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

Monday, September 10, 2007


Q on Taranaki - revised proposal - from above Taranaki StI've had a go at the Q on Taranaki proposals several times before, and while the version currently being submitted for resource consent has been cut back from the original design (I won't call it architecture), it's still a dreadful piece of crap. The changes that have been forced upon the complex have resulted in a pair of buildings that are slightly less overbearing and marginally more articulated, but that still fit very badly into the Te Aro context and, while it's hard to tell too much from these photocopied renders, exhibit virtually nothing in the way of imagination or delicacy.

Q on Taranaki - revised proposal - from Frederick StI have quite a lot of sympathy for the neighbours, who have spoken out publicly against it. After all, I've previously hailed the Croxley Mills building across the road as an excellent example of the sort of apartment development that is not only appropriate for the neighbourhood but positively inspiring. While I can't quite see how Q could be three times taller than the 5-6 storey Croxley Mills (as claimed in the article), and I've always said that city residents shouldn't expect their streets to stay the same forever, it's still clear that these are bad buildings in any context and even worse here. I still can't believe that the developers had the gall to ask for "exemptions to the height limit based on the development's design excellence"!

Where I disagree with the objections is on the subject of apartment size. Guy Marriage is a good friend of mine, and I believe he even reads this blog occasionally, but I don't agree with him that 26-29 square metre apartments are in and of themselves a bad thing. I've been through this argument with many different readers about a nearby proposal involving the same architects, and while there are arguments to be made on both sides, I don't believe that apartment sizes of under 35 or 45 square metres (the suggested minima for studio and one-bedroom units respectively) will automatically result in slums.

What defines a "slum"? Poor health from cramped and badly ventilated conditions? Crime, drugs and social exclusion? Or just the fact that poor people live there? It could indeed be the case that the design of these apartments is indeed substandard in terms of insulation or weathertightness, and that is the sort of thing that could indeed lead to squalid living conditions, but I don't believe that apartment size alone is enough to base that decision on. If you're single, without a lot of possessions and no desire to spend a lot of time at home, then I think that you should be able to spend your money on something other than square metres.

I've also said before that to live comfortably in such a small space requires really good design (multi-functional spaces, clever storage), sensitivity to location, space-saving fixtures, judicious use of light and high-quality shared space and facilities, and I see no reason to believe that this proposal exhibits any of that. A greater mixture of apartment sizes and tenures would be more appropriate than 233 low-end investment units, and even if the 35/45 square metre figures aren't adopted as limits, anything smaller than that should certainly be made to demonstrate that it makes extraordinarily good use of space. On those points, as well as on its risible urbanist and aesthetic qualities, this proposal should indeed be strongly challenged


At 11:34 pm, September 10, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am working in London at the moment, for a practice that specialises in medium/high density housing and urban regeneration.

While London is a few years ahead of NZ in its housing policies and design standards (housing is also a major political issue here and is debated with a greater deal of maturity than in NZ), but they still look to continental Europe for their lead.

Anyway, I thought I would share a few notes from my short time here.

1. Our practice works to minimum guidelines of 45-50m2 for 1-bed, 65-70m2 for 2-bed and 90m2+ for 3-bed. We of course like to be more generous if possible. These min sizes allow the development to be accredited to various standards, such as Lifetime Homes, and eases the progress through the planning (read res consent) stage.

2. A typical housing development will contain a mixture of tenure types. The standard ratio is 70% private / 20% shared ownership / 10% rented. Regarding shared ownership, I do not fully understand the fine print, but it is a mechanism for first time property buyers to allow them to enter the market. I never encountered such a system in NZ, does anyone know better?

3. Density is calculated by habitable rooms per hectare. For example, a 1-bed flat will have 2 hab rooms (bed and open plan living/dining/kitchen), while a 3-bed will have 5 hab rooms (3 beds, kitchen/dining and living). Usually a certain level of habitable rooms will be required per hectare, and this forces the development to contain a mix of unit sizes, as obviously a 3-bed flat is more efficient in this respect.

4. Councils here seem to be as under-resourced and slow as they are in NZ, but they take urban issues much more seriously, and also demand a higher level of quality in proposals, from the massing to the materiality. This can be good for the architect, as it gives us greater leverage with the client. Of course, some developments slip through, I have seen some pretty horrible buildings obviously built in the last 5 years.

5. Renewables and sustainability are much more practised here. Green rooves and CHP (combined heat and power) are not novelties, and walls are built 300mm thick.

