Former 'ugliest' building in Chch put forward for heritage status
A block of Christchurch flats, once regarded as the "ugliest" building in the city, may get the highest level of heritage protection.
The Dorset St flats, designed and built by Sir Miles Warren in 1956 and 1957, was his first Christchurch project three years into his distinguished architectural career.
The New Zealand Historic Places Trust wants to give category one status to the flats.
Trust southern region general manager Malcolm Duff calls the flats "a bold