Southern Response, the project managers for the Dorset Street Flats repair programme, posted this video on 26 February 2015.
ASSESSMENT CRITERIA FROM HERITAGE NEW ZEALAND: HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUE.
This building is one of the first buildings designed by Miles Warren and is a key work within his oeuvre. Warren has been recognised nationally and internationally as one of the most important New Zealand architects of the second half of the twentieth century. The Dorset Street Flats set new architectural, social and aesthetic standards for domestic buildings in New Zealand and are of outstanding significance as one of the most important Modern Movement buildings constructed in this country.
Warren designed the Flats on his return from working in Britain and travelling in Europe and they reflect the influences he absorbed while overseas. As the Flats were constructed for the use of Warren and his friends, they were the first building he designed without the constraint of a conservative client and this enabled him to freely pursue his architectural concerns and beliefs.
The flats reflect the changing social needs for housing in the post-war period, as young, single professionals without the need for state-provided housing sought to live in small city flats that met their requirements for low-maintenance minimal urban living.
The flats are also of historical significance as Warren, who has only had three permanent residences since his return from Europe, lived in number 4 from 1958 to 1965 and as such, the modesty, size and location of the flats reflect his youth and beginnings as an architect. They are also an example of his own, physical handiwork, as the brick paving on the paths and in some of the gardens were laid and planted by Warren and his friend and fellow Dorset Street owner-occupier, Michael Weston. Warren has also become a notable garden designer in New Zealand; the pond and the golden Japanese maple tree are original features in the garden of number 4 Dorset Street.
The Dorset Street Flats in Christchurch were designed and built between 1956-57, and have been described as being “amongst the most important domestic buildings built in New Zealand in the second half of the twentieth century.” The work of Miles (later Sir Miles) Warren, the flats are one of the earliest attempts in the country to construct a building from load-bearing concrete block, and are the pioneer for what would later become known as “The Christchurch School” of post-war architecture. Lauded by critics, so radical was the design at the time that many of the public labelled it “one of the ugliest buildings in the city”, and tour buses were said to have driven past to allow for a viewing of “Fort Dorset”. Warren himself occupied one of the flats between 1958-65.
The buildings are listed as Group 3 on the Christchurch City Council’s “List of Protected Buildings, Places and Objects”.
In 1999, DOCOMOMO New Zealand added the flats to their “Top 20” list of Modern Movement buildings.
In 2010, Heritage New Zealand registered the buildings as a Category 1 historic place - the highest level available - citing them as having “set new architectural, social and aesthetic standards for domestic buildings in New Zealand and [recognising them] as one of the most important Modern Movement buildings constructed in this country.”
The flats were extensively damaged in the February 2011 Canterbury Earthquake, and have been in limbo since that time. A restoration project is now underway, and can be followed on this page and at www.dorsetstreetflats.com.
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