Building rumours 20: The Victoria Quarter
There hasn't been much publicity about this, but it could be one of the biggest developments, residential or otherwise, to hit Wellington in a long time.
It's called the "Victoria Quarter", and it's planned to take up all of the large vacant site that currently hosts the Sunday market, bordered by Victoria, Vivian and Willis streets. There's a bit more information on this property website, and larger pictures on this one. It's essentially an apartment development, though with retail on the ground floors. As I wrote earlier, this is already one of the most densely populated parts of Wellington, and this project will add several hundred apartments to the block.
At ten or eleven storeys, it could seem rather massive, but in this context the height might not be inappropriate, given the taller Unicomm building to the north and the relatively wide streets around it. It could be seen more as a bookend to the high city stretching up Willis and Victoria streets than as an intrusion into the low city proper, which tends to be further to the south and east. It's also designed as a cluster of different buildings, with the southwest and southeast corners marked by colour and curves respectively, and each of the individual buildings has a reasonably deep and varied façade. While it's a lot of construction to happen all in one go, all of the above features mean that it will end up looking less like a monolith and more like a city block that has evolved over time.
It looks even better when you compare it to the original massing concepts mooted for the site, such as this "Wellington International Student Centre":
That was presumably just a real estate exercise to see what could be wrung out of the planning rules, but even so, it was a particularly dire throwback to 60s housing estate planning: five anonymous slabs arranged haphazardly through the site, leaving drab fragments of useless leftover space. The current scheme seems like an admirably urban alternative, since it pushes all the mass to the boundaries, helping define the streets around it while leaving space for what could conceivably be a useful courtyard.
Courtyard developments aren't common at this scale (there are more precedents at 4-6 storeys), and I get the feeling that the bright sunlit space shown in the renders is rather optimistic. Nevertheless, it appears to be intended as a public space, with wide enough entrances to make it inviting as a shortcut. It might also be a solution to what I see as the one real possible downside of this development: the loss of the popular market. The landscaping shown in the render may take up too much of the flat space, but otherwise it might still be possible to hold Sunday markets in the courtyard. With the surrounding retail spaces fronting on to both the courtyard and the street, they could attract the sort of businesses (e.g. butchers, delis, speciality stores) that could complement the mostly vegetable-focussed market. It would be good to see the final version explicitly designed for this purpose.