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Wellington's top 10 architectural spots

By India 11 Oct 2018

Old and new, restrained and avant-garde, acclaimed and controversial – when it comes to architecture, Wellington has it all. Chloe Coles of Walker Architecture + Design took us on a tour of the city's most interesting architectural spots and told us what makes them so special.

chloe headshot
Chloe Coles

1. Former National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum by Gummer and Ford, 1936, and Pukeahu National War Memorial Park by Wraight Athfield Landscape + Architecture, 2015

The New Zealand Dominion Museum building was the national museum and art gallery until Te Papa opened in 1998. The combination of the stripped classical former Museum and the Art Deco Carillon of the National War Memorial, also by Gummer and Ford, is "one of Wellington’s great architectural precincts", Chloe says.

Since 2001, the Massey University Building has been the home of the University’s College of Creative Arts and, recently, a space for the Great War exhibition. The development of the Pukeahu National War Memorial park by Wraight Athfield Landscape + Architecture has enlivened the area even more. 

"It provides an epic thoroughfare for walking between the city and the eastern suburbs, or as a destination in itself. The park features some stunning sculptures and lots of spaces to sit and watch the skaters or contemplate the significance of the site."

memorial 1
Pukeahu National War Memorial Park

2. Futuna Chapel by John Scott, 1961 – Futuna Close, Karori

"Talking about Futuna is about as spiritual as I get,’"Chloe says. "The pure symmetry of the layout and the roof form is heavenly." It’s a modernist building but has "sensitive and captivating materiality" with natural timber and grey concrete that contrast with the brick-red volcanic stone and the electric-blue and green stained glass. The highlight for Chloe is the greenstone floor. The fact that it’s generally chilly and quiet inside, she says, adds to the ethereal vibe.

The chapel is a significant building in New Zealand architectural history as it combines its modernist features with influences from Scott’s Māori heritage, including the central pole, sharp sloped eaves and modest entrance, which reference a marae or meeting house.

Futuna is open to the public on the first Sunday of every month and will also be open every day throughout Wellington Heritage Week 2018, 22–26 October.


3. Freyberg Pool by King and Dawson, 1963 – 139 Oriental Parade

Freyberg Pool is a striking example of New Zealand modernist architecture, with clean, strong asymmetrical lines that jut out beyond the promenade and glass curtain walls on its long edges that reflect the weather and mood of the city around it.

"I love the playful little portholes punched through the south façade," Chloe says. "They take away from its stately white seriousness."

4. National Library of NZ by Ministry of Works, 1970s – Molesworth St

"I’ve always enjoyed the imposing brutalist outside appearance of the National Library building," Chloe says. "It’s unique and solid, which suits its role as an important civic building."

This year, she finally went inside it, to look at a permanent exhibition completed by Studio Pacific, the He Tohu Document Room. The document room houses New Zealand’s three most important constitutional documents: 1835 He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni (Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand), 1840 Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi) and 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition (Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine).

The interior space is "breathtaking" says Chloe, with its soft light and distorted geometric panels of richly coloured timber. "It elevates the feeling of awe that the documents already evoke."

National Library

5. Oriental Bay Enhancement by Architecture Workshop with Isthmus (landscape) and Tonkin + Taylor (coastal engineering/lead consultant), 2003 – Waterfront

Oriental Bay is part of the weekend routine for many Wellingtonians and an essential experience for visitors. Architecture Workshop designed three small beaches, each with a different character, for along the promenade. The stacked precast stepped structure is a distinctive landmark to stop and sit down and rest or play on.

The timber and block amenity building, whose translucent doors leak out crazy-coloured light at night, is "modest but beautiful", says Chloe. "I love viewing this area from up on the hill by the Monastery, which is also worth a wander round on a good day."

6. The Rock (Wellington International Terminal) by Warren and Mahoney with Studio Pacific Architecture, 2010 – Wellington Airport

The Rock was ridiculed for looking like pumpkins when the design was made public, but Chloe insists even the harshest of critics will be won over by the interior. "The faceted acoustic panels form cosy, unique and well-proportioned spaces, which are just right for a waiting area."

The new southern extension to the main terminal at the airport is by Warren and Mahoney too. You can also check out the Michael Fowler Centre in the middle of the city, designed by Warren and Mahoney in the 1980s, to see how their aesthetic has progressed over the past few decades.

On your way back from the airport, keep an eye out for the Park Mews by Roger Walker (completed 1974). This 'village-like', medium-density residential development shows how apartment living should be, Chloe says: "full of joy, colour, individuality and variety, with a sense of address for each unit". It’s rare for these apartments to come up for sale or rent, but if you ever happen to befriend a resident, try and score a look inside.

7. Zoo Hub by Assembly Architects Limited, 2011 – Wellington Zoo, Daniell St, Newtown

The translucent barrel-vaulted pavilion roof is the most distinctive feature here, used to great effect in contrast with more down-to-earth board-formed concrete and cheerful yellow painted timber. From afar, this elegant structure kind of evokes giraffe skin, Chloe points out. Up close, you can see the clever detailing of the structural system. "I assume some tricky collaboration between architects, structural engineers and fabricators took place."

Zoo Hub

8. City Gallery Wellington by architecture+, 2011 – Civic Square

The rusty-looking open metal grated rainscreen looks like a permanent art piece that has been inserted next to the old building, Chloe says, and provides a lightness to the boxy form. It is so simple that it almost seems of neutral age and style – perfect to bridge between the original 1940 stripped classical City Gallery and the very contemporary library.

city gallery wgtn 7084
City Gallery

9. Deadly Ponies store fit-out by Katie Lockhart, 2016

The small but slick Deadly Ponies retail fit-out on Ghuznee Street is "unlike any other retail space I’ve ever experienced", Chloe says. It’s all hard, clean surfaces, with the bags and accessories arranged on brightly coloured objects and shelving units that seem to glow through the window, inviting you in.

"It’s a bit like walking into a stylish adult cartoon, which is a perfect fit for the brand and an antidote to the white minimalism that’s used as a default in retail fit-outs."

Just around the corner, on Egmont Street, is the Skybox by Melling Morse from 2001, a three-level apartment that sits atop one of original medium-scale buildings. "It’s a cheeky version of city infill housing – outgoing and very urban but also modest, as it’s unnoticeable from the street. If you want to discover the architectural secrets of a city, look up."

Deadly Ponies
Deadly Ponies

10. Aesop (150 Featherston Street) and Kowtow (29 College Street) retail fit-outs, both by Rufus Knight, 2018

New Zealand interior design star Rufus Knight has made his mark in the Wellington retail scene. Two of his latest projects are Aesop on Featherston Street and Kowtow on College Street (in association with Makers of Architecture).

Aesop boasts "the best sink in the city", Chloe says – a bespoke brass centerpiece to the store that is echoed in the brass-lined shelves that run round the walls. Kowtow is also "exquisite", with carefully detailed pale timber shelving and other complementary elements in muted tones that provide the perfect background for the beautiful clothes.

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