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

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Urban Eye: Willis Street Village

A quiet (sub)urban village in the CBD.

Urbanism +3
This certainly has diversity (shops, offices, apartments) and a modicum of compactness, and its adaptibility has been proven over the years (at one stage there was a nightclub on the first floor). It's not well connected, as it's essentially a cul-de-sac, with just a small passageway through to a carpark to the north. This is difficult to avoid, though, given that it presses up against a steep bank, with little to connect to.

It's interesting to compare this to the Left Bank, which seems to be an updating of a similar typology. This is much more modest in scale and ambition, and seems to aim at quaint respectability rather than bohemian vitality. Part of this might be inevitable given the location, as it's not going to pull in the foot traffic of a thoroughfare. Instead, it's made a virtue of quietness, and while it's not exactly lively, it has become a well-used little oasis.

I can't recommend this as a model for urban development, as an entire city of these would be too sparse and very boring. However, it makes a nice contrast to the rest of the city, providing a tranquil escape for those who tire of the high-rise bustle of the CBD.

Aesthetics +1
Undeniably charming, but definitely a product of its time. It bears some of Roger Walker's hallmarks from the era (multiple steeply-pitched roofs, quirky window shapes), but is nowhere near as daring as his best work. The scale and pseudo-colonial detailing seem to take the "village" part of the name a little too literally for my taste, and it feels as if it belongs in Kelburn rather than the CBD. Having said that, the human scale and greenery make this a pleasant place to be, and it seems to have settled quite comfortably into a "70's kitsch" feeling.

Environment +1
It looks quite green and pleasant, but manages to do that with very little planting. Apart from its pedestrian-friendliness and mixture of uses, there are few environmental initiatives here.

Social +3
The shops are independent, and the cafés are inexpensive, making this approachable for people on a wide range of incomes. The apartments on the upper floors provide short-let accommodation, which is not conducive to community spirit, but they're not as expensive as others in the city.


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