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St Gerard's Monastery - Exterior

by Conor Hill
Wellington’s Draft Spatial Plan is now out for consultation. One of the bones of contention is some proposed changes to the city’s pre-1930s character areas – the inner suburbs of Mt Cook, Mt Victoria, Thorndon, Newtown, Aro and Berhampore. One of the most interesting things about these areas is their architectural diversity.

Before 1930 for instance, a review found 15 distinct architectural styles. There are Victorian Georgian Saltbox Cottages, Edwardian Bay Villas and Inter-War Californian Bungalows. This degree of pre-1930 diversity makes sense – we are dealing with half of all Wellington’s European history.

Indeed one of Wellington’s most iconic old buildings, St Gerard’s Monastery is iconic not because it is similar to its surrounds, but because it is so strikingly different. It is built on the site of an even older house. If you were to suggest now that you would demolish an ancient wooden home to build a huge brick building to house single men in Mount Victoria, you would be run out of town.

Since 1930 far more has been built in these suburbs, often contributing to their character. If we again take Mt Victoria as an example, you have an array of art deco. Moving through the decades you have the notable Ian Athfield designed Pearce apartments and more recently you have Zavos Corner.

All these great buildings could uncharitably described as multi-unit infill. All our character areas have similar additions to their neighbourhoods.

In general then, our character areas have far more architectural diversity than many of our new suburbs.

This is awkward, as the City Council describes character as “a concentration of common, consistent natural and physical features and characteristics that collectively combine to establish the local distinctiveness and identity of an area”.

Many of New Zealand’s outer suburbs of new homes come closer to this definition than our character suburbs.

While I don’t necessarily think concentrated, common and consistent cul-de-sacs of 90s McMansions are necessarily worth protecting, they meet the WCC definition of character more than Wellington’s character areas.

I don’t know where this leaves us. I like to make an argument and this doesn’t quite feel like one. All I can say is that an appreciation of our character areas involves admiring the architectural heterogeneity of these suburbs. If we can do this, and see the change throughout time that this represents, then maybe the idea of changing in the future could be less concerning………….

Continue reading this article at the original source from Scoop Wellington





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