WellUrban

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

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Building rumours 12: The real Serepisos towers?


Correction: it looks like my rumour wasn't quite right. There is still a very tall building planned for this Willis St site, but it looks like it might still be based on the original plans mentioned below. Serepisos is indeed looking seriously at his "tallest building" project, but in Lambton Quay near Cable Car Lane rather than in Willis St. There's still the same worrying suggestion that no professional architects will be involved.

...

It looks like our speculations about possible locations for Terry Serepisos' "tallest building in Wellington" weren't far off, and that his plans are more concrete than I thought. Rumour has it that he is working on an application for 70-80 Willis St, the current site of Lorenzo and Katipo among others.

70-80 Willis St, potential site of Wellington's tallest buildingThis is an interesting piece of news, since within the last few years there have been various reports of a 95m apartment building planned for the site by another developer, Clem Griffiths. That wouldn't have been Wellington's tallest building since the adjacent Majestic Centre is 116m, so I assume that Serepisos' plans are very different from Griffiths'. Given that the District Plan height limit here is 95m, and that the new Central Area rules allow for a building to be 35% taller than that in exceptional cases, this could allow for a 128m-tall building: possibly around 35 storeys.

Since the site is so narrow, this alone would result in a strikingly slender building, one that would really look like a proper skyscraper. However, it's worth bearing in mind that the 35% extra height isn't a right but a discretionary privilege:
"...waivers might be contemplated where a positive heritage or urban design outcome will be achieved. ... Such a policy is considered useful as landmark buildings of design excellence can visually enhance and add further interest to Wellington's cityscape."
Given Serepisos' aesthetic track record, what's the chance of his building exhibiting "design excellence"? I'd love to think that he would hand over the reins to an architectural firm with a reputation for daring residential high-rises (perhaps Fender Katsalidis, since this would be a doddle after the 297m Eureka Tower), and give them the creative freedom to design something truly special. After all, the architects' fees would be a tiny fraction of the cost of a major project like this, and they could make all the difference to how it is perceived by future generations.

Sadly, that looks unlikely, since the gossip suggests that Serepisos has dispensed with the services of an architect altogether, opting instead to use his own internal design team. If he can't see that it takes more than height and bravado to make a great building, it must be up to the council to be very strict in the interpretation of terms such as "design excellence". I'd love to see a real skyscraper in that part of town, but please, for all of our sakes, make it a beautiful one.

20 Comments:

At 9:47 PM, May 03, 2007, Anonymous AdamNZ said...

Do you think it would look good so close to the majestic center?

 
At 10:15 PM, May 03, 2007, Anonymous deepred said...

It wouldn't look too lonely in the rumoured location. At the very least, hopefully Mr Serepisos will keep Roger Walker on board for this one.

 
At 10:22 PM, May 03, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think 16-42 willis st would make a better location.

 
At 10:36 PM, May 03, 2007, Anonymous deepred said...

Oh of course, that expressionless concrete lump above the Grand Arcade.

 
At 8:50 AM, May 04, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

AdamNZ: Yes, I think it's far enough away to stand alone, and its proportions should be very different.

DeepRed: Unfortunately, my spies tell me that while he was originally working with Roger, he is no longer. While I'm not convinced that Walker's style would have been the best choice for a highrise (looking at AW's unbuilt Appple Tower project, they might have been a better choice), surely anything he designed would be ten times better than what an "internal design team" would deliver, especially if that involves no actual architects.

Anon: there may still be another high-rise planned for 16-42 Willis St. There was a rendering from a few years ago of what was presumably being touted as a BNZ HQ before they went for Harbour Quays, but I'm not sure whether there's still anything planned for there.

 
At 9:04 AM, May 04, 2007, Anonymous M-D said...

I see the AW project that you refer to was awarded an 'unbuilt award'. It seems to be a rather nice project from looking at the evocative modelling, but wouldn't it be better to award an unbuilt award to something like this (speaking of Serepisos' projects), which is much more valuable to us in its unbuilt form...

 
At 9:26 AM, May 04, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Yes, I wonder how long that will remain unbuilt? According to the Century City website,

"Resource consent has been granted for this project of 14 storeys, including, retail space of over 2000 square meters with a mix of residential and commercial use on the upper floors. Negotiations are under way with prospective retail tenants on stage one of the project, which includes the car parks."

It's a pretty good example of how Walker's style doesn't work at larger scales (can you imagine 35 storeys of this?!?), though I get the feeling the rendering might not do it any favours. That silvery-blue 80s-style reflective glass might end up more like the blue-green glass of the Wool House extension and Maritime Tower, which might tone it down a bit.

