Looking up Vivian St, past the closed down peepshows and the sadly tacky brothels, a new building can be spied on the hill. 


It’s the new student accommodation block called Te Puni, and the neighbours on the hill are in trepidation – apparently 375 horny 18 year olds are inside. Yes, it will be noisy – expect lots of puking in the bushes for the first few weeks, and then they’ll settle down. But I’m more interested in the architecture.

The building is by Architectus, an Auckland based company with offshoots in other towns in NZ and even in Oz – and somehow they pipped the local architects to the post when it came to scoring this job. They’ve got some of the best and most exciting minds at their office, apparently, although so far there does not seem to be that much sign of it going on here. Sadly, as far as looks go, Wellington / Victoria may have got a dud. It looks like it’s a Tectus perhaps, without the Archi. I don’t quite no how to put it, but the building just looks very….  flat.

Very flat.

Look, this is it from afar…  


but as we zoom in closer, we see that its flatness becomes…. even flatter.  

And flatter still. 


Not that there is anything particularly wrong with flat (some of my favourite fish are flat), but it just comes as such a surprise to me after the work that Architectus have done on other campus’ around the country, such as Canterbury, where their building for the Maths and Stats Department was such a beautifully sculptural affair, with wing walls fanning out, all expressed in plain old fairfaced concrete of the highest order. 


But here, obviously, budgets were different. This is not so much a University building, as a Student building, and Victoria’s widely reported budget cuts a few years ago have seemingly left it keen for a simple solution. Like, a flat solution. Besides, who’d want to spend lots of money on students?

There’s no balconies, as the students would just

a) party on them,

b) turn them into an extra bedroom,

c) throw empty bottles off them, and

d) jump off them just prior to exams.

So: the students are locked away, nice and secure, with a small opening window so they can blow cigarette smoke out the window and perhaps even drop small skinny water bombs on the unsuspecting rugby players down below. Yes, that’s correct – the building has sprung up directly from the sidelines of a small rugby pitch halfway up the cliff, and will make an interesting sideline pattern for the players down below.


And the concrete basement foundations should certainly stop them running too fast off the sidelines. When I was last up there, there was little-to-no sign of any landscaping being done around the base of the tower – nor is there much that could be done to soften the blow to the neighbours who wailed loudly as the building steadily took their long-cherished view. Indeed I think, from memory (please correct me if I’m wrong) that the scheme almost ran to a halt during the Resource Consent process, as neighbours complained, and was there a floor or two lost?


However, it had to be: 2007’s failure of one of the private sector’s university accommodation providers meant that the University needed to take back control of the housing situation, and this is the answer. The cladding has been tastefully finished in 3 different shades of terracotta flat panel tiles (such as those used by Renzo Piano to such great effect in Sydney and Europe). Sadly, on such a scale writ large as here, the perfect flatness of the tiles and their equally flat windows is not a pretty sight to see. The Fish is unlikely to be invited in there, unless we suddenly find ourselves on the party invite list to a bunch of horny 18 year olds, so I’m unlikely to ever be able to report on the size and fitout of the many tiny bedrooms, although their website shows them to be tiny. Or even smaller. A monastic cell, perhaps. So if you’re a student in Te Puni, please tell us what it’s like. And tell us just what is behind the 9 little projecting window bays stuck onto the outside, breaking up that otherwise oh-so-studied flatness? 

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