I have no doubt that NZ will get there in due course (part of the reason I am here is to learn these things), we are still learning to build cities really - not that this is an excuse.

Tom, I would also say that a 29m2 apartment is not necessarily a bad thing - but unless councils have the ability to ensure a certain standard of internal planning, quality of materials & environment, and also specify type of tenure, then I would think such
an apartment size is not ideal under present conditions - there is no guarantee of quality.

Now developers (and some architects I am sure) would think granting council such power would be overly meddlesome and bureaucratic, and I think it may be a blunt solution to the problem. You would think my profession would be responsible enough that they could design to certain standard, but as we know, the fee-payer tends to compromise things...and I haven`t been around long enough to know a solution to this ancient problem!

At 11:50 am, September 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Raffe, thanks for that really informative post. Regarding Density - do you have any information on what levels of density are achieved, expected, or disapproved of in the UK at present? London apparently has an average 45 hrr, while NZ has an urban average of 19 hrr. This scheme, not counting roads, has 1688 hrr. You can tell therefore that the density is rather high....

At 4:45 pm, September 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The minimum legal standard for a one-person rental unit is 17 square metres (plus a bathroom) under the Housing Improvement Regulations 1947 (yes, 1947). There are great provisions in these that everyone seems to have forgotten... ahh, the joy of old legislation... such as "every house shall be free from dampness" and "every habitable room [ie. bedroom and living room] shall be provided with one or more windows so situated in an external wall
or external walls that adequate light is admitted". I'd like to see some of those slum landlord comply with that little doozie.

At 5:36 pm, September 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there's a couple of issues here that need to be taken into account.

Firstly the design has been completed to appeal to "Tenants" not owners this building has been set up as a rental property on a large scale.

The people buying it are doing so because it's a good investment, not because they love looking at it.

"it's still a dreadful piece of crap."

While I appreciate your opinion, your wrong.
It's a clever design that works in it's site by allowing tenants and investors to obtain a location that they could not afford if it were your prefered 45sqm+.

When apartments are selling for $7000 per square meter who wants a huge apartment.
If you did want a high density unit/apartment wouldn't this be the ideal location.

"but that still fit very badly into the Te Aro context"

Sorry could you explain to me what the Te Aro context was?

Is there some historic value to this site that I'm unaware of?

"exhibit virtually nothing in the way of imagination or delicacy"

When do we get to have a look at your design for the site?

"I have quite a lot of sympathy for the neighbours, who have spoken out publicly against it."

So let me get this right they are going to lose their view, Sun and light, but that's OK they are really anoyed that the building has small apartments.
I may be a cynical old fart but I smell a conflict of interest.

I could go on but I think you get the idea.

At 8:17 pm, September 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clearly you must be working for the architects if you actually like this design. But this really is a dreadful peice of crap.

At 8:33 pm, September 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 2 - or should we call you Mervyn?
As far as the article in the paper makes out, the people opposing it are requesting that it be publicly notified, as it does not meet the District Plan. At 25% over the height limit, that seems entirely reasonable.

"but that still fit very badly into the Te Aro context"

"Sorry could you explain to me what the Te Aro context was?"

perhaps you should actually go to visit the site. The street is mainly low rise buildings, from the last remaining single storey building, a lot of 2-3 storey housing, one 5 storey building, sensitively designed, and an 8 storey building on the corner that looks very ugly. The context therefore would appear to be primarily low rise.

This building is 10 stories, high rise, packed like a sardine can. Seems quite true then that it does not fit into the context, unless you are trying to be contextual with the ugly munter on the corner. Just how bad do you want your developments to be?

At 2:13 pm, September 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Clearly you must be working for the architects if you actually like this design. But this really is a dreadful peice of crap."

No I don't but once again your welcome to your opinion.

"anon 2 - or should we call you Mervyn? "

Na don't call me Merv it's not my name.

Bla bla bla Context bla bla bla.

All just your opinion the same way this is mine....yawn.

At 2:23 pm, September 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"All just your opinion the same way this is mine....yawn."

Not all opinions are equal. Some are justified, with reasoning, evidence, like the one presented by Maximus.

What exactly is your opinion on the context issue, apart from that Maximus is wrong? At least try to be thoughtful.

At 4:14 pm, September 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK there we go trying to be thoughtful.

OK Fredrick street and Haining street are both Quiet secondary streets they hold very little through traffic.
They have maybe only one or two buildings between them that are of any sort of merit whatsoever.

The area has no historic value unless you want to highlight the area for...

1 Chinese gaming lounges
2 Drugs
3 Prostitution
4 Satans slaves gang head quarters

Basicaly I can't think of a better location for high density housing.

