Just to whet everyone's appetite... The fact that Munns Menswear on Willis is having a demolition sale is just the start of something potentially big. As mentioned in a previous post, the whole row from 22-48 Willis St will be bowled over, and apparently, No. 50-52 may be retained as part of the façade. At this stage, it's still under wraps, but WellUrban has previously written on it
Article from New Zealand Construction News (c. August 2007)
Nation's first vertical village structure planned as new capital centrepiece
Ian Cassels, proprietor of The Wellington Company vows to create a new centerpiece building for the capital. Typical of the capital’s leading individual developer-constructor, he has more than just words and concepts to offer. He has the two frontage site safely in his hands in order to build his new alternative civic epicentre.
Ian Cassels with his projects chief, John Feast
It is the old Airways House, slap in the middle of lower Willis Street, close to Lambton Quay, and a stone’s throw away from the existing civic center, the official one. It also directly opposite the Willis Bond Chews Lane development being built by L.T. McGuinness (see profile, Construction News, November 2006)
Mr Cassels quietly acquired the old Golden Mile eyesore of Airways House some time ago. In keeping with his reputation for going where others simply do not go, he quietly, yet sensationally, started developing the site several years ago when he built on the vacant area at the rear, the world’s first inner city portable apartments.
A feature of the Airways House site is a double street frontage. There is the Willis Street one, and it backs onto Boulcott Street, once a prized area, but now something of a backwater. In between the two frontages there is a car park upon which Mr Cassels erected his portable apartments, which resemble a tropical stilt village and a Paris Beaubourg style design with its external ducts and plumbing.
The scheduled new site encompassing pending total building will be known as Willis Central and it will be what Mr Cassels describes as the nation’s first ‘vertical village.’
As Australasia’s first inner city vertical village it will comprise apartments, offices, recreational space, in fact everything that anyone might normally find in a community. One feature not normally found in villages, though, will be a helipad.
Mr Cassels’s determination to keep the capital’s urban feet to his creative fires was braced at the end of last year, with his just completed Conservation House receiving the five star Green Building acclamation.
The site was formerly the abandoned Hoyts cinema complex near the corner of Manners Street and Willis Street. Mr Cassels scooped out the old cinema configuration from the building, which was erected by Chase during the 1980s property boom heyday. He converted the complex into an energy-conserving atrium style building that is now inhabited by the Conservation Department.
Chill beams and an external double wall, which acts as an enclosing curtain chimney or convection duct, have replaced conventional air conditioning. Conservation House was awarded the five stars rating by the Green Building movement because of the way in which original materials were re-used and minimum energy expended in its construction and subsequent use as a commercial building.
Mr Cassels notes that the Conservation Department had considered moving to the Centreport office park opposite the Westpac Stadium, (see Construction News November 2006).
In the event, the Conservation Department had perceived the energy savings and conservation elements inherent in Mr Cassel’s preservation yet substantial modification of the old Hoyts cinema complex.
They also recognised, he notes now, the inherent conservation factor of remaining in the ‘intensity’ of the CBD. He said that the way in which Wellington people all worked together in the same compact areas was itself an example of conservation.
He compared the Wellington scene with Auckland’s in which most transactions involved “driving from one end of the city to another.” Auckland, he observed, was developing into a series of satellite cities that required ever-increasing transport arteries to co-exist, and thus ever more dependence on energy consumption.
In contrast, Wellington had cohesion due to its focused CBD. Everyone was in the same place, and thus walking took over from fossil fuel driven personal encounters. Around the world, he said, office parks, such as the one underway on the port land, had been a failure. “The people who work there – they are prisoners, they can’t get out. They have nowhere else to go. If they want to go somewhere they’ve got to drive. Or, be driven there.”
The new Conservation House in the old Hoyts complex formally opened in February, though the Conservation Department itself moved in at the end of 2006. Meanwhile, it is expected that work is imminent on the new Willis Central vertical village based on the existing Airways House.
Mr Cassels is widely credited with saving Cuba Street, the original heart of Wellington’s retail and entertainment area. The district receives a special citation in The Lonely Planet in its new incarnation as the heart of the capital’s funky café and arts barrio.
Mr Cassels contradicts the notion that heavy office rents are forcing institutional tenants to consider the former port land for new head offices. He cites figures to show that in value terms, rents in Wellington are substantially less than they were during the 1980s property boom.
Mr Cassels is convinced that his new Willis Centre/Airways House vertical village will still further enhance Wellington’s reputation as the city that people want to visit most of all. He believes that direct long-haul flights into Wellington airport will reinforce Wellington as the city that Asians prefer to visit.
A problem, he believes, is that the weight of the Labour coalition’s urban development strategies has been concentrated on Auckland. “Look at the stadium, the entire government was on hand immediately the issue arose and they were ready to build one. In contrast, the Transmission Gully route into Wellington is years away.”
Mr Cassels began as a conservation minded developer constructor in 1990 when, he recalls, Wellington was “bleak and gloomy. In those days we employed all the carpenters and plumbers and the rest of the industry sat there too frightened to do anything.” Now he said, a situation existed in Wellington in which it would be virtually impossible for a commercial construction firm NOT to make a handsome profit.
In spite of the relative success of the Green political party in New Zealand, Mr Cassels outlined a general picture of ignorance in which even those who were part of the industry failed to understand how commuting costs had become such a large component of the energy and environmental depletion problem. One breakthrough, he noted, was that building by laws no longer required car parks for all apartments.
When his new civic center vertical village in the form of Willis Centre was brought to life, he emphasised, it would be conclusively demonstrated how its inhabitants did not need cars. “They will have everything there that they need in order to work, play, and relax. They will not need to leave it, and thus they won’t need a car.”
Mr Cassels said that the moveable apartments on sheer legs on the current car park of Airways House, a car park that will no longer be needed in its pending car-less Willis Centre new life. They will be simply moved to another home somewhere else. Ideally, complete with their occupants.