Reviews, News and Commentary

Portrait of a City. Wellington Architecture: A Walking Guide

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Wellington Architecture: A Walking Guide

John Walsh and Patrick Reynolds

Massey University Press

RRP $30.00

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

John Walsh and photographer Patrick Reynolds have just launched “Wellington Architecture, A Walking Guide” their third book in the series of architectural walking tours following on from their books on Auckland and Christchurch. It is a great addition to books which explore and explain our built environment.

 John Walsh in the introduction notes that he was born in Wellington which was as “compact and confined as a medieval city-state, intensely impressed itself on me, in the most impressionable part of my life. My mother had moved to Wellington where she met my father, and they were married in the church at St Gerard’s Monastery. I remember the Freyberg Pool, where I learned to swim; the summer lights strung on the Norfolk pines along Oriental Parade; and the council yard where my father worked, next to the Herd Street Post and Telegraph Building. My high school was near the old National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum; we’d be sent to mass at St Mary of the Angels and, in blazers and ties, despatched from Wellington Railway Station on rugby expeditions into the hinterlands of the Hutt Valley.”

Public Trust Building

This reviewer also grew up in  Wellington, living in the National Hotel  across from  the corner of Stout St and  Lambton Quay. From our front room we had an impressive architectural vista including The Public Trust Building The Government Departmental Building and The State Insurance Building. Further down the street was the Wellington Railway Station  and the Seamans Mission Building.

On my way to school I passed  Ernst Plischke’s Massey House, The Old Supreme Court, The Old Government Building, The Beehive, Parliament building, the General Assembly Library, Turnbull House and the rather unfortunate Cathedral of St Paul. These were the background to my life at the time and it was only when I moved to suburban Karori that I noticed the difference in my daily environment.

Shed 7, Wellington Harbour Board

The place of architecture in our environment and in our personal and social history is important often more noticeable when we are in foreign cities. A city’s buildings are important in defining the nature of a place. When visiting a place for the first time the visitor will map a city through its buildings. The materials, the orientation, the colours, the decoration and the forms all help create the language of the way the city is perceived.

The buildings of Auckland Wellington and Christchurch have many similarities but the accumulation of the various periods of construction and styles in each of those places has created very individual environments.

“Wellington Architecture, A Walking Guide” features more than 120 significant buildings describing their purpose and history as well as  providing a background on  the architects who designed them. The buildings are grouped into five self-guided walking routes, each with a map together with itineraries which collectively create a portrait of the  city.

St John’s

The building are  a mix of colonial, nineteenth century Gothic, mid-century modernism and buildings of the last fifty years illustrating the changing nature of the architecture along with the changing nature of New Zealand and the city. The buildings are banks, businesses, government departments, churches, apartment buildings libraries, hotels, apartments, and a few  private houses.

One of the tours features several of the government institutions surrounding Parliament including the Old Government Building (now the Victoria University Law School) and one on the largest wooden buildings in the world, all those other buildings I passed on the way to school along with the more recent  brutalist National Library and the modernist Freyberg Building.

Several architects feature with a number of buildings such as Gummer & Ford, Thomas Turnbull and Ian Athfield who is represented by the Wellington Library (soon to be demolished), his quirky First Church of Christ Scientist and his Oriental Parade flats as well as a few, often controversial,  additions he made to existing buildings

DeLoitte, 20 Customhouse Quay

While all the buildings are significant there are a number  scattered through the  walk which have importance beyond their architectural qualities. There are the Dixon Street Flats which were the first multi-story modernist block of flats created under the First Labour Government which show the influence of overseas trends introduced to New Zealand by Plischke.

There is also the remarkable Futuna Chapel designed by John Scott the Māori architect who managed to combine aspects of Māori and mainstream architecture. Walsh notes that Futuna is  one of the few buildings one could refer to as “iconic”.

Walsh writes in an informative style, providing wide ranging information to provide a context for the buildings so that while the book is an ideal complement to a walking tour of the city it is also provides a potted history of the social, political and aesthetics development over 150 years in the city as seen through the buildings.

The photography of Patrick Reynolds enhances the text with many of them showing an appreciation of the design elements of the buildings, 

Anscombe Flats

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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