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March 18, 2019 | by  | in From the Archives |
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From the Archives – Home

Wellington has always been home to me. While my friends left for Auckland, Christchurch, or Dunedin, I stayed put. There’s nowhere else in the world I feel as comfortable as here. I’ve lived in other cities for a few months at a time, and I’d like to live somewhere else again. But speaking for myself, I find that Wellington is a difficult place to outgrow. The city is a lot different to when I was a little kid. So is the way I experience and move through it. Change is a constant in cities.

The current architectural landscape of Wellington owes a lot to a period of rapid change in urban construction in the 1980s. Before heritage legislation was coherent or well-resourced enough to protect old colonial-era buildings, property developers in Wellington and Auckland embarked on a campaign of doing away with the old and putting up high-rise offices. As demand for office space increased, developers seized the opportunity to profit off not only the ground floor of a building, but also the space above it.

The tension between the commercial imperative of land use and the charming character of older, smaller buildings was captured well in a feature in an 1987 issue of ^Salient:

 

“For every new building constructed in Wellington an older building is lost. There are some who see the demolition of Wellington’s old buildings as a good thing, because they are outdated and uneconomic. Others see their demolition as destroying a vital part of the city’s landscape and character.”

 

The results of this wave of high-rise building are clear: I lived on The Terrace last year. The residents of Katharine Jermyn Hall and Boulcott Hall kept me awake every weekend while I was trying to get bed at the sensible hour of half past ten, instantly transforming me into a letter-to-the-editor-writing “Concerned Citizen”. It also meant looking at the backs of office buildings and the grey guts of the city you never see from the street. Our flat, which was built in the early twentieth century, would have had a view out to the harbour and all the way to Mount Victoria. There’s an irony that Antrim House, the home of Heritage New Zealand on Boulcott Street, has had that same view obscured.

It’s evidence of how much Wellington City has changed. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Higher density will no doubt be part of the solution to Wellington’s housing problems. Thankfully, heritage legislation is stronger today. Public outcries over the demolition of historic buildings led to the passage of the the Historic Places Act 1993 which strengthened protections for heritage buildings, meaning the level of demolition of heritage buildings in the 1980s is unlikely to be repeated.

 

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