In the heart of Wellington’s old Chinatown, namely the narrow low-scale neighbourhood of Haining St, there is one of the few trees that are growing in Te Aro, nestling happily in the lee of an also fairly non-descript warehouse building. Until fairly recently the site was the home of a film unit, a student flat, and parking for assorted businesses, until it was sold and resold and eventually ended up in the hands of the property spruikers known as Rich Mastery: organizers of ‘property seminars’ – otherwise known as a way to “get rich quick”. Unfortunately for the majority that sign up, it’s mainly the leaders of this property-mania cult that stand to get rich.
In this case, Steve Goodey of Venture Property Group has assumed the mantle of developer, rechristened the existing building “RichMastery House” for the seminars – which must sound pretty grand until you visit the site and find it is just a retrofitted warehouse. Never mind that it sits amidst a predominantly two storey high neighbourhood, this proposal is for a 10 storey building – and I suspect there is no doubt that they would have gone up further if they thought they could have wangled it through the city council. As it is, the proposal is just tall enough to break the height limit, and yet probably not quite tall enough to force it into a Notified consent.
Yes, this is another ArcHaus proposal in the same tiresome vein of two-for-one “investor apartments”. This one proudly spouts its name as Due Pensione, which is a clever play on words, not just for the Pensione bit (“Cheap Boarding House” in Italian), but also the implication that it is an investment home – in place of a regular pension. The idea is that you buy two tiny apartments as one, and then when times get tough, you can rent the smaller bedroom out (to some homeless dwarf perhaps). With each ‘Due’ apartment pair being about 55-60m2: that would put the larger unit at 35m2 and the smaller at 20m2, if you’re lucky.
Archaus have tried a lot harder here than their nearby rather dull Te Aro Towers, with the project looking almost interesting on the outside with a red racing stripe or two, although it is still the same rabbit warren of rooms inside. Many of these butt up against the boundaries of other sites and thereby almost guarantee some units a lifespan free from those bothersome basic things like light and air. I don’t quite understand how those proposing such buildings have the gall to claim “careful, sympathetic” design, when quite clearly the plan has been to stuff as many of these onto the site as possible, and damn the consequences for anyone having to live inside them.
But there’s a worrying difference when it comes to the portrayal of the building by the architects. On the previous scheme we looked at, Perry Architects had sought to portray the project honestly via a multiplicity of viewpoints, in order to try and persuade the Council that breaking the height limit was an OK thing. Here, however, ArcHaus have avoided any context in plans or perspectives, and are perhaps hoping that no one will notice that the street is a narrow lane with 2 storey buildings on the south side. The proposal above looks glorious in the sun, except that the building faces due south and therefore will get little, if any sun, and the cheery sunny plan above carefully ignores the fact that there are other buildings to the north, hard up against the boundary. More fool then those investors who buy one of the units, only to find it bereft of daylight and unlettable.
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?