My favourite modernist building … Gordon Wilson Flats

Exterior view, state flats, The Terrace, Wellington. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1959/0971-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23261233

There are precious few examples of authentic modernist buildings in the Wellington region.

I say authentic because there are some buildings that are ‘modernistic’ and some that are post modern blends.  Among my favourites are the Hutt City Council Buildings, the Berhampore flats, and the Gordon Wilson flats at 320 The Terrace.

Model of the Centennial Flats, Adelaide Road, Berhampore, Wellington. Making New Zealand :Negatives and prints from the Making New Zealand Centennial collection. Ref: MNZ-2160-1/2-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23071742

Since the first two buildings have had recent (and very successful) makeovers, and the third is under threat of demolition, I will direct my attention to the limping Wilderbeest being pursued by the lions.

Gordon Wilson flats has been written about by such excellent commentators  as Julia Gatley and Bill Alington, and my comments here are entirely personal.

When I first arrived in Wellington in the late 90s one of the most striking differences to the predominantly single floor, sprawling Auckland and Hamilton housing, from where I came, was this wonderful example of ‘housing in the sky.’

I flatted in a house in Shell Gully owned by the Ministry of Works, doomed by the motorway.

Exterior view, state flats, The Terrace, Wellington. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1959/0969-2-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/30652363

I walked past this grand public housing block every day and admired its strongly expressed structure, well proportioned and lively façade infills and useful little balconies .

Later when I discovered a relative of mine lived there, I was able to experience the clever two level planning, which provides generous windows to bedrooms and living areas within a narrow but efficient footprint. This influenced my own designs and to this day, along with other architects, I have promoted the duplex format. Circulation space is minimised and provides the upstairs bedrooms with privacy and the downstairs area as open plan.

To me this is a very important building, needing preservation. In referencing European modernist housing (look at the Le Corbusier chimney on the roof), it created a socially rich NZ community living solution.

Its urban setting is crucial. Its current problems are only technical, and in my view, it’s much less expensive to remedy than rebuild.

Roger Walker

The “My favourite modernist building …” series is in support of Gordon Wilson Flats which is facing threat of demolition.


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