Wellington’s apartment / property market continues on at (almost) full pace. Perhaps there is no reason for Kiwis to be so pessimistic in their outlook after all – there may be a global credit crunch, but evidently Wellington is doing just fine. OK, so we all have heard that the Auckland apartment market has tanked in a big way, but then again: if you allow hectares of bland unexciting crap to be built, you should expect to reap what you sow. However, Wellington seems to have better architects, better control over what the end result looks like, better planned developments – why, the outlook is positively rosy! And what better way to show your confidence than to demolish your existing building? In the past fortnight two of Wellington’s apartment projects have made a bold start by demolishing the existing building, which is a fairly confident way of saying that the new building is going to go ahead.

i074demo.jpg  Blam! The first of them to fall under the demolition ball is the site for the so-called Soho apartments, a proposed high-rise complex of medium quality flats next to Les Mills in Taranaki St. The marketing of this building has been curious: there has been little mention of the architect, the showroom was hardly ever open, they were marketed heavily overseas before selling here, and the mere fact that they are calling them the “Soho” apartments gets me riled up anyway.The sign of a desperate developer perhaps – we’ve already noted the unfortunately named Barrio apartments nearby. But it is not just the name: this development is nothing like Soho, either in the London (original) Soho or the much later New York SoHo (from South of Houston St).  Soho in London is typically 4 stories tall, sometimes 6 at the most, with narrow streets filled with restaurants and gay young things. SoHo in New York is much the same – slightly taller by a floor or two, with the occasional tall mega-expensive Trump monstrosity thrown in for good measure. SoHo (big H means the New York one) was also famous for industrial warehousing, and later the use of ground-breaking work in cast iron – Wikipedia notes:

“Thus, the once somber, gas-lit interiors of the industrial district were flooded with sunlight through the newly enlarged windows. The strength of the cast iron permitted high ceilings with sleek supporting columns, and interiors became more expansive and functional.”  

sohotaranaki.jpg  But here? This is a tall, 16 storey series of three combined towers, providing small apartments at inflated prices, and will be smack in the middle of it all, almost right next to the pumping rhythmic beats of Les Mills, and the hilarious screaming upside-down fun of the infamous Reverse Bungy (the fantastic story is that would-be bungeers have to be muzzled by day, although they can scream freely at night – is this Really True or just an urban myth?).  Sixteen stories of small apartments seems somewhat wrong, will completely ruin the atmosphere and resale value of the Egmont St apartments behind, and the possibility of a colony of bohemian artists living in these new apartments sounds far from any likely reality. Well, even if the architecture is nothing like Soho or SoHo, at least the feeling of being in the middle of it all is correct – just a stone throw from the young petrolheads and screaming blondes of Courtenay Place should be enough to keep anyone from sleeping peacefully on a Saturday night.

 i077demol.jpg  There is a (temporary) fantastic upside to all this though – the demolition of the existing building has unearthed a starkly rendered vision of concrete wall panels, visible only from behind. Take a walk down Egmont St and enjoy it while you can. Sadly however, all that will be out of sight once the silly-named-Soho has started to be built – you can follow their progress on Skyscraper City.i073demom.jpg

Blam Blam! And another one bites the dust. On a different, and somewhat more upmarket front, the long-delayed Watermark apartments look like they may finally have got the green light, with demolition proceeding at pace. Certainly, at least half the site has crumbled fast, even if the other half still contains a fully functional Rialto movie complex. Here the project seems to have got a different marketing technique. The advertising for the Watermark has made no secret of the up-market nature of the building, with comments like a 500mm thick inter-tenancy wall, a lift just for muddy dogs, or the possibility of the Sultan of Brunei coming to stay at your place for a night (oh come on, Do behave!). The Sultan is more likely to stay at his own place than share your sofa, unless he has actually bought one of the penthouse apartments – and he has owned property in NZ before. A boutique Hotel (the Watermark Hotel) is also encapsulated within the building, with rooms as big or bigger than most apartments, and certainly seems luxurious. If you aim at the sky, you might just reach the stars. There is of course another building site that has been cleared for an apartment building, aiming at a very different market than the Watermark. Yes, several months after the Merge Group quickly reduced the former Forest and Bird site to rubble, the site still sits empty, a forlorn wasteland of clay, rubble, security fences and parked cars. Mind you, that may be an improvement on the building actually proposed for the site – the Te Aro Towers project is hardly quality design in anyone’s eyes, although if it ever goes ahead, it will be filling a vital role in providing more medium cost housing for the city. Does the City of Wellington have any way of enforcing that developers actually build, rather than just demolish? Or, as the Architectural Centre says, is fresh air better than some buildings?