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

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Building rumours 11: Serepisos Towers?

The sports pages of the Dominion Post are not the most obvious source of urban development rumours, but there was an interesting titbit tucked away in Saturday's profile of Terry Serepisos, property tycoon, man-about-town and brand new owner of the Wellington Bees/Southerlies/Fever/Whatever. Among the usual breathless enumeration of the clothes, the cars and the parties, there was a reference to his desire to leave a legacy in Wellington, beyond his recent excursions into sports sponsorship. He wants to build Wellington's tallest building.

Now that's going to get the boys (and it is mostly boys) over at SkyscraperCity really drooling! And I'd agree that Wellington could do with a couple of properly tall buildings in the right places, since our density, urbanity and rugged topography almost demand it. But I have to wonder: is Serepisos the developer we want doing this?

The fact that he wants the building to make a statement could be a good thing, since that should translate into a desire to build something truly spectacular, rather than merely delivering as many rental square metres as the planners and engineers will allow. But his track record is more than a little worrying, and the fact that he seriously considers travesties like the Renaissance Apartments (that cheapened the old Te Aro BNZ) and 332 The Quay (that squats drably on the what was once a classic Art Deco mini-skyscraper) to have "chang[ed] the city for the better" would be laughable if it weren't so damned frightening.

Roger Walker/Terry Serepisos development proposal for the corner of Dixon and Victoria StreetsAt least you can't accuse him of developing boring buildings. While the later stages of the Century City development on Tory St and the "explosion in a bling factory" planned for Dixon and Victoria streets may be the visual equivalent of a hyperactive kid force-fed with food colouring and party pills, at least they're not the grey envelope-filling cuboids currently being extruded all over Taranaki St like so many rectilinear turds. I've heard some architects blame him for single-handedly ruining Roger Walker, and as much as I admire some of Walker's work, I don't think his style and design processes scale up well.

In fact, and I hope none of my architect friends take offence at this, I can't really think of any New Zealand architects that I could imagine designing a truly exciting 40-50 storey skyscraper. It's not that there's a lack of talent: it's just that local budgets and a short-sighted development ethos have crushed any flair or daring that might emerge in big projects, and it's hard to name many recent buildings over a few storeys in height that even aspire to anything beyond mediocrity. Studio Pacific are doing some interesting things, it would be intriguing to speculate about what Architecture Workshop could do at that scale, and I'd love to see Ath being given free reign on something really huge. But no-one local has been given a chance to develop a track record of really exciting tall buildings along the lines of Aurora Place or the Gherkin.

I haven't heard of any serious planning going on, and rather than a real project this may be a long-term ambition that may take decades to get going. Nevertheless, it's great that a property developer wants to be remembered for something more than a quick turnaround and perhaps a Master Builders' award. If Serepisos seriously wants to leave a positive legacy in this city, I hope that he bears in mind that a skyscraper is going to be around for a good deal longer than this week's House of Hank shirt.


At 2:24 pm, March 27, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, any thoughts as to where would be a good site for a 40 to 50-story building in Wellington?

I think I would like to see another 25 to 30-story buildings show up first to fill out the skyline a little so that any 40-story building wouldn't appear so solitary. Hopefully if this ever happens we get someone like Foster or something and a NZ building worthy of a spread in an international architecture rag and some awards.

At 6:53 pm, March 27, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


that is the ugliest damn building i've ever seen...

to quote an italian chef i worked with in melbourne, it's "wogtastic"

At 7:40 pm, March 27, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd say any future super-talls would be concentrated in the Willis, Lambton and Molesworth/Pipitea quarters.

Specifically though, I'd pick the sports shops at the Willis-Mercer corner (behind the old Dominion building); 22-42 Willis St, the site of the existing Airways Corp building (earmarked for development but so far MIA); and 70-80 Willis St (also announced but also MIA). One of the customers I've dealt with says that there are plans for AMP to build a tower on top of the Shell station opposite the Post Office HQ, but data is still insufficient at this stage. Some of the excess railway land could also be pressed into service.

There are also a number of carparks that could be built on top of, provided they're structurally sound enough to handle it.

At 11:41 pm, March 30, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"There are also a number of carparks that could be built on top of, provided they're structurally sound enough to handle it."

