Jellicoe Towers – designed by architect Allan Wild – is a tall, slender apartment building on The Terrace in Wellington. Completed in 1966, it stood high on the hillside offering eighteen stories of concrete and glass. It overlooked a city brimming with short timber and masonry buildings that struggled with the growth of the capital.
For the people looking up, it heralded a dramatic change to both the skyline and the city. What a claim to history!
I was an 18 year old country bumpkin visiting Wellington when I first set foot in Jellicoe Towers. I knew little of architecture then, but I fell for this building. I remember the terracotta steps as I negotiated the keys, the gangway entrance high above the city scene, and the purpose-designed stools tucked under the bench in the kitchen. I remember a building where every floor is its own apartment.
This was a building that said something new about how New Zealanders were living. No need for a patch of grass when the city is your backyard. No need for dining rooms when a generous living space brings it all together. With good sensibility, its extruded floor planes blocked the sun in the height of summer but let it in during winter – too few of our city’s beloved villas do that! And, since the city must grow upward, its design provided space between neighbours to give light to all. This was a building making a political statement: one that was elegant, elevated and egalitarian.
And that’s why these buildings, like the Gordon Wilson Flats, are deserving of our admiration and their retention. They tested materials and construction methods that propelled us forward. All buildings are an expression of what we value, and with modernism we value the future. That’s the message these buildings pass on.
The “My favourite modernist building …” series is in support of Gordon Wilson Flats which is facing threat of demolition.