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Three-fold Recognition Of Significant Wellington Heritage Places

Press Release – Heritage New Zealand

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga has recognised the exceptional significance of three Wellington historic places. These noteworthy buildings, built throughout the 20th century, are now Category 1 historic places on the New Zealand Heritage …

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga has recognised the exceptional significance of three Wellington historic places. These noteworthy buildings, built throughout the 20th century, are now Category 1 historic places on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero (‘the List’).

Wellington Trades Hall on Vivian Street opened in 1929 and has been the home of trade unions ever since. The building has outstanding historical significance for its connections with the union movement in Aotearoa New Zealand; with the lives of ordinary working people and well-known union figures; organisations like the Labour Party and Federation of Labour; and major events such as the 1951 waterfront dispute. Its public connection with unionism was tragically demonstrated in 1984, when it became the site of the country’s first fatal terrorist attack after a home-made bomb was left in the lobby. This crime remains unsolved. The building has special social significance as a place of great importance to the union community past and present and considerable efforts have been made by the owner, Wellington Trades Hall Incorporated, to ensure its preservation in the future.

“Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga commends the restoration work undertaken by Wellington Trades Hall Incorporated and is delighted to recognise the building’s heritage values through listing,” says the Director Central Region Jamie Jacobs.

Wellington Central Library, designed by Athfield Architects and opened in 1991, has outstanding architectural significance as a highly esteemed postmodern building, employing classical architectural forms, historical references and varied shapes and materials to arresting effect. The building is critically acclaimed by architectural commentators and has won major architectural awards. It has exceptional historical significance as a major work of the late Ian Athfield, one of New Zealand’s most renowned architects of recent times, and represents the entry of his firm into the field of public architecture. Commonly referred to as ‘Wellington’s living room’, the Wellington Central Library has outstanding social significance as a much-loved and visited place.

Postmodern architecture, which had its heyday in the 1980s, is characterised by bold, overstated forms, playful, quirky details and references to history. The library’s nīkau palm columns, which acknowledge a tree indigenous to the Wellington region that was used in customary Māori housing, are the most prominent of the library’s many postmodern features and have become symbols of the library service and the city.

“Wellington Central Library is the youngest building on the List,” says Dr Jacobs. “We are excited to add diversity to our List by including this exceptional postmodern building. We look forward to working with the Wellington City Council to have it strengthened and reopened to the community.”

McLean Flats and Gordon Wilson Flats, built in 1943-44 and 1957-59 respectively to provide state rental housing, are of outstanding significance for the way they exhibit how Modernism became a characteristic approach in New Zealand’s mid-20th century public architecture, and together reflect the evolution in Modern design before and after World War Two. They represent a period of optimism and determination to transform society through architecture. The Gordon Wilson Flats is the country’s sole remaining example of 1950s high-rise state housing and is therefore uniquely placed to demonstrate that chapter of New Zealand’s response to the need for housing. As examples of the state exploring different models of housing density, both blocks of flats make interesting contributions to current debates about provision of housing and urban spatial planning in New Zealand.

“This listing is further recognition for the Gordon Wilson Flats but doesn’t increase the protections that are already in place through the Wellington City District Plan,” says Dr Jacobs. “Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga would like to see protections extended to the McLean Flats as well, and looks forward to continuing to work with Victoria University of Wellington as they develop a gateway to their Kelburn Campus on this site.”

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