Yes, you could do this buy why? The structural grids for car parks is very unlikely to work well with any office layou. The cores for car parks are completely different than an office building, and would require being completely torn out and reworked to meet the capacity for an office tower. Plus, that's the last thing we want are a bunch of towers sitting on car parks with no activity at street level. The investment in an existing car park is not valuable enough to not raze it and start over.

At 9:15 am, March 31, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

I'm with deepred on this: somewhere along that stretch of Willis St would make sense from a skyline point of view, since it would be between the State Insurance Centre (hard not to keep calling it the BNZ building!) and the Majestic Centre. There's also an example there of a carpark that should be built on, because it designed to be: the carpark on Boulcott St behind the Willis St New World. Structurally, it was always intended to support a large office building, so it's a perfect candidate location.

At 1:28 pm, March 31, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry- but that car park in particular is a good example of what won't work. The core specifically is not designed for an office tower - the location of where the stairs and elevators are, is not suited for a high rise buidling when it comes to modern fire codes, nor are the elevators of a level of service that would be adequate for a high rise. The whole garage would have to be reworked.

While the structure itself maybe strong enough to support a building, it doesn't mean that the planning of where the columns are is appropriate. Building planning has come a long way, and for any major tenant, the first job is to test fit plans for any prospective location, and you will quickly see how efficient a floor plate is based on column locations. Efficient floorplates mean higher rents and more return on investment. To keep a shitty car park because it's there, screws up the entire planning module for the whole tower. It would be completely boneheaded and idiotic to do - quite frankly. From a feasability assesment perspective, this is a non-starter. Raze the structure, and plan it appropriately, don't just add ad hoc - isn't that the whole point of planning to begin with? So we don't end up with akward appendages that don't make sense?

The analogy to building on an existing carpark is this, you can also wear shoes that are 2 sizes too small, if you don't mind walking in pain, screwing up your posture, and wearing out the shoe quicker than it should.

At 3:34 pm, March 31, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

I wonder whether we're talking about the same site. The one I'm thinking of was originally intended as the base for an office building: it's at street level on Boulcott St, and the columns that were supposed to be the start of the office levels are visible from the street and in aerial photos. I'm not sure whether this was the one intended to be "Boulcott and Willis Towers", which was a 16-storey building designed by Structon Group and planned to be constructed in 1990. It may indeed be true that floor plans and fire codes have changed markedly since the 1980s, and I would defer to your knowledge there, but it's hardly "ad hoc" if it's what was originally planned.

On the larger point, though, I agree with you. It's better to knock down an old car park and start from scratch than pile something on top of it after the fact, at least in the case of high-rises with strict structural requirements. In any case, there are plenty of car parks in the CBD that could be knoecked down and used for the site of a high-rise.

At 9:14 am, April 02, 2007, Blogger art2007 said...

New Zealand has the talent to design and make multi-storey buildings, we know that. But its rare to get a developer who wants to do the extraordinary, without the passion we will wait years for the rare opportunities. Most of the developers want the average and that is exactly what we have here in NZ.The architectural stars overseas are the extraordinary not the norm, there is so much average being done there too. We shoulkd embrace the local developer who wants and is willing to back architecture. How else do we break the rut the average without the passion of the few??

At 9:42 am, April 03, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Oh, I agree that NZ has the talent, and of course 90% of everything is banal anywhere in the world. But think that NZ's most talented architects have seldom been given a chance to design skyscrapers, and most of the the skyscrapers we do have seem to have been the product of corporate firms like Stephenson & Turner or Peddle Thorp Montgomery, who appear to be happy to put up dull boxes if that's what the client wants.

So, we do have the talent, but getting a truly stunning skyscraper actually built requires more than great design skills: it takes a lot of experience, mana and bloody-mindedness to fight developer's budget, planning regulations and forces of physics. From the evidence of NZ's few skyscrapers, I'm not convince that we have that internally.

"We should embrace the local developer who wants and is willing to back architecture"

I totally agree. I just hope that Serepisos is willing to take a punt on an architect's vision rather than imposing his own aesthetics, since going by his track record, it could take a long time to live down the results.

At 5:30 pm, October 05, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Serepisos is a dickhead tbh.

that building in the picture is hot though. i didn't read the whole article because it dragged, but that building would be really good i think.

At 4:00 am, April 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Terry likes to blow his own bugle, and to leave a great legacy, which is noticed and admired by all; and in this way his memory will still be alive long after he is gone and a Jetson style building is good start, if it comes from the heart.


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