Playing favourites #10: Jellicoe Towers
Following on from their list of Wellington's worst buildings, the Architectural Centre are planning a similar list of the city's best building, and they have a list of nominations and the beginnings of a discussion over on their new blog. I thought I'd add my own suggestions here, in the form of a countdown of my ten favourite buildings.
Note that I said "favourite" rather than "best", partly because I don't feel qualified to make such absolute judgements, and partly because these aren't necessarily the buildings that I think would be the best according to any rigorous analysis. They're simply the buildings that make me smile or look twice, that make me think or that simply add a bit of grace, excitement or good neighbourliness to the city. And they are very much in the city: I do have some favourite buildings outside the CBD (such as the Chapel of Futuna), but these choices reflect both my greater familiarity with the inner city and my interest in the way that buildings fit in to the urban environment.
They're also all post-WWII buildings, which was a conscious decision. Everything on the list of shame was built in the last 10-15 years, and I considered the same restriction, but too many of my favourites were from the Modernist and Brutalist periods.
My number ten choice is definitely from that era, though it's debatable whether it really counts as Brutalist. Jellicoe Towers at 189 The Terrace was one of the earliest high-rise apartment buildings in Wellington, and is still one of the most striking. That's not due to its detailing or materials, and while its dark horizontal ribs and textured concrete have their own appeal to purists, the truth is that if it were half the height or twice the width it would be unremarkable at best.
No, it's the daring proportions that make it so eyecatching and even elegant. Rosemary Howell put it well when she wrote that "its exceptionally slender design was an attempt to minimise its visual intrusiveness, and yet it is precisely this which makes it such a spectacle on the Wellington skyline".
There's a lesson in that for today's high-rises: efforts to limit the visual impact of buildings by restricting their height often result in a worse aesthetic outcome for the city, and Wellington has more than its share of stumpy, bulky failed skyscrapers. There are, of course, parts of the city where a low- to mid-rise streetscape is more appropriate, but when we do decide to build high, we should have the courage to let that height express itself to the full.