Building rumours 11: Serepisos Towers?
The sports pages of the Dominion Post are not the most obvious source of urban development rumours, but there was an interesting titbit tucked away in Saturday's profile of Terry Serepisos, property tycoon, man-about-town and brand new owner of the Wellington Bees/Southerlies/Fever/Whatever. Among the usual breathless enumeration of the clothes, the cars and the parties, there was a reference to his desire to leave a legacy in Wellington, beyond his recent excursions into sports sponsorship. He wants to build Wellington's tallest building.
Now that's going to get the boys (and it is mostly boys) over at SkyscraperCity really drooling! And I'd agree that Wellington could do with a couple of properly tall buildings in the right places, since our density, urbanity and rugged topography almost demand it. But I have to wonder: is Serepisos the developer we want doing this?
The fact that he wants the building to make a statement could be a good thing, since that should translate into a desire to build something truly spectacular, rather than merely delivering as many rental square metres as the planners and engineers will allow. But his track record is more than a little worrying, and the fact that he seriously considers travesties like the Renaissance Apartments (that cheapened the old Te Aro BNZ) and 332 The Quay (that squats drably on the what was once a classic Art Deco mini-skyscraper) to have "chang[ed] the city for the better" would be laughable if it weren't so damned frightening.
At least you can't accuse him of developing boring buildings. While the later stages of the Century City development on Tory St and the "explosion in a bling factory" planned for Dixon and Victoria streets may be the visual equivalent of a hyperactive kid force-fed with food colouring and party pills, at least they're not the grey envelope-filling cuboids currently being extruded all over Taranaki St like so many rectilinear turds. I've heard some architects blame him for single-handedly ruining Roger Walker, and as much as I admire some of Walker's work, I don't think his style and design processes scale up well.
In fact, and I hope none of my architect friends take offence at this, I can't really think of any New Zealand architects that I could imagine designing a truly exciting 40-50 storey skyscraper. It's not that there's a lack of talent: it's just that local budgets and a short-sighted development ethos have crushed any flair or daring that might emerge in big projects, and it's hard to name many recent buildings over a few storeys in height that even aspire to anything beyond mediocrity. Studio Pacific are doing some interesting things, it would be intriguing to speculate about what Architecture Workshop could do at that scale, and I'd love to see Ath being given free reign on something really huge. But no-one local has been given a chance to develop a track record of really exciting tall buildings along the lines of Aurora Place or the Gherkin.
I haven't heard of any serious planning going on, and rather than a real project this may be a long-term ambition that may take decades to get going. Nevertheless, it's great that a property developer wants to be remembered for something more than a quick turnaround and perhaps a Master Builders' award. If Serepisos seriously wants to leave a positive legacy in this city, I hope that he bears in mind that a skyscraper is going to be around for a good deal longer than this week's House of Hank shirt.