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August 21, 2017 | by  | in News |
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Gordon Wilson Flats Saved From the Wrecking Ball

The Gordon Wilson flats have been saved from demolition after the Environment Court upheld an appeal from the Architectural Centre which sought to retain the building’s heritage status.

VUW purchased the flats from Housing New Zealand in 2014, seeking to have it rezoned as part of VUW to allow for its demolition. Wellington City Council (WCC) removed the building’s heritage status in its District Plan last year.

The building has remained abandoned since 2012, when 131 tenants, housed there through Housing New Zealand, were evacuated due to safety concerns. An engineer’s report revealed the building’s concrete facade was at risk of collapsing in an earthquake or strong wind.

VUW Director of Property Services, Stephen Costley, told Salient that the property was purchased with a view of demolishing the building. This would be to “support [VUW’s] strategic goal of becoming more connected to the city.” A “safe and attractive” walkway was proposed, connecting the Kelburn campus to Ghuznee Street and the city centre.

VUW sought demolition on the basis that there “was no viable use for the building.” Costley told Salient that the building was unable to provide satisfactory accommodation or educational facilities.

The Architectural Centre appealed WCC’s delisting of the building in May 2017, arguing that despite the building’s decrepit condition, there had been no exploration of “reasonable alternatives to demolition,” or recognition of the “adverse heritage effects” of any modifications.

The heritage status of the building was upheld on a number of grounds. Built in 1959, the flats are a rare example of high-rise social housing built under a National government. The flats are also an exemplar of Modernist post-war architecture, being one of two such buildings in the country.

“While acknowledging the present condition of the building to be poor, there is nothing that cannot be repaired and reinstated, leaving a building that would be fit for purpose as housing for students, or staff, or even convertible to academic purposes,” the Architectural Centre said in their appeal.

The two central issues in this case, according to the Environment Court, were the heritage value of the building, and the “practicalities, difficulties, and costs of refurbishment.”

The Court held that the building had “significant heritage value and should not be delisted.” The Court did not address the question of refurbishment, stating that whether refurbishment was practical would be “subject to close scrutiny” if there was a further application or appeal about the building’s heritage status.

Costley told Salient that VUW is “still examining the court decision” and reviewing its options. Investigations remain ongoing as to “options for development of the site.”

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