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Special status sought for Gordon Wilson flats – important historically and architecturally

gordon wilson flats

Report from RNZ by Harry Lock
Two run-down Wellington social housing apartment blocks are being recommended for Category One Heritage listing. Heritage New Zealand has recommended Gordon Wilson Flats and McLean Flats for the status.

Gordon Wilson Flats already have heritage recognition on Wellington City Council’s district plan, but this would see them added to the national list.

The flats, built between 1957 and 1959, were vacated in the early 2010s, after being identified as potentially earthquake-prone, and in need of remedial work. They are now in a state of disrepair.

Heritage NZ Pouhere Taonga wants to see both the 86-unit Gordon Wilson Flats, and the older, neighbouring 18-unit McLean Flats, given heritage status. In its report, it highlights both buildings for their “outstanding historical significance because of their association with the state housing programme that was initiated by the first Labour government in 1935 and then continued under subsequent administrations.

“They are an expression of the culture of central government provision of social welfare as it evolved through the 20th century.”

Gordon Wilson Flats are particularly unique for as the country’s sole remaining example of 1950s high-rise state housing.

The report also outlined the architectural values, “representative of the embedding of modernist architecture, as a characteristic approach in New Zealand’s mid-20th century public architecture, and together reflect the evolution in style before and after World War II”.

“Sadly both the McLean Flats and Gordon Wilson Flats have been left unkempt and, consequently, have been deteriorating for a number of years, so for many, the first impression is that they are an eye-sore and ugly,” Heritage NZ central region director Dr Jamie Jacobs said.

Both blocks of flats have been purchased by Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka. The Gordon Wilson Flats – named after their architect – was bought in 2014, and the McLean Flats in 2019.

In June 2018, the university lodged an application for the redevelopment of the McLean Flats, although the work has yet to be started.

In July this year, the university announced plans to demolish the Gordon Wilson Flats, and turn the space into a teaching and research facility, as well as an entrance plaza for the Kelburn Campus.

“Exploring opportunities other than demolition are welcomed,” Jacobs said. “Besides the architectural merits as an example of modernism, a refurbished and strengthened Gordon Wilson Flats could continue to be used for accommodation. Hopefully the university’s expressed values and commitments that include finding ‘new solutions to complex issues’ extend beyond demolition.”

The heritage of the buildings was confirmed in a 2017 ruling by the Environment Court, after the university’s plans to redevelop the site was challenged by the Architectural Centre. It successfully argued the Flats’ heritage values merited its inclusion in the Wellington City District plan heritage schedule.

Ben Schrader: Saving the Gordon Wilson Flats

5 comments:

  1. Mark Cubey, 18. September 2020, 10:32

    These are EXACTLY the sort of dwellings we should be encouraging in Wellington. Small apartments with views. Don’t buy into the evil of Victoria, sorry, WELLINGTON University, who just want to trash all of Kelburn with ugly-ass buildings. [via twitter]

     
  2. Kara, 21. September 2020, 8:21

    This is a prime example of an ugly building. Why Heritage NZ would want to give it a level 1 status is beyond me.

     
  3. Traveller, 21. September 2020, 9:16

    Why? The reasons are all in the report.
    Outstanding historical significance because of their association with the state housing programme initiated by the first Labour government in 1935 and continued under subsequent administrations … an expression of the culture of central government provision of social welfare as it evolved through the 20th century … unique as the country’s sole remaining example of 1950s high-rise state housing …
    architectural values representative of the embedding of modernist architecture as a characteristic approach in New Zealand’s mid-20th century public architecture ..

     
  4. Brian Dawson, 21. September 2020, 9:31

    I spent a lot of time on council arguing that building guides must be objective. Just because someone doesn’t like the look of it doesn’t make it bad. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” as (for example) the debate around the Gordon Wilson flats shows. [via twitter]

     
  5. Toni, 21. September 2020, 12:59

    Brian you may well argue that building guides should be objective but they should ensure that high rise buildings are designed for the people who will live in them, that there is enough soundproofing and insulation, plenty of natural light and inside space, and green spaces/community areas to create sustainable living environments. This is not happening at the moment.

     

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