Bold vision for heritage precinct

Getting stuck into a real architectural issue in a real urban setting is an exciting opportunity for a group of Victoria University of Wellington students, who have been tasked with devising a creative upgrade of an inner-city heritage precinct in Wellington.

Simon Twose and Andrew Charleson
Simon Twose (left) and Andrew Charleson.

Students from two fourth-year classes at the School of Architecture have teamed up on the Courtenay Place Project, in which they envisage what the popular bar and theatre district might look like in the not-too-distant future.

Each student was allocated a building and asked to come up with a design that takes into account seismic resilience as well as refurbishment and regeneration.

The Courtenay Place Project builds on the success of work over the past three years by Victoria Architecture students to create redevelopment plans for Cuba Street and the suburb of Newtown.

Senior lecturer Simon Twose, who’s the course coordinator for the architectural design side of the project, says while the proposed interventions need to respect the heritage values of the buildings and the surrounding area, the finished concepts will be far from conventional.

“The students are tackling it within a spectrum—from reverent at one end to quite experimental at the other—they’re really pushing and pulling at the concept of heritage, so the final designs are likely to be quite provocative on a number of levels.

“Students tend to come up with ideas that aren’t necessarily the same as those a practising architect might think of,” says Simon. “Any way of rethinking how the city might operate is always helpful in stimulating debate and public thinking.”

The project involves close collaboration with the Wellington City Council and Heritage New Zealand. Associate Professor Andrew Charleson, who’s the course coordinator for the integrated technologies aspect of the project, says it’s a terrific partnership.

“The Council has provided the students with original building plans to work from, and it also funds engineering tutors to come and help the students achieve a higher quality of seismic retrofits for the Courtenay Place buildings.”

Andrew says the students’ reports outlining the retrofitting of each building, which have been guided by a chartered professional engineer, will be available to building owners via the Faculty of Architecture and Design Library. “The Council is very keen on the idea of this resource for building owners, as they’d like to encourage owners to strengthen, rather than demolish, heritage buildings. These technical reports will hopefully give the owners confidence to proceed with seismic strengthening.”

The project has culminated in a public exhibition of the designs. “The exhibition includes a scale model of the entire length of Courtenay Place showing the new architectural interventions,” says Andrew. “It’s very dynamic.”

The exhibition will be officially launched at 6pm today and can be viewed on the ground floor of Reading Courtenay (100 Courtenay Place, Wellington) during opening hours until Friday 6 November.