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VR heritage proposed for Gordon Wilson Flats

The demolition of Gordon Wilson Flats, one of only two buildings of its kind in the country, will almost certainly happen. But two students from the university that owns the building are working on a project to preserve it in virtual reality.

In May, the Wellington City Council made a zone change for the Terrace site of the Gordon Wilson Flats, changing it to an institutional precinct from an inner residential area.

Vitoria University of Wellington, which has owned the site and building since 2014, is now freed from the obligation to use the site for housing, which increases the likelihood of demolition of the heritage building.

Gordon Wilson Flats, designed by and named after New Zealand’s most famous modernist architect, was built in 1959 by the second Labour government as a state housing apartment.

Its ten floors housed 87 maisonettes (“little houses”) and it will soon be the only remaining such structure in New Zealand. (A similar building on Greys Avenue in Auckland was recently condemned for demolition to make way for state housing and rental accommodation.)

It has been closed since May 2012, when remaining tenants were removed over concerns about the stability of the concrete façade.

Victoria University, which purchased it from the government two years later, has been keen to demolish it ever since.

There has been, and continues to be, much resistance to this plan.

But regardless of the outcome, future generations will be able to experience the building for themselves through a project by two students of VUW’s School of Architecture.

Jessie Rogers and Hannah Rushton are recreating the Gordon Wilson Flats in a virtual reality simulation that shows the building as it is, and how it was.

You can get a taste of it here:

For a longer look at the history and current situation of what some call “Wellington’s ugliest building”, read this thorough and thoughtful piece by Max Towle for RNZ website The Wireless: