In an act of architectural brilliance, the Duel on Vivian block of flats opposite the School of Architecture appears to be not only a green building (avocado green, or mushy pea green) with prefabricated external cladding (that I’m sure they will get around to finishing the corners on one day), but also appears to have gone all Richard-Rogers-style High-Tech on us, with the south facade featuring exposed plumbing down over the tiny (curiously random) balconies.
At first I thought the flexible black plumbing pipes must have been a temporary feature, but they’ve been there for weeks – almost months – now, and so I can only presume that they are intended as a type of free-form sculpture to liven up the lives of the poor miscreants inside. We’ve copped flack from a gentle soul at ArcHaus before over our critiquing of a building before it was complete, so I thought I’d given this one a good chance before unloading on it: but really, the quality of this building is far below what should be allowed in our city. While I know that we’re living far away from scrutiny (globally speaking), and don’t have the budget or standards of a major world city, we do have an RMA process that is meant to stop the worst of developer-driven dross, and an aesthetically-aware Council that is expected to raise the bar. Not drop it and run.
It is of course a development from Merge – the first of their developments, and judging by their progress on other sites in town possibly their last. Just over a year ago they knocked down the old Forest and Bird headquarters in nearby Taranaki St, and the site is still bare and uncared for today.
The Forest and Bird building had a polite and well-mannered Art Deco facade, with a great wildlife mural over the entire front: now all we’re left with is a muddy hole with rickety fencing that seems to fall down at least once a week. Mind you, that may be an improvement over the tedious banality of what is proposed: Te Aro Towers. All we can hope for is that the lengthy delays may afford time for a complete redesign.
Merge are a curious crew – fervent disciples of the dodgy property-spruikers RichMastery, at one stage their website claimed that Fran Wilde was on the board, but she appears to have broken free from their ranks, and is now firmly in place at the Great Wellington Regional Council. Lucky escape Fran.
Merge also had great plans for a project in Napier, with a fantastic waterfront site, and an ArcHaus apartment-style response to the site called the BoatHaus (no, I’m not making this up) – but in what I find a rather weak and pathetic move, Merge withdrew from the proposed deal when it became obvious that the Napier City Council was going to publicly notify the project.
If that was indeed their real reason then it was a sad inditement of the respect and trust afforded in the RMA – we’ve said it here before and we’ll say it again: public notification is not a bad thing, and if the quality is there in the design, then it is a good process to go through. Of course, the real reason is more likely to be the collapse of the small town property market – but then again, if the design is awful in the first place then it deserves to die at the hands of the public drubbing it may face.
In the end, it comes down to whether a developer is interested in anything other than their bank balance. Does a ‘property developer’ have any duty to the city, to provide an architectural fabric that we can all be proud of, or does it only exist in order for them to line their pockets? Certainly with the Duel on Vivian the answer seems obvious enough – a cruelly mocking retort to the School of Architecture on the other side of the road.