Gordon Wilson Flats

The Terrace Flats

320 The Terrace, Te Aro, Wellington
Map
  • Constructed

    1957 - 1959

  • Builder(s)

  • The Gordon Wilson Flats have architectural value as a good representative example of 1950s Modernist high density social housing, that though common internationally, is relatively rare in New Zealand. 

    The flats are associated with the social policy of the government of the day and were an endeavour to solve a chronic housing shortage. They were the last of the high-rise tower-block social housing developments designed by the Ministry of Works & Development.  The flats are also associated with economic recovery in the 1950s which led to a boom in the building industry.

    The flats were designed by Government Architect Gordon Wilson, who died while the flats were nearing completion. It is for this reason they were named in his honour.
     

  • close History
    • The Department of Housing Construction was set up in 1936 by New Zealand’s first Labour government to construct state rental houses.   Gordon Wilson was appointed chief architect of the Department in 1938, he became chief architect of the Housing Division of the Ministry of Works from 1943 – 1952, assistant Government Architect from 1948 – 1952 and Government Architect from 1952-59.  The Gordon Wilson Flats (originally known as The Terrace Flats), were renamed to honour Wilson when he died shortly before their completion in 1959.  

      The flats were built on the site of the first residence of Mr George Hunter, the first mayor of Wellington.   They were sited next to the existing McLean State Flats (built 1943-44), an earlier social housing scheme of which Gordon Wilson was involved in the design and construction. The original plans are signed by ‘Gordon Wilson, Government Architect’ and dated August 1954, at a time when Wilson was Government Architect at the head office of the Ministry of Works. The detailed design was completed by the Wellington District Office of the Ministry of Works. 

      New Zealand’s state social housing (multi-unit) designs of the 1930s – 1950s were influenced by the ‘International Style’ of Modernism promoted by Swiss/French architect Le Corbusier, German architects Mies van de Rohe, Walter Gropius and others. The manifesto of Modernism spread from continental Europe in the 1930s, partly due to the Diaspora that fled from the oppressive regime in Nazi Germany at a time when Modernism was at odds with the prevailing political ideology. Two outstanding examples of New Zealand’s state housing designed in the ‘International Style’ are the Berhampore (Centennial) Flats (1939-40), and the Dixon Street State Flats (1941-44). The Berhampore Flats were the Labour Government’s first multi-unit scheme of social housing, and one of the first, largest and most complete schemes of buildings designed in the ‘International Style’ in New Zealand  and the similarly styled Dixon Street State Flats won the NZIA Gold Medal in 1947.

      In New Zealand the best known Modernist architect ‘refugee’ was Austrian Ernst Plischke who worked for the Department of Housing Construction (c1939-1947) . For some of this time he worked under Gordon Wilson as Chief Architect on designs for multiple-unit housing blocks. However, due to a personality clash, in 1942 Plischke became a community planner under Reg Hammond in the same department. The level to which Plischke may have been involved in the design of the building when he still worked under Wilson is unknown, but a 1942 drawing by Plischke shows a design for the McLean and Terrace Flats.  This drawing is slightly different from the final plans, the most notable differences being the siting of the building; that the staircase is located in the middle of the block, rather than at one end; and the monolithic finish of the building that is closer to the streamlined ‘International Style’ than the later 1950s Modernism of the Gordon Wilson Flats.

      The final design of the Gordon Wilson Flats is somewhat similar to the Grays Avenue Flats in Auckland. The basic plan was designed to maximise views and sunlight on a difficult and steeply sloping site, and to manage costs, structure and amenities.  “After basic research by architects and associated specialist engineers, the solution finally adopted was to provide bed-sitting rooms in the basement and above that to make the remainder of the accommodation in two-bedroom flats on the maisonette principle.”  The building was the last large, high-rise block of flats designed by the Ministry of Works, before a change in ideology led the provision of social housing solely by low density houses and low rise units. 
       
      High-rise, high-density social housing schemes designed on Modernist principles have been identified as problematic in many European countries. In many instances social problems have been exacerbated by housing high-density, at-risk populations in building that were poorly maintained and with insecure communal spaces (particularly staircases & lifts). In New Zealand these problems have been exacerbated by structural problems with the innovative designs of the Modernist era, and in 2011 the nearby McLean State Flats were evacuated when they were deemed to be earthquake prone.  

      The Gordon Wilson Flats were evacuated in May 2012 following an engineer’s report commissioned by Housing New Zealand that identified the need for urgent remedial work to large concrete panels on the building's exterior facade. The media reported that “they could fall and crush people during an earthquake or strong wind…”  and the buildings population of over 130 residents were given seven days to vacate the building.  Although some residents spoke to media about their sentimental attachment to the building including one who said that “This is my castle, I love it here,”  others were more equivocal noting problems with other marginalised, often anti-social tenants, and a lack of building maintenance.




    • Modifications close
      • 1957 - 1959
      • Building constructed
      • 2011
      • Replacement of stairwell windows, repair and replace membrane roof, replacement of service stair and safety railing, general fire upgrade, install 10 abseil anchor points on the roof, general repair and maintenance work (SR 226613, SR227008).
    • Occupation History close

      Not assessed

  • close Architectural Information
    • Building Classification(s) close

      Not assessed

    • Architecture close

      The Gordon Wilson Flats are a multi-storey block of social housing that varies in height from 7 – 10 storeys depending on topography. The building was designed with bedsitting rooms on the ground floor level(s) along with a caretaker’s office, and storage for baggage and prams. There were 75 maisonette flats above ground floor and laundry washing and drying facilities on the roof. Each 64m2 maisonette consisted of a lounge and kitchen at entry level, with a stair to two bedrooms and a bathroom on the upper level.