It's funny, really: we complain about boring, boxy buildings, but I'd rather that there were some alternatives that weren't quite so crazy. Something between bland and insane would be wonderful.

 
At 12:35 PM, May 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure the site is big enough for a decent tower thou, there is a lot of "step back" happening in lower willis street, once the 19 story Chews lane block goes in it will be entirely stepped back from hunter (BNZ) to mercer street (the horrid cigna building, that appears to be about to lose its 80s colour scheme) on the east side.

The Majestic tower is set back, and it would be nice to keep that progression occuring,

Whether this would make a small site too small for a Tower, I dont know

 
At 12:49 PM, May 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"internal design team" - makes you wonder. Judging by the utter incompetence that Century City seems to be building their Tory St with, i don't have any faith at all in Terry's ability to desing more than a spikey hairstyle, and even that he gets disastrously wrong.

 
At 12:55 PM, May 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(design, not desing, obviously...)

Actually, i think it is now illegal not to use an architect for large building projects like that. Dep of Building and Housing Design Class 3 or some such bureaucratic nonsense.

But Serepisos moves at such a slow pace with his developments (do Wellington Construction only ever have the same 10 men to build everything of his?) that this project will be years away. Great site though!

What about his other project - in Petone - such a wasteland there, but i fear his proposal will only make it worse....

 
At 7:06 PM, May 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of set backs at all. As long as they don't touch Community House, I'm happy though. Is there anything planned for that low rise retail site across the road (between Mercer and Bond) at any time in the near future?

 
At 10:03 PM, May 04, 2007, Anonymous deepred said...

If you mean the corner of sports shops, none that I'm aware of, but it's practically asking for it.

 
At 8:10 AM, May 05, 2007, Anonymous che tibby said...

century city developments...

like plasterboard toupee on dignified old buildings.

bah.

 
At 6:19 PM, May 05, 2007, Anonymous AdamNZ said...

can someone please tell me what a 'step back' is :P ?

 
At 12:14 AM, May 06, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

step or set back where the main mass of the building is not immediately adjacent to the road.

sort of like the left building below.

___
|
|
| _______
| |
|___| |
|__ __|
_______|___ road __|


if that makes any sense

 
At 12:15 AM, May 06, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow. that really didnt parse well :D

 
At 11:49 AM, May 06, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Yep, I think Blogger's stripping out tabs or something! Anyway, Wikipedia's got a reasonable definition, though in this case we're talking less about a series of Art Deco-style setbacks and more a single "podium and tower" structure. That is, the building can only go to a certain height at the street edge (in this stretch of Willis St this varies between about two and five stories), and beyond that it can only go higher if the tower is several metres back from the street. This allows for both a human-scaled street edge and high density.

I agree that something like that should be mandatory here (though I'm a great fan of the other type of setback here too: something like the Raymond Hood building featured in that link would be fantastic). I haven't heard whether the building footprint will go back further that the parcels I indicated on the map, but it's true that if it doesn't it would be a struggle to get much of a setback and still provide useful floor area at each level.

 
At 10:41 PM, May 06, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious where you get this info from. Like the earlier building rumours about a 20 level building in stout st. Is it you who knows someone, who knows someone who knows someone etc who knows a person working on the project? Is there a website somewhere? Interviews with people? I'm so very curious about the source of these building rumours (if its more concrete than you thought then is it really a rumour? shouldnt that mean its face?)

 
At 11:07 PM, May 06, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

It's a bit more than a rumour in this case, since my source is an insider. I can't be too explicit, since it's not really common knowledge (there's no website that lists applications at this early stage, AFAIK). I'm more convinced of this one than the Stout St one, since the latter was more of an overheard conversation.

I'm sometimes a little reluctant to post based upon mere hearsay, but on the other hand I hope that the commenters could help confirm or scotch the rumour: in that way, the post is more about gathering information than distributing it. In this case, I think there's a reliable enough source to say that Serepisos is very serious about this site, and since it could have a huge impact on the city's skyline, it's worth bringing it to public attention as soon as possible. Maybe public opinion could then help sway the council towards being really strict about "design excellence" criteria (I hope that's not a Tui ad!)

 
At 2:06 PM, July 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am really angry at the wellington city council.if they where realy keen on helping wellington grow they would raise the hight limit to 150m or more.we have stuff all land to build houses and if we dont have more people coming to live in wellington WE WILL NOT GROW.we are know for our inner city (big city feel)and more people living and working in the city will only help that.come on

 

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