Building rumours 15: Forest and Turd
Thanks to DeepRed for pointing this out: the so-called "Te Aro Towers" on the former Forest & Bird site on the corner of Taranaki and Wigan streets.
Oh god. I'd been forewarned of its awfulness, but with higher-res images now available it looks worse than I expected. It really doesn't make it easy to promote high density urban living when unimaginative crap like this is what the market provides. I'm all for greater density, and not averse to the odd tall apartment tower, but this is a bad building in the wrong place.
The use of retail on the ground floor is good, and there are some half-hearted attempts to vary the façade in the bottom six storeys. If they' stopped there, the results might have been half-decent, and even though the architecture is banal its urbanist virtues might have made up for it. But they've continued by repeating exactly the same floor all the way to thirteen storeys, resulting in two "towers" that neither fit in graciously nor soar gracefully, but loom balefully over what could and should be one of Wellington's most important streets.
The question that has to be asked is: how the hell did they get away with thirteen storeys in this part of Te Aro? The height limit here is supposed to be 27m, and while it was always naive to believe that this would equate to six storeys as the guidelines suggested (a floor-to-ceiling height of 4.5m is very generous), anything over 10 storeys would surely have to breach the plan. Either these apartments will have a 2m stud, and they're aiming at the hitherto-unexploited Oompa-Loompa market, or the developers have the council well under control.
There are supposed to be dispensations for buildings of exceptional design quality, but this doesn't even aspire to mediocrity. The world's greatest architects would struggle to produce something beautiful given that basic mass, but it looks like our old friends at ArcHaus haven't even tried. The real estate site and home page for the development laughably claim that "this building brings a significant design and style element to the Te Aro district", but I can't believe that they even believe that themselves.
Even ten storeys, while legal, would not be what I would think is ideal for Te Aro. Not only is six or seven storeys more like the norm for human-scaled mixed-use and residential urban areas around the world, it's much easier to achieve spatial interest and variety at that scale. For instance, even by taking the fairly poor design of the lower storeys of this development as a starting point, notice how much more humane and detailed it would look if it stopped at seven storeys:
That provides much less residential density, but there are still many hectares of Te Aro that are wasted on car parking, bulk retail and car sales yards. How much better it would be to develop all that poorly-used land to a similar height, while still allowing the odd tall and slender tower near the middle of large blocks or closer to the "high city". It is possible to significantly increase the residential population of Te Aro while retaining the elements that make it special, and without ugly, cynical developments like this.
Of course, I'm thinking like an urbanist rather than like a property developer. But isn't that exactly what the council should be doing?