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

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Playing favourites #5: Umbrella Park apartments

Umbrella Park apartmentsThe "Umbrella Park" apartment building at 128 Wakefield St (I'm not sure whether they're officially called that: the umbrella in question has since been moved up to the corner of Cuba and Manners Malls) has to be one of the best purpose-built residential blocks in the city. I love it for the way it fits in with its neighbour: not by imitating its style, detailing & materials, but by following its pattern of solids and voids to define inset balconies, then riffing on them to project a daringly airy stack of decks. A verandah and glass stairwell stick out at jaunty angles, as if the building can't quite resist breaking out of the strictness of the city grid.

Slate-grey Zincalume and shiny diamond plate, combined with some surprisingly bright green, blue and orange highlights, place it firmly amid the mid-Nineties obsession with industrial chic. But I don't think it's dated so much as of-its-time, and there's nothing wrong with a building expressing the moods and fashions of the era in which it was built. It's not timeless, but timeful.

Stairway at Umbrella Park apartmentsI have slight reservations about the handling of the first-floor parking: no doubt there's some architectural intent behind the wire mesh and exposed wood, but to my eyes it just looks a bit sloppy and cheap compared to the rest. Felix café has helped turn a pointless and exposed "open space" into a lively urban corner, but the co-option of the sheltered colonnade as a smoking area has nibbled away at the public realm. Otherwise, it's an exemplary mixed-use inner-city building: tough yet playful, individual yet contextual.


At 12:29 am, April 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sums up mid-90s avant-garde nicely.

I'm currently looking for a flat in the city or on the fringes, and one of the hot prospects I've found is on Wakefield, opposite the Council buildings. Small problem - no Telstra cable links on that street at all Apparently Che Tibby was having similar issues when he moved in to his latest pad.

At 8:53 am, April 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoy this buillding too, and like you, am a little annoyed by Felix's encroachment.

I particularly enjoyed the way that previously, when travelling along Cuba toward Civic Square, the short collonade on Cuba Street framed the entrance to Civic Square. That gap between the Town Hall and the MFC is so ambiguous that I really felt the framing was a very generous and exquisite urban gesture (of course I suspect that it was no accident either)...

At 12:06 pm, April 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed. Fantastic building, and on my top 5 list for residential buildings in the central city.

I gues this is even more poignant considering the dearth of good multi units in the central city.


Post a Comment

<< Home