Wellington Scoop

The heritage of the Quay – real, or fake?

Total demolition of this heritage building in the CBD? It sounds severe.

But it’s what the owner wants to do. His plan is detailed in a resource consent application that’s now on the city council’s website. It was also the subject of a report in yesterday’s DomPost, in which the owner says he wants to replace the 84-year-old Harcourts Building with a lightweight replica facade in front of a new 25-storey tower.

The 1928 building is on the corner of Grey Street and Lambton Quay. The Historic Places Trust has given it their top number one heritage category. The council’s register of significant buildings describes it as:

Aesthetically significant for its bold, sculptural facade, a crucial element in the Lambton Quay streetscape, and perhaps the best example in the city of the Chicago style. The building is in remarkably authentic condition, both outside and in significant interior spaces.

It’s also listed as an earthquake risk.

“It’s all very well for people to say the building should be preserved, but who pays?” says the owner and developer Mark Dunajtschik. The Historic Place Trust’s general manager says there are better alternatives for the facade than to re-create it in polystyrene which “can very quickly get chipped away.”

Earlier this year, a consultant for Mr Dunajtschik said: “One thing that’s very important to people is that old buildings don’t fall on them. We have proposed a solution that will satisfy the public needs and Mr Dunajtschik’s need to have a viable building, and there will be one less building in Lambton Quay that will land on the public on the footpath … where the carnage could be horrific.”

So if the owner gets what he wants, the look of Lambton Quay would not change – well, except for the tower and the fake facade.

Only one block away, there’s a better example of a building owner doing the right thing in the best interests of the city – the old DIC department store which is now called the Harbour City Centre. Like the Harcourts Building, it’s been on the Quay since 1928, and it sets an example which shows that Mr Dunajtschik does have other options. The handsome original facade has been impeccably restored (not demolished), without the need for polystyrene. And the building has twice been strengthened against earthquakes. Its ground floor interior has been successfully redeveloped too, with the high ceilings kept visible at the same time as mezzanine areas were added.

The re-strengthened building is such a success that Contact Energy is doubling the amount of office space which it leases. There’ll only be one loss. After two floors of small businesses have moved out, the original 1920s corridors and doors and safes will be replaced by a modern fitout, to suit the contemporary needs of Contact. Some of us will miss the old fittings and the incomprehensible numbering on each door. But it would have been a far greater loss for Lambton Quay if the entire building had been demolished. And it would be a great loss for the character of the Quay if the Harcourt’s Building is pulled down.

Maximus says:
Demolition would be a disgrace for Wellington

Significance of Harcourts Building (originally the T&G Building

The seismic strengthening of the Harbour City Centre

Photos: Wellington City Council


  1. Ellie, 3. October 2012, 15:29

    Sad, very sad.
    The largest number of people killed in Christchurch were in a modern building .
    Carnage on the street, what about all the glass about, that could bury the street in several feet of crumbled glass, and make them impassable. Wouldn’t like to be under that.

  2. John Clarke, 3. October 2012, 17:30

    My opinion is that Mark Dunajtschik is running a high-risk speculation attempt that bets on being able to demolish the Harcourts building.

    It’s been obvious since day one that the building was a potential earthquake risk; it was built in the 1920s in the middle of an earthquake zone, so even the most casual observer would realise that some kind of earthquake strengthening would probably be required. And a casual observer would expect that they would have factored that cost into the price they were prepared to pay for the building.

    So Mr Dunajtschik’s apparent realisation that the costs are somehow unexpected or unreasonable simply doesn’t ring true to me. He seems like a professional developer – professional enough to plan and fund a 25-storey office block – so he was presumably smart enough to do an engineering assessment of the property before he spent millions of dollars buying it. And that assessment would presumably have shown that strengthening work was required, which would come at a significant cost.

    It seems more likely that – being a smart man – he was fully aware of the implications of the building when he bought it, and that the intended demolition was always on the cards – which is the only scenario where paying too much for the building based on its rental return and likely upgrading costs would make sense.

    So to my cynical eye, this looks like an attempt to make a very handsome speculator’s margin whilst playing the “it’s all very well for people to say the building should be preserved, but who pays?” earthquake strengthening card.

  3. traveller, 3. October 2012, 21:32

    Doesn’t Mr D have any awareness of why the Golden Mile is so successful – this is in large part due to the elegant old buildings which have survived demolition and which set a standard for the streetscape and provide some visual evidence of our city’s past.

  4. Kent Duston, 3. October 2012, 22:00

    Traveller – Dunajtschik clearly doesn’t have any interest in what succeeds or fails for the city as a whole; he’s only interested in making money for himself. And in his words, you’re a “looney leftie” and a “fruitcake” for suggesting he should take it into account.

  5. Rosamund, 25. October 2012, 12:53

    This splendid Art Deco building is in one of the last enclaves of heritage buildings on Lambton Quay. Read more about them in the excellent David Kernohan book ‘Wellington’s Old Buildings’ [1994].

    Surely preserving our heritage should have priority over any commercial imperative. Our Minister of NZHPT (Chris Finlayson) should be urged to ensure that funds are available to strengthen historic buildings like the ex T & G bldg.

    In ChCh the majority of fallen, rather than felled (demolished) buildings have been post 1980.

    Destroying our historic heritage ” old dungers” is shameful and the excuse of buildings being earthquake prone or at risk from tsunami and flooding is greatly exaggerated to pander to the insecurities of the many to the benefit of few.

    Visitors discover our heritage buildings and delightedly photograph them; not the more recent “modular” characterless abominations like the Telecom Building, the tin boxes off Wigan Street or the prison blocks by Tennyson Street.

    Where are our Calatravas creating open curved buildings fitting into the environment?