly stupid and irresponsible. But this sort of behaviour should never happen with quality practices of registered architects.
A proposal has come into Council for a revision, of a revision, of a revision of a building that was never very good in the first place. The “Due Pensione” and “Quattro on Haining” of about 10 years ago has been revisited once more – with yet another change of architects. Is this the third architect on this project, or the fourth?
As usual, it is a Tower project of apartments in Te Aro, and although the original proposal tried to push the “design excellence” button to claim a reason for going extra height, despite a complete lack of agreement by the Urban Design advisor at Council that there was the slightest amount of excellence in the design at all, the latest version has dropped a level so as to fall fully under the height limit, and thereby escape the full public scrutiny it deserves. The claim for “excellence” has also been dropped – ie they know it is a low-ball proposal. The revised design has also dropped off the majority of the balconies, so that the poor bastards who have to live inside this squalid lump will have little ability to enjoy the outdoors. The developers (shell company “Downtown Developments”, director Simon Nightingale) have also taken the opportunity to delete all the car parks in line with the latest Government Urban Design guidance, so there will be another 54 car owners looking for parking in an area that is already full to the brim with cars. Instead, it is a spooky underworld of “storage” boxes. “Nice”. Shown here is the First Floor plan instead.
But what really gets me annoyed is that the renders accompanying the proposal have blatantly mis-represented the surroundings. I’m not going to name the architects (at this stage) as I think they will feel highly embarrassed and ashamed to be pointed out like this – normally they do quality developments, although more recently they have produced some real shockers, including this one. But to omit information on the application to this extent should be an offence under the code of ethics of NZRAB and should get them some stern words from the NZIA as well. It is a total, absolute travesty of what an honest representation of a building requires – what an architect should be all about.
To set the scene, the proposed building is set in Haining St, on the south side of the street, one of the narrowest little lanes in Wellington. The proposal may be legal in reaching the height limit, but it will shade this street to a considerable degree, both in winter and in summer. Is this what our rogue Councillors really wanted when they voted for new, tall buildings in Te Aro?
Haining St is one of my favourites – along with Frederick St it is the home of historic Chinatown in Wellington. Not one of those tacky fake Chinatowns you may see overseas – this was the real deal. Heaps of heritage in these two narrow streets.
Existing buildings are heavily built up but are almost universally only two storeys tall. Nearby, to the north, buildings sit at a mixture of two, three, and five stories tall, with some of the best streetscape in Te Aro. It is charming at the moment – this building will kill all that charm. The building sits hard up against the pavement side, but will be set back from the northern boundary by only a metre or so, and so many of the apartments will be facing into a blank wall instead of gaining any sunshine. It is density done really really wrong. Just for a bit of nostalgia, here is what our predecessor Maximus said way back in 2008. It is just as valid today:
“But what saddens me most is that the proposal ignores the delicate nature and history of Haining Street, which after a half century of neglect, is just starting to get its Mojo back via reoccupation of the formerly industrial wasteland. A giant elephant’s foot like this would just squash the life out of the street, and Wellington becomes worse off for it – it just seems inappropriate. Wouldn’t it be much nicer to work with the urban fabric of the surrounding buildings and work towards a more human scale of neighbourhood? Perhaps even one that celebrates and recognizes the original Chinese character of the area, as they do in many cities abroad?”
Despite the existence of neighbouring buildings up to five storeys high, the drawings showing the proposal “in context” show very little recognition of the extremely tight urban surroundings, and miraculously, the north elevation of the proposals (above) show no surrounding buildings at all, despite the reality of the situation.
Should a depiction this bad be allowed? Should it even be countenanced by a practice which puts itself out as a quality, award-winning practice? Just how bad do you have to be to get told off?
I’m hoping that the Council officers assigned to this application can see through the layers of misinformation and deliberate deception, and ask that some more accurate, honest drawings of the actual context are produced, instead of this travesty that we see here before us. Personally, I don’t think that even the architects are convinced there are no names on the drawings and their Design Statement is as lacklustre as the building itself.
- “Design Concept: Contemporary Architecture.”
- “Design Drivers: Respecting adjoining building forms. Strong horizontal lines. Abstraction created by an articulated façade creating strong light and shade character and use of robust high-quality materials.”
Perhaps this project really does need to go back to the metaphorical drawing board.
I can see that this site is badly underdeveloped at present, and it could be the site for a really exciting new project given the right architect and a developer with the interests of the city in mind. As it fronts on to the beautiful streetscape composition of the Chinese Masonic Temple and the courtyard of the U Boutique Hotel, there are some fantastic vantage points in the building that could be taken care of. At present though, it appears (through my really hasty, unscientific mock-ups) that the courtyard is not recognised at all, and instead of taking advantage of the situation of the Heritage building / streetscape to its north, the proposed building just seems to present a flat, bland, boring facade to the sunshine and fresh air at that point, while simultaneously asking the many small one-bedroom apartments to look out into a blank metre-wide void to the next solid wall.
This is really bad architecture and it creates an abysmal streetscape. The developer is asking for an extension to an extension to a Resource Consent that is now completely dead. The building is a tired, awful proposal that does not fit at all into the surroundings. We can do better. Our City deserves better. The Urban Design department at Council should demand better. Downtown Developments can do better. And the (nameless) architect MUST do better.