Wellington Scoop

Brutal by design, brutal by decision


by Diane Calvert
The irony is not lost. Karori Campus (the old Teachers College) is among the best examples of the “Brutalist” style of architecture in New Zealand. To some people this type of building may well seem austere and cold. To some of us it is just like the decisions now being made on its future.

The current owners of the campus, Victoria University, publicly advised a year ago that they were considering disposing of the site. In September they finalised that decision and gave a three month deadline (subsequently extended three months after the earthquake) to central and local government, to identify what was required to be retained as “public works”. This is part of the formal process before the land can be offered back to previous owners and/ or sold on the open market.

The Council and the Ministry’s needs for public works are limited under legislation – some space for pool parking, tennis/netball courts facilities and some bare land for a future technology hub. No other crown agency put their hand up showing any interest. However the local community and the wider city certainly does have an interest – past, present and future.

Last week, Wellington city councillors publicly criticised the university’s handling of the situation. Victoria University’s vice Chancellor-Grant Guilford hit back saying ‘If Councillors had done their due diligence, there might be more informed debate”. I have some sympathy for Professor Guildford’s comments. However there are always two sides to a story.

The University did decide to dispose of the property shortly after ownership was transferred to them. The University maintained the buildings over a number of years. However they had free use of them and in my mind this is what I’d classify as ‘rent’. The Council offered to work with the University and the Ministry on a “masterplan” for the site to maximise benefits for all. This was rejected by the University.

Those “brutal buildings”, if not repurposed, will take some knocking down. So much so that the cost of doing so is probably close to the actual value of the land.

The Karori community is now rightly concerned that well-used community facilities will be lost. Part of the problem I believe is we all been following the “process” in an orderly but rather bureaucratic manner. We have also only viewed this as a local community matter when, if we think of the potential benefits to our city’s economy and resilience capability, the issues are much broader.

In my view the process was flawed right from the start when the government allowed the Campus to be transferred for $10 without any future conditions for its use. The situation that both the local community and city now faces is real with the loss of a wonderful set of facilities (large hall, catering area, office space and creative spaces) because we’re insisting on following the ‘process’.

This should not just be a concern to Wellington city ratepayers. New Zealand taxpayers funded the campus so the government has responsibility to maximise this investment for public good. And where has central government been on all of this? Grant Robertson, the local Labour MP is doing his best, however Bill English, the Prime Minister (who lives in Karori) and the local National list MP, Paul Foster-Bell have been noticeably silent. Has their silence encouraged the wider Ministry and other government agencies to show no interest either?

Wellington already has a shortage of office space in its CBD. Another major earthquake aftershock would have significant consequences. The Karori Campus (only 15 minutes away from the CBD) is approximately 100% to code. The university offered the campus for office space after the earthquake. No government agency took them up on the offer.

So what next? We need to start viewing this issue from a Wellington city perspective and take back control from the dictated process. We need the Government to step up and take a lead, as it was their agencies that brought about this situation in the first place.

Get senior advisors from MBIE, Ministry of Education, Tertiary Education Commission, MSD and NZTA around the table to find an integrated and creative solution. The council needs to be at the table too, along with the Wellington Region Economic Development Agency (WREDA) and local resident and business communities..

The Karori Campus architecture is graceful and elegant. It deserves a graceful and elegant solution fit for the future and not to be brutally destroyed to the detriment of our city.

Diane Calvert is a Wellington City Councillor for Onslow-Western. – Karori is in her ward


  1. Leith Wallace, 20. March 2017, 12:34

    A well-expressed and welcome view of the issue. I hope these suggestions will be followed up.

  2. Ken Wilson, 20. March 2017, 14:56

    And let us not forget Akopai marae – the only marae in this area.

  3. Diane Calvert, 20. March 2017, 15:17

    Ken, I agree and I should have also included this in the article and that local iwi also need to be around the table

  4. PeteS, 20. March 2017, 16:26

    Surely it is a no-brainer – convert it into a new secondary school!

  5. Ben Schrader, 20. March 2017, 16:32

    There is no doubt that the Karori campus is well-suited to mixed-use redevelopment in which the existing (and architecturally striking) buildings could be adaptively re-used. This might include residential, commercial and community facilities. With a bit imagination and goodwill on all sides, the result could be an exemplar for redeveloping Wellington in a denser and resilient way.

  6. Manjit, 20. March 2017, 16:35

    Indeed Diane; why put pressure on the innards of the city and its arteries when space is and can be made available in suburbia. It is time to (also) physically move government to the people.

