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

Monday, October 16, 2006

More Chews

On Saturday I went to look at the display suite for the Chews Lane apartment building. It's worth visiting, and not just because it's a chance to see inside the renovated upper floors of the Free Ambulance building, but also because there are some detailed models and floor plans that aren't available online, and they help give a better understanding of how it fits into the context in three dimensions.

The first thing that stands out is that it's big. So big, in fact, that the official site has to use a scrolling Flash widget to show its full height! Here's the full image in one go (click for a bigger version):

Rendering of Chews Lane apartmentsThis rendering doesn't quite show the whole picture: it omits the hideous yellow pagoda of Willbank House to the right. On the other hand, as Gordon Paynter pointed out, the previous rendering of the brick-clad building in the foreground didn't show the apartments either! So the only way to see the whole development in context is to look at the models (which I wasn't cheeky enough to photograph at the weekend, but I have done since). You might also have noticed that the glassy building in the left foreground has grown an extra, louvred top floor since the previous rendering, which has quietly disappeared from the relevant page on the website.

Approximate footprint of Chews Lane apartmentsWhile the apartment building is tall (twelve floors, on top of eight floors of office buildings), it's relatively narrow. Here's a very rough outline of its footprint, showing that it takes up less than half the depth of the block. It's set back from Willis St, but not quite as much as Willbank House and the State Insurance building, so it will stand out if you're looking up or down the street. I've tried to show that the plan is not quite rectangular, but tapers slightly towards the ends, which is emphasised at the north by curved verandahs. This gives the design more subtlety and sleekness than the nondescript slab that was barely visible in the previous renderings. Together with the whiteness of the solid elements, this makes it remind me of the rather lovely Mitika apartments in Oriental Bay, though the models make it look lighter and glassier. There's some more dicussion of its merits (or otherwise) over on SkyscraperCity.

Continuing from my previous post, here are a few more tidbits about the development:
  • They've only released 50 of the 90 apartments for sale so far. By the time that I got to the display suite, half an hour after it officially opened, only 10 of those 50 were unsold. Update: all 50 are sold now, and there's no word when the remainder will go on sale.
  • There will be a total of 227 bedrooms in the building, nearly 50 more than I estimated earlier when trying to map the projected locations of future inner-city residents.
  • The apartment building is due for completion in just over two years' time (early 2009).
  • The agents describe this as the first purpose-built apartment building in the CBD. While that's debatable (shouldn't the CBD include Boulcott St and The Terrace? Do serviced apartments like J Street count?), at 20 storeys it's certainly the tallest.
  • The "Gastro Bar" mentioned for the ground floor of 56 Victoria St is more than speculation: the fitout is underway, and it's being designed by the team behind St Johns. It could be ready very soon, but apparently the operators are (sensibly) waiting for the heavy construction at number 50 to be completed.
  • Most of the Willis St retail, and the "food and beverage" outlets planned for the lane itself, already have operators lined up (though you've always got to take estate agents' comments with a grain or two of salt).
  • The shop space in Victoria Arcade behind Tinakori Gallery looks like it's also leased and getting ready for fitout.
  • The Malthouse has found three potential sites for relocation, and have a preferred site that is bigger and better than their current building.


At 1:20 pm, October 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is enough to make me cry it is so hideous. Oh for an interesting world class building! We're fast running out of good spots for them.

It might make sense around Oriental Parade, or at Mt Maunganui, but in downtown Wellington it simply does not fit in my opinion. High(ish) density inner city living is something that should be promoted, but it is important to maintain the CBD core, this is a business area, it is also a perfect area to increase office space. A landmark office building is what this area needs, and I'm not sure what is landmark about that building (in a positive way)?

In 10 years once the paint starts to fade, the windows get dirty and full of washing, and the corners start to chip it'll be another blott on that area of the Willis Street landscape.

That curve also throws it off for me, if the building was more edgy, had some steel (figuratively) in it maybe. But what is curvey about that area. The building chooses to impose itself completely over the whole area, and it just isn't a good enough building to deserve that right.

It is a massive opportunity lost for another quick buck development. I'm doubtful that is what the architect would've chose to come up with if it weren't for the developer's influence.

At 2:30 pm, October 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, but there is room in the CBD for both office and residential. They can just go a little higher! Besides, the Chews Lane development as a whole incorporates both office (on the lower floors) and retail, in conjunction with these apartments. It's about the mix of uses, so in terms of urban design this would get a big tick. In my view the design itself does speak quality, but as usual with architcture, it's almost always subjective.

At 2:46 pm, October 16, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

I'm in too minds about it aesthetically, but I just don't see it as hideous. Okay, so it's not exciting, but while I'm always keen to see some "edgy" design, I don't think that every building should shout for attention.

> High(ish) density inner city living is something that should be promoted, but it is important to maintain the CBD core, this is a business area, it is also a perfect area to increase office space.

I don't agree. While it's fine for a CBD to be primarily for business, it shouldn't be exclusively so. And the complex as a whole is certainly going to increase office space there: by about 8-9000 sq m. So I think that this is actually a very good combination of uses for the site.

> A landmark office building is what this area needs

It's already got two: The Majestic Centre and the State Insurance building. They're not what everyone would call attractive, but they're certainly "landmarks". If someone was going to propose a Gherkin or Aurora Place here, then I'd go for that in a shot, but I don't think it "needs" a landmark.

> But what is curvey about that area[?]

Apart from the Majestic Centre, Library, and the prow of the Old Bank? Looking at the surroundings from above, there's actually quite a few curved building façades within a block or two of there.

For something truly hideous, have a look at what's planned for further up Willis St. No depth, no modulation, cheap materials and a ridiculous attempt at historical detailing stuck on the top. At least the Chews Lane building, while not a "landmark", is an honest modernist design with clean lines.

My one real beef with it is the way that it sits on top of the office buildings below. It doesn't fit in with them, but then it doesn't float over them or play with the contrast in a dramatic way. It's just kind of plonked there. I'd like to have seen that element treated more forcefully, or the office buildings on Willis St designed more playfully, but I think it's a high quality (if undemonstrative) design that's far from a "quick buck" or bottom-feeder development.

At 2:48 pm, October 16, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

In "two" minds, of course. Or maybe "too many" minds :-)

At 9:43 pm, October 16, 2006, Blogger Will de Cleene said...

We'll have this place looking like Orkland any day now, but with meaner wind tunnels.

At 9:52 am, October 18, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just have one question - where is the Malthouse and its fine beer going to move to?

At 10:08 am, October 18, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

anon: the quick answer is that I don't know, but the Malthouse guys have three potential locations lined up. There's one that they're particularly keen on, since it's larger than the current place. Everything's still under negotiation, though, so they're not giving away any more details.


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