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

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Justice at last

Those diligent people over at Skyscraper City have posted a collection of renderings of the new Supreme Court building that I referred to yesterday. Here's one of them:

You can get a glimpse of the spherical wood and copper "free-standing courtroom" in the centre, though it doesn't seem as prominent as it did in the model depicted in yesterday's paper. According to the official press release, the bronze screen that surrounds the upper level "depict[s] the strength, durability and stature of the Pohutukawa and Rata tree". I'm cautiously enthusiastic (if that's not a contradiction in terms) about the design, but want to see more before I make up my mind.

It's a pity that Warren & Mahoney aren't having an open practice as part of Wellington Architecture Week, but next Thursday Alex Couchman, W&M's Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) Principal, will be taking part in a lunchtime discussion called "Can architecture save the planet? Architecture and Climate Change". Given that the building is touted as employing ESD technologies such as displacement ventilation, solar heating and ground source energy exchange, the Supreme Court design could be on the agenda.


At 4:13 pm, September 28, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a funky design for sure! And it's great to see Environmentally Sustainable Design practices being included too.

At 5:11 pm, September 28, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like you Tom I'm 'Cautiously optimistic' and the design may indeed turn out to be stunning.

However that doesn't disguise the fact that for a building of such importance a design competition should have been held. For an institution that places so much stock in the notion of transparency I would have expected to see a much more transparent design process and not just a see-thru façade. That way even if the W&M design was chosen it would have been with the comfort that it was the best among its peers not just because they are currently the governments architect of choice.

At 9:12 am, September 29, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Good points, Simon. A publicly-funded building of such prominence should have been put out to a competition. Though it didn't help with Te Papa...

The trope of "transparent building = transparent democracy" was alway suspect at best, but after all those glass Foster domes and globes we should be over it by now. It's a nice-looking building alright, but I don't expect that it'll have any material impact on the process of justice.

At 10:33 am, September 29, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you have an opinion on the height of the proposed building, given its location in one of the taller and denser parts of our city?

At 10:54 am, September 29, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

I could have handled it being higher, but I think it's being seen as part of the Parliamentary Precinct, which consists more of separate low- to mid-rise buildings than of continuous walls of high-rises like further down Lambton Quay. The new Stout St Heritage Area (2.2MB PDF, p10) is described thus:

The key buildings in the Stout Street heritage area are
characterised by their high quality of design, construction and
materials, and their relatively low scale. In conjunction with the
nearby Parliamentary precinct, these attributes confer a
distinctive low-rise townscape quality to the north east of
Lambton Quay, a quality enhanced by the many nearby towers of
the ’high city’.

So its scale is appropriate from that perspective, but it may have been better to have something a bit taller (say, 4 storeys) and grander to step down gradually from the high city while signifying its significance.

At 12:54 pm, September 29, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a few more points...

While the old high court is a significant building in its own right I don't believe it should dominate the design of the supreme court. This seems to be the case here however and while it may turn out to be great I am currently a little under-whelmed.

The proposed design negates any relationship to parliament to the north, a factor the site and programme [supreme court!!] would seem to cry out for.

I guess overall it appears like a safe option, 'don’t offend the heritage building behind and fit within the city block'. I'm not always an advocate for 'Big Architecture' however for a supreme court I would like to see the designers push the boat out just a little…

Touché about Te Papa Tom, however I would like to be an optimist and think we would learn from that design-by-committee-debacle….


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