WellUrban

Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Monday, April 16, 2007

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.

Jellicoe Towers, 189 The Terrace, WellingtonMy 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.

11 Comments:

At 11:27 pm, April 16, 2007, Anonymous deepred said...

The Majestic manages the same kind of effect on a bigger scale. Even then, was it the building that led to the WCC's height limit policy?

There's a Catch-22 here - in light of the housing shortage in WLG - I'm looking for a flat and experiencing it first hand - the only way left is up. Yet if certain elements of Waterfront Watch had their way, WLG would be forced to grow fatter rather than taller, and even then the belt is on its loosest buckle. They could do worse than to read this little gem from the New Yorker, unless of course, they see neo-Malthusianism as the only option. At the same time, I'm equally, if not more so, irritated by the bulldoze-and-damn-the-torpedoes (pun fully intended) lobby, which in its most extreme form would go as far as making a Maralinga out of the Ureweras.

For the most part I concur about medium-density being ideal for the Cuba 7 Courtenay quarters, and leaving the highest density to the Lambton & Willis quarters. I suppose Thorndon-Pipitea also has potential, and maybe also Oriental Bay & Petone. The council is even contemplating loosening height limits slightly in traditionally low-density areas like J'ville & Kilbirnie.

 
At 11:35 pm, April 16, 2007, Blogger morgue said...

That building terrifies me. It is kind of like the vertical bungee, only with bedrooms.

 
At 11:23 am, April 17, 2007, Blogger Erentz said...

Jellicoe Towers are an interesting pick. I don't mind them, now that I live here I'm used to them, and the skyline has filled out. But when I was younger living up the road I remember I used to look at pictures of Wellington and always thought it was the ugliest eyesore on the skyline. Just an odd recollection.

Deepred, "Yet if certain elements of Waterfront Watch had their way, WLG would be forced to grow fatter rather than taller..."

Are you saying Waterfront Watch are worried about us growing taller in upper Te Aro, SoCo, Mt Cook, etc? I've never heard this before...

Once upon a time some nut case had a proposal to run a flying-fox from the top of the Majestic down to the Duxton Hotel. Now, that would've been cool.

 
At 12:50 pm, April 17, 2007, Anonymous LX said...

Favourite post WWII building? My vote would be on the New Zealand Racing Federation House at corner of Wakefield and Victoria Streets.

Perfect scale, active edges, great detailing with the flowing awning and curved tiled facade. Ahhh I could wax lyrical for hours...

 
At 2:22 pm, April 17, 2007, Anonymous Simon said...

I'm with Lx about the Racing Conference Building, beautiful, and I'm told when it was built it was scorned by the white box brigade

Also worth considering are the apartments at point Jenningham [would they get though planning or residents associations today?...]

The National War memorial...Ok its phallic but it is beautiful. I never appreciated it too much until recently. The fine grain well composed detail and subtle colouring [go have a look!] is fantastic. Never mind the mess in which it is located

At a smaller scale the Gus Watt apartment buildings on Frederick St. Wellington Whimsy at its best. not to mention mid density done well.

And for good measure...Freyberg pool and the bathing pavilion next door...

anyway I could ramble all day

 
At 6:03 pm, April 17, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

"Are you saying Waterfront Watch are worried about us growing taller in upper Te Aro, SoCo, Mt Cook, etc? I've never heard this before..."

Possibly not officially, but certainly many of the individuals in WW do, and WW made a submission on the central area changes opposing discretionary height increases anywhere in the city, not just on the waterfront.

And yes, I've got plenty of other favourites to come...

 
At 9:03 am, April 18, 2007, Anonymous BK said...

I think you deserve the chance to countdown your top 10 before everyone else suggests theirs. So... Ill go for my favourite pre WW2 - I think it was finished during the war - The former MLC building on Lambton Quay. Helped no end by the killer location/aspect. Permantently bathed in golden light and has'nt even been buggered up by conversion.

The version of the same building up here in Auckland is a pale comparison.

 
At 12:38 pm, April 19, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A similar flying fox was in Brunswick...

http://brunswick.comicgenesis.com/d/20021130.html

 
At 2:16 pm, April 19, 2007, Blogger G7 said...

Jellicoe Towers would be in my worst 10, not the top.

It doesn't work in with the surrounding area, it is an eyesore, it looks shonky, and will hopefully collapse in an earthquake.

 
At 2:58 pm, April 19, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Well, it's certainly a matter of taste, and if you don't like modernist highrises then you won't like it at all. I hardly think it looks "shonky", though, and it's lasted through the last 40 years in good condition. It's not the most beautiful apartment block in the world, but even though it's a relatively modest 14 storeys, it's one of the very few Wellington buildings that's actually slender enough to look like a real skyscraper.

 
At 1:13 pm, July 03, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi well I live in Jellico towers and yes love it. Its actually 19 tories one appartment per floor cept for floor 18 which is two floors the engineer who designed it had its foundations sunk one third of its hight into the ground and its still 67% compliant with modern earth quake specs. Thanks Tom
Great choice

 

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