Building rumours 18: Willis Central
There have long been rumours about the Airways House site on Willis St, and the site behind it which extends all the way through to the temporary townhouses on Boulcott St. This picture shows these two parcels in red, and some adjoining parcels, that some have suggested might also be involved, in orange. More recently, Moveax at SkyscraperCity spotted some site investigations underway, hinting that development might not be far away. And now, at the bottom of an August press release on a different subject, there's this statement:
Meanwhile, The Wellington Company was working on a feasibility plan for a 4000sq m "mega site" to be called Willis Central. The plan was for a mix of apartments, offices and retail big enough to spend a day in, [Ian Cassels] said.Searching further afield, I came across this article from NZ Construction News that makes it sound like much more than a "feasibility plan":
Ian Cassels, proprietor of The Wellington Company vows to create a new centerpiece building for the capital ... he has more than just words and concepts to offer. He has the two frontage site safely in his hands in order to build his new alternative civic epicentre.Vertical villages? Helipads?! Holy city of the future, Batman! All that's missing is a monorail and a spaceport.
As Australasia's first inner city vertical village it will comprise apartments, offices, recreational space, in fact everything that anyone might normally find in a community. One feature not normally found in villages, though, will be a helipad.
I shouldn't be quite so cynical. In some ways, all that a "vertical village" means is a mixed-use highrise, and such things have been around for decades (Chicago's John Hancock Centre is a classic example). I'm always a bit uneasy with statements about residents "never having to leave the building": mixed use is fantastic, but I'd rather it was distributed around the streets a little so that the coming and going can enliven the public realm, rather than restricting it all to a single hermetic building. And while it's good to hear statements about minimising car parks to encourage car-free living, it won't take too many helicopter rides to blow one's carbon budget for the year: hardly consistent with The Wellington Company's otherwise admirable environmental record.
It's certainly a suitable site for a high rise (much more so than some other contentious locations), and I'm eager to find out how tall it will be and what it will look like. I'm pretty sure that this old image was only ever intended as a massing concept for sales purposes and has nothing to do with the current proposal. In fact, the logo at the top is a strong hint that this was an attempt to keep the BNZ HQ in a downtown office rather than heading out to Harbour Quays. What it does show is the potential for a very tall building (by Wellington standards), though the effect on the existing heritage buildings at 16-42 Willis St could be major. There aren't many hints in the articles, beyond the facts that it will stretch from Willis to Boulcott St and be "based on the existing Airways House" in some way. In that case, a 4000 sq m development would only require the red area shown earlier, meaning that the adjoining low-rise sites in orange could remain untouched.
The article also says that "it is expected that work is imminent". One thing's for certain: if it in any way approaches the grand claims, it will be a hugely significant development.