Playing favourites #5: Umbrella Park apartments
The "Umbrella Park" apartment building at 128 Wakefield St (I'm not sure whether they're officially called that: the umbrella in question has since been moved up to the corner of Cuba and Manners Malls) has to be one of the best purpose-built residential blocks in the city. I love it for the way it fits in with its neighbour: not by imitating its style, detailing & materials, but by following its pattern of solids and voids to define inset balconies, then riffing on them to project a daringly airy stack of decks. A verandah and glass stairwell stick out at jaunty angles, as if the building can't quite resist breaking out of the strictness of the city grid.
Slate-grey Zincalume and shiny diamond plate, combined with some surprisingly bright green, blue and orange highlights, place it firmly amid the mid-Nineties obsession with industrial chic. But I don't think it's dated so much as of-its-time, and there's nothing wrong with a building expressing the moods and fashions of the era in which it was built. It's not timeless, but timeful.
I have slight reservations about the handling of the first-floor parking: no doubt there's some architectural intent behind the wire mesh and exposed wood, but to my eyes it just looks a bit sloppy and cheap compared to the rest. Felix café has helped turn a pointless and exposed "open space" into a lively urban corner, but the co-option of the sheltered colonnade as a smoking area has nibbled away at the public realm. Otherwise, it's an exemplary mixed-use inner-city building: tough yet playful, individual yet contextual.