The location has no redeeming features at all that will be disturbed by sending a bulldozer through it.
I'm only sorry it wouldn't have made a nice bypass then we could have saved some nice old houses.

I hate to be Mr Negative but I do feel that all opinions are equal.
Because they are just that, one person's opinion.

My point was that Wellington (Like it or not) needs high density inner city apartments, and I'd rather they were here in an area thats central well serviced a full of low rise nasty buildings.
It can only lift the area.

As for context, my opinion is that this Location is mixed use it has apartments, offices commercial, light industrial.
If the guy living in Croxley Mills moved in without a single thought that the one story high site over the road might one day be developed then he's a bit silly.

I don't love the Q apartments, or their ilk but I do understand them and were they fit in our city and rather here than many other locations they could be built.

At 4:56 pm, September 12, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Anon: to me, Frederick St is one of the most interesting streets for architecture in Wellington. Croxley Mills is a great example of a modernist addition to a historic industrial building; there is an award-winning example of recent affordable housing; the Gus Watt apartments bring wonderful character and humour to the street; and there are indeed physical remnants of the Chinese history of the area, including a church by a renowned architect. If all you can see of the long history of Chinatown is "Chinese gaming lounges" etc then you are ignorant at best, and racist at worst.

"Basicaly I can't think of a better location for high density housing."

I can: in the established "high city" area to the west of the city, rather than in what is supposed to be the "low city". It's possible to achieve very robust population densities in Te Aro without building above the existing height limits, supplemented by some higher rise apartments in defined areas. I don't agree with some people who say "we shouldn't be turning Wellington into Manhattan": I'd love that, but I'd also like to retain distinctions between our versions of SoHo and the Upper East Side, with medium-rise and high-rise distrcits with their own character.

"I do feel that all opinions are equal. Because they are just that, one person's opinion."

So if your opinion is that the moon is made of green cheese, I can't argue with you, because that is indeed your opinion. Fine. But I'd like to think that there's more to a discussion than the mere assertion of opinions: things like, ooh, facts, analysis and rational argument.

"It's a clever design that works in it's site by allowing tenants and investors to obtain a location that they could not afford if it were your prefered 45sqm+."

First of all, while it was me who called it "a dreadful piece of crap", I was also the one who argued against an arbitrary lower limit. I'll try to work my way through your random use of apostrophes to engage with your argument. Can you explain what's so clever about it? It wouldn't seem that hard to take the maximum allowable volume, inflate that vastly, then see how many identical tiny apartments you can cram in there. Any subtlety or modulation of the volume is purely a result of the planners forcing the developers to cut back from their original back-of-a-napkin design. It appears to have no more aesthetic merit than the Marickian building opposite, and its bulk will be that much more overpowering that it will be an even worse building.

"My point was that Wellington (Like it or not) needs high density inner city apartments, "

I can agree with that, but it also needs well-designed ones with an understanding that a building is not a stand-alone object but part of a streetscape.

"and I'd rather they were here in an area thats central well serviced a full of low rise nasty buildings."

I'm sorry, can you repeat that in English? Are you trying to say that low rise nasty buildings are worse than high rise nasty ones?

"It can only lift the area."

That statement belongs with the attempt to claim "design excellence".

At 6:04 pm, September 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like and appreciate that fact that 'anon' is expressing his opinions here -anything that sparks debate of this sort must be good on some level.

however, the comment

"They have maybe only one or two buildings between them that are of any sort of merit whatsoever."

either demonstrates a complete ignorance of Frederick and Hanning Streets or someone is bored and taking the Mickey. Walk along either of those streets and one must surely find at least one building they like if only for the fact it is representative of so many architectural styles/expressions!!

Even if you found nothing you 'liked' an objective analysis of the street would surely elicit an admission that it was a diverse street with a number of uses and predominantly low scale! No element of which seem to be apparent in the proposed design making it hard to see how such would be appropriate for the site let alone demonstrate 'design excellence'

At 8:39 pm, October 01, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I expect 'anon2' is indeed an architect who works at the architects practice involved, as there would be no other rhyme or reason for his insensitivity shown in his remarks - or it could be on of their developer friends - perhaps the guy behind the new appartment block about to arrive in Vivian St - Ash someone I think. Anyways the building will suck - so depressing too that we cannot have better designed buildings by imaginative developers.

At 8:43 am, October 26, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see in this morning's paper that the Q site is for sale - so the project may not be proceeding. I hope that's the case.


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