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

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Playing favourites #7: Te Puni Kōkiri House

Te Puni Kōkiri HouseOkay, I'm rattling these out now because the DominionPost will publish the Architectural Centre's emerging best-of list on Saturday. This one is likely to be more controversial, since Athfields' 1990s addition to Te Puni Kōkiri House is very polarising: some people love it, but others (heritage fundamentalists in particular) can't stand it. Personally, I think it's a bold and exhilarating complement to Gummer & Ford's 1941 original.

I use the word "complement" very carefully, because it's so obviously different to the Art Deco building that it extends, and yet they come together to create a lively composition. I could extend the musical analogy by saying that the strictest preservationists would insist that any additions or alterations to heritage buildings must be in unison with the original. The downside of this can be seen across the road at Plischke's Massey House, which has had a sideways extension in identical materials, thus destroying its once elegant proportions. On the other hand, the worst examples of building additions (including several on the previous list) are completely tone deaf, as if someone started bashing away on their instruments without even bothering to listen to the original tune first.

This case is different: neither simplistic unison nor thoughtless clash. Harmony is a complex, subtle and very personal thing, and doesn't always exclude judicious use of discord. Rather than trying to replicate the original surface, Athfield Architects have looked for the bones of the building, and imagined how they might have grown into the future with contemporary materials. The result carries on the rhythmic angles of the corrugated façade and extrapolates them into a composition of shapes that is calm from some perspectives but striking from others. The original State Insurance building was a fine and innovative structure, and the new levels would make a fantastic building in their own right. But together they're something quite special: an intelligent remix rather than a note-for-note cover version.

The top of Te Puni Kōkiri House


At 10:34 pm, April 21, 2007, Blogger Unknown said...

It's certainly my favourite building on the Quay. The extension took a little time to grow on me, but I couldn't imagine it any other way now.

And the Hotere out the front... fantastic.

At 8:42 am, April 22, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Yes, that's a fantastic sculpture: full of political and historical allusions, but it also looks great and is a lot of fun. I think the streetscape would have been even better if they'd gone with the original plan to open out some of the ground floor, but that was too much for the preservationists. You really ought to check out the foyer as well, if you get a chance.


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