  7. Dave Waugh, 20. March 2017, 17:06

    Great article thanks. In regard to no Govt Departments taking up the offer of office space post earthquake, I would speculate that a possible reason might well be that they knew Victoria was looking to sell off the site, and didn’t want to move into somewhere that they might be promptly evicted from when sold.

  8. Rochelle Jones, 20. March 2017, 18:11

    Why not use it as an extension of Karori Normal School as a senior campus yr 7-8? The school is bursting at the seams! Used partly like an Intermediate, and being open to northland, wadestown, kelburn etc yr 7-8
    The buses come into Karori empty in the morning, they cd b full of students putting no strain on the roads than what already exists. I don’t feel full primary schools fulfil the needs of our 11 and 12yr olds. We don’t need a secondary school it will DEVALUE your house in Karori.

  9. Diane Calvert, 20. March 2017, 20:11

    PeteS, yes some of us thought the secondary school was a great idea. The Ministry said student numbers over 30 years would not significantly increase to warrant building a new school. However the Ministry are not required to think laterally, imagine the number of less cars on the road heading into the city. Imagine the reduction on public transport. Imagine the additional people in Karori during the day and supporting the local economy. Imagine the other western suburbs being able to access a secondary school close to them. Imagine all those students not being caught in the CBD if a large earthquake hit…..

  10. G McLandtaker, 21. March 2017, 5:31

    This land was taken around WWI for public works.

  11. Ian Apperley, 21. March 2017, 9:14

    “Get senior advisors from MBIE, Ministry of Education, Tertiary Education Commission, MSD and NZTA around the table to find an integrated and creative solution. The council needs to be at the table too, along with the Wellington Region Economic Development Agency (WREDA) and local resident and business communities.”

    While I agree with the sentiment, this approach would guarantee that the entire campus rotted before anything was done. It is impossible to get agencies to work with each other, and throwing WREDA in there would guarantee a failure.

    And, different topic, but we don’t need yet another technology hub. They aren’t working.

  12. Will, 21. March 2017, 9:33

    Councillor Calvert says the Karori Campus is among the best examples of ‘Brutalism’ in New Zealand. This is a nice line, but not one an architecture aficionado would recognise. The campus buildings barely even rate on Wellington’s brutalist radar – the new Post Office building is perhaps Wellington’s stand-out example, with our National Library and the Avalon studios also in contention. The Karori Campus buildings have neither the scale nor the visual disconnect for consideration as proper brutalism.

  13. Mark Shanks, 21. March 2017, 9:39

    Yes Ian the impossibility of agencies to work with each other is the fundamental barrier to all citizen or community based initiatives, soundly based on creative ideas, local knowledge and enterprise. They will not share power or funding, and how many more times do I have to read about collaboration before it actually happens? A good example of vested power is how minor shareholder Horizons Regional Council is holding GWRC and CentrePort to ransom over reconfiguring the port area.

  14. Ben Schrader, 21. March 2017, 13:16

    I think Will might be alone in thinking the Karori campus is not one of the best examples of NZ Brutalism. I note that the New Zealand Institute of Architects awarded the campus its prestigious Silver Medal for stage 1 of the project in 1972. For more info on the campus’s architecture see the Architecture Centre’s piece on it: http://architecture.org.nz/karori-teachers-college/ktc-description-of-the-buildings/

  15. Diane Calvert, 21. March 2017, 14:50

    Ian, yes agree that getting agencies together is a challenge but we have to be up for it. It would certainly assist if our local National politicians demonstrated more leadership on this matter.
    Other than for community and social enterprise use, the buildings have been unoccupied for more than a year now. Even following the current ‘process” they will continue to deteriorate. I’m proposing an alternative stream to run in tandem at a different level. Lets see what gets there first.
    WREDA need to step up on this one. This is something visible we can try and hold them to account for (given that suburbia is not generally in their focus).

  16. Paul Foster-Bell MP, 22. March 2017, 17:05

    Totally disagree that Karori Campus is ‘graceful’ + I haven’t been silent on the issue. It is a concrete shithouse. Backing VUW 100% on this. [via twitter]

  17. A. Paul, 25. March 2017, 14:16

    Nice one Paul, your choice of words speaks volumes. Shuffle along.

  18. Mark, 25. March 2017, 14:27

    Perhaps the WCC could revisit its decision to fund a new Community Centre in Karori (on the old St John’s Church hall site) and instead apply the funds towards acquiring the Teachers College instead (as well as disposing of the St John’s site to also off-set the purchase price). Alternatively, I would have thought if there was the “will”, the parties could have mutually agreed to terminate the contract for sale to the university, or pass legislation to void the transfer?