      Exterior of the building is dominated by the expressed structural grid pattern. A primary grid denotes the individual two-storey, two bay maisonette tenancies, and this is further divided by a secondary grid that divides the elevation of the maisonettes at bedroom floor level, and vertically through the bedroom and living room windows. Most of the visible structural elements are concrete, particularly the wall and floor slabs, the precast spandrel panels and window (mullion) posts. The balcony fronts were vitreous enamelled metal and were once decorated in an alternating pattern of red & blue, although this appears to have been over-painted at a later date. The concrete structure was designed as a fair-faced finish, although the internal walls of the apartments were generally papered or painted. The internal floors within the maisonettes were constructed in timber.

      The building was partly built into a site that sloped steeply and the hillside was stabilised with a series of crib walls that step back into the hillside and retain up to 20m vertically. The building’s piling system was a new technology for its time and consisted of pre-drilling the holes, filling them with reinforcement and aggregate, and pumping them full of a wet mix of sand and cement.



    • Materials close

      Reinforced concrete piles, foundations, walls, floor-slabs, roofs, and stairs

    • Setting close

      The Gordon Wilson Flats are located on a large, prominent, steeply sloping site on the Terrace and are a landmark that is visible from various points around the city, including Mt Victoria and Roseneath. The site includes the much smaller McLean State Flats (1943-44) designed in an earlier ‘International Style’.  

  • close Cultural Value
    The Gordon Wilson Flats have architectural value as a good representative example of 1950s Modernist high density social housing, that though common internationally, is relatively rare in New Zealand. 

    The flats are associated with the social policy of the government of the day and were an endeavour to solve a chronic housing shortage. They were the last of the high-rise tower-block social housing developments designed by the Ministry of Works & Development.  The flats are also associated with economic recovery in the 1950s which led to a boom in the building industry.

    The flats were designed by Government Architect Gordon Wilson, who died while the flats were nearing completion. It is for this reason they were named in his honour.
     

    • Aesthetic Value close
      • Architectural

        Does the item have architectural or artistic value for characteristics that may include its design, style, era, form, scale, materials, colour, texture, patina of age, quality of space, craftsmanship, smells, and sounds?

        The Gordon Wilson Flats have architectural value as a good representative example of 1950s Modernist high-density social housing, that though common internationally, is relatively rare in New Zealand.

      • Group

        Is the item part of a group of buildings, structures, or sites that taken together have coherence because of their age, history, style, scale, materials, or use?

        The Gordon Wilson Flats have a relationship to the neighbouring McLean State Flats, and the nearby Dixon Street Flats, forming a collection of buildings of similar design and purpose in the same part of central Wellington.

      • Townscape

        Does the item have townscape value for the part it plays in defining a space or street; providing visual interest; its role as a landmark; or the contribution it makes to the character and sense of place of Wellington?

        The monolithic high-rise block of flats is a significant visual element in the cityscape and has townscape value for that reason. 

    • Historic Value close
      • Association

        Is the item associated with an important historic event, theme, pattern, phase, or activity?

        The flats are associated with the social policy of the government of the day and were an endeavour to solve a chronic housing shortage. They were the last of the high-rise tower-block social housing developments designed by the Ministry of Works & Development (although there were several later high-rise social housing developments constructed by the Wellington City Council).  The flats are also associated with economic recovery in the 1950s which led to a boom in the building industry.

    • Scientific Value close
      • Archaeological

        Does the item have archaeological value for its ability to provide scientific information about past human activity?

        Central City NZAA R27/270  

      • Technological

        Does the item have technological value for its innovative or important construction methods or use of materials?

        The building has technological value for the inclusion of equipment to measure earthquake movements, a practice that was not widely used in New Zealand at the time. The building also has technological value for being one of, if not the first, building in New Zealand to use the particular system of piling employed.

    • Social Value close
      • Identity - Sense of Place - Continuity

        Is the item a focus of community, regional, or national identity? Does the item contribute to sense of place or continuity?

        This building fulfils an ongoing function as social housing, although this is in temporary respite while the earthquake prone status of the building is resolved. 

    • Level of Cultural Heritage Significance close
      • Authentic

        Does the item have authenticity or integrity because it retains significant fabric from the time of its construction or from later periods when important additions or modifications were carried out?

        The building has had relatively few intrusive modern alterations or additions and retains much of its original built fabric. 

      • Local Regional National International

        Is the item important for any of the above characteristics at a local, regional, national, or international level?

        The building is of local significance as an example of Modernist high-density social housing. It is of some significance nationally as the last high-rise tower block designed as social housing by the Ministry of Works. 

      • Representative

        Is the item a good example of the class it represents?

        The Gordon Wilson Flats have architectural value as a good representative example of 1950s Modernist high-density social housing, that though common internationally, is relatively rare in New Zealand. 

    • Local / Regional / National / International Importance close

      Not assessed

  • close Site Detail
    • District Plan Number

      16/299

    • Legal Description

      Lot 1, DP 363050

    • Heritage New Zealand Listed

      Not listed

    • Archaeological Site

      Central City NZAA R27/270

    • Current Uses

      unknown

    • Former Uses

      unknown

    • Has building been funded

      No

    • Funding Amount

      Not applicable

    • Earthquake Prone Status

      124 Notice

  • close Additional Information

Last updated: 27/11/2017 10:49:47 p.m.