Arguably, the brand new building on Site 9 at Kumutoto, leased out to lawyers Bell Gully and others, will be the last ever new building constructed on the waterfront. This marks a huge milestone therefore – it is, I think, the last building site identified on the Waterfront Framework. Site 7 became home to what is now the Meridian building, site 6 was presumably the site of the Union Steamship relocation (Foxglove etc), site 10 was the large groundscraper site where PWC sits now, site 8 was sacrificed for more outdoor eating and drinking, and this one, site 9 as it was known for many years, has completed the building of the waterfront. Some 22 years after the city debated the Variation 17 Plan Change that so excited the Waterfront Watch brigade, back when Rosamund was a young woman and when Lindsay’s moustache was not yet pure white, we can at last ask ourselves as a city: is the city a better place with these buildings in situ? or would it really have been better off with greened grass and planting all along the Waterfront – or even staying with the 532 car parks that used to occupy these lands?
This building is of course the product of Athfield Architects, as was the building for PWC nearby, and I’d venture that it is by the same team of architects within their office. It is certainly the same set of Developers, Willis Bond, and I think also the same set of builders, LT McGuiness, possibly even the same set of engineers Dunning Thornton? Well done to all involved – a quality development to be occupied by some elite tenants. It bears a familial resemblance, an Athfield version of Modernism involving a curtain wall system of panels either fully glazed or fully solid, with what looks like concrete (although it undoubtedly isn’t concrete) and a series of occasional expressed shading fins. We can see that there is a glass balustrade up top in the picture below, set for brilliant Friday nights drinks parties that you and I will never get invited to.
The South elevation (above) shows how plain the building is – am I allowed to say “plain and boring” ? From this viewpoint it really is rather ordinary, but maybe that is a good thing, as the other end is undertaking more enjoyable gymnastics, where for some reason (unknown) there is a small part of the building that is suspended in mid-air, hanging off some steel rods so you can walk underneath (once the Portaloos go, which they probably already have done). I took these photos last weekend so they are probably out of date already. There is a sculpture that is probably firmly nailed in place by now – not sure who by, but a set of giant timber nails have been whacked into the soil. Signifying what? Surely not an allegorical reference to the engineers love of soil nailing?
East facade of the building overlooks the bridge and the cutout, and we can just see that the building is actually five storeys in total (from memory, the original masterplan called out for a building between 4-6 storeys tall). But, cleverly, and taking a call from the Meridian building opposite, the ground floor is set back and so is the roof, giving the impression of a three storey building floating above the ground floor retail. For some bizarre reason, there is a jeweller shop included in the retail mix – despite the ground floor of these buildings all meant to be hospo – people going for a walk after work or at lunchtime being more likely to need food and beverage, rather than a chunky diamond ring.
As can be seen from the picture above, the sun is not being blocked much by this 5 storey building, but instead the next row back, of 12-14 storey buildings on the other side of Customhouse Quay, are the ones that truly take the sunshine out of our lives.
The Floating corner has me a bit puzzled, although I like it. It is the absolute highlight of the building (which is, otherwise, a bit bland and dull and nonsensical, with shading louvres the same size and orientation on all 4 sides), but the Floater has no shading, and is the only part that completely faces north and will get all day sun to the extent that anyone gets sun round here. Is it planned as a series of sauna perhaps? Will the public be exposed to various naked lawyers being slowly spit-roasted to gain an all-over tan in these projecting glass boxes? It is a shame to make a perfect glass box and then have to sit in there with the blinds down all day. Literally: watch this space.
Disguised in the soffit shown here is the actual structural marvel of the building: this building is base isolated, like the PWC monster nearby, but instead of building a basement as they did at PWC and then filling it with base isolators, this Bell Gully building has chosen a more interesting and exciting path – there is NO basement here – and the base isolators are sitting on top of short columns directly fixed to the piles. If you are here during a big quake, perhaps buying your loved one a pair of diamond mittens to withstand the cold wind that races by this corner, look up! What should be happening, as you fall over amongst the glass cases filled with diamanté is that the building above will be wobbling to a different rhythm, slower than you. It has been very cleverly disguised in the soffit – most people will be blissfully unaware of this joint. The great thing is that the pedestrian public will gain a protected walkway in the case of rain,
Suspended glass box may or may not remain with blinds drawn up – it will be a shame if the rich tenants within draw their curtains. I haven’t quite figured out yet why the Athfield team have made this corner so exciting and wonderfully impractical, when the rest of the building is so much urban wallpaper.
Here in the background, seemingly of the same height, is the new Jasmax-designed HQ for BNZ, who seem to have made a habit of building new headquarters and then moving on. How many HQ have BNZ had in Wellington now? If we count the Old Bank buildings as the first three, then there was the big black beast of the 1970s at number four, then the ill-fated ground-hugging double-atrium HQ of the early 2000s also by Jasmax, gone fairly recently, was number five – and now this new slick silver wedge of shiny wrapping, like a Lurpak butter fresh from the fridge and swiftly coming to completion at position number six.
Entrance to the Bell is so confident of the power of the base isolation that they have even gone for in-situ brickwork, resplendent here next to a shiny white column. I guess that we can surmise that the grey soffit hides the line where the building will move. If we peek inside the building, which luckily at present has no ceiling hiding the base isolators, we can see these stonking big columns – way bigger than be needed for a small building like this – with the black rubber/steel/lead isolators on top. We can also just make out the services pipework having to do some delicate jiggling about in the rare occasion of the inevitable big quake one day. I guess that we should just be thankful if we never see this all in action, although a part of me would really like to see it explode into action – although if that day comes, we’ll probably all be homeless or dead. The base isolation of this small building now brings Wellington’s total of base isolated buildings to something like ten buildings in total – not many. Many more to come, I’m sure!
Base isolation not considered for these two Sheds of course, but both have been seismically strengthened – I’ve always loved the richness of the brickwork detailing on Shed 11 and Shed 13 – the strengthening of Shed 13 (Mojo coffee roasting) being so much more clever and unobtrusive than the earlier strengthening of Shed 11. Regardless, the exterior of both is still exquisite.