Building rumours 7: Piermont
Unlike most of my previous "building rumours" posts, in this one I'll be sharing some gossip rather than asking for it. The Piermont apartment development on the northern half of the current Warehouse site hardly counts as a rumour anymore, given its sudden publicity blitz this weekend, but it's hard to get the full story without visiting the display suite.
There's only one rendering generally available, but it looks pretty good by comparison with other recent proposals. The detailing is crisp and contemporary, and there are enough angles to suggest that it's not just another "envelope-filling" cuboid. Of course, they've carefully selected the most interesting corner (the northeast) and a dramatic angle, and the model shows that the development as a whole won't be quite as exciting. The north (Cable St) elevation will be nicely animated by a deeply serrated facade, but the eastern (Tory St) elevation will be a more conventional grey wall apart from a few small balconies. Nevertheless, the whole building gives an impression of quality, as befits the fairly desirable location.
How will it fit into the urban context? At nine storeys it seems pretty high for what is, after all, still supposed to be the "low city", but with a context that includes the Museum Hotel apartments, Te Papa and the new Portal apartments, it doesn't seem too dominant. With the exception of Tory St, it's got some big wide-open spaces to contend with, and there are no small-scale historic buildings or important public spaces that will be overshadowed. Here's a shot from Waitangi Park, and to give you some impression of scale, the new building will be just a shade shorter than the black Museum Hotel apartments on the left.
"Piermont" itself will only take up the northern half of the Warehouse site, but here's where "the full story" comes in. The model in the display suite also shows a blank white building on the southern (Wakefield St) side, and at first I assumed this was just to show what could conceivably be built next door. But the estate agent told me that this was indeed another new apartment building by the same developers, and that it had already received consent. It will consist of 1- and 2-bedroom apartments, and will be aimed at "a different market" (i.e. those who can't afford harbour views). Once there's (non-bulk) retail and verandahs around all three sides of this site, it will go a long way towards rehabilitating a block that I've often said is long-overdue for improvement.
It's worth considering how these buildings would have fared under the new Central Area Rules, which as far as I'm aware, are still to come into force. In particular, buildings will only be able to use 75% of the volume defined by maximum height multiplied by plot area, and as I wrote somewhat hopefully back in September, that might encourage some more interesting and creative building shapes.
While Piermont uses some of the available volume for light wells and a token courtyard, by my rough calculations it still uses well over 80% for building mass. It's hard to tell from what is obviously just a preliminary model, but the second stage seemed to use all of its volume, so the combined development looks like it would have struggled if it had been proposed under the new rules. At least the decision to design two separate buildings, and to treat the two elevations of the first building differently, should stop the result looking too monolithic. But I still think that the new rules would encourage more use of setbacks, and perhaps a lower edge to the narrow Tory St, and thus a better urban outcome.
But the question that I know some of you must be asking is: what's happening to The Warehouse? According to staff there, there's definitely going to be another inner-city site, but the management can't tell them where yet. Wherever it is, I'm dearly hoping that the company will break with the "red shed" typology and respond to the inner Wellington context by incorporating it as the ground floor of a multi-storey mixed-used building, but that's probably asking for too much. As always, any rumours or hearsay will be gratefully accepted.