The Architecture Centre in Wellington has joined the fray to fight for yet another building; the Gordon Wilson Flats, on the Terrace. The Architecture Centre is an independent, voluntary organisation of architects, artists, designers and others with an active interest in architecture, the arts, the built environment and Wellington City. They have been active since 1946 in battles for Wellington’s buildings, mostly notably Old St Paul’s, and most recently the Basin Reserve, and are celebrating their 70th birthday this year.
The Gordon Wilson Flats are at risk they have been assessed earthquake prone, and the University of Wellington asked the Wellington City Council to remove their heritage listing, which is the next step towards demolition – demolition of items on the heritage list being not allowed under the Wellington district plan. (The Wellington City Council agreed, which seems odd to me – put simply, they may be earthquake prone, but what has that got to do with whether they are heritage or not?)
But I think the other reason why they are at risk is that people just don’t ‘get’ the flats, or more generally ‘get’ modernist architecture. Just as for a long time people didn’t rate Crown Lynn pottery, or Art Deco architecture, just because it was the favourite of the generation before them.
Thinking along the same lines, to promote the concept of modernist buildings, the Architecture Centre is running a list of My Favourite Modernist Building. It is a fun ride, a collection of professionals all weighing in with their own favourite modernist building, some in New Zealand and some overseas. Architect Roger Walker votes for the Gordon Wilson Flats itself. Others make the argument for buildings which I have to admit are really quite hard to love – but their arguments are illuminating. Several base their argument on ‘this building was a statement of the place and time, and is valuable on that basis’. This is true, but how do we communicate that statement to others?
And now I must write my entry…
Images: Unidentified man with architectural model of Gordon Wilson Flats. Evening Post, Ref: EP/1955/2193-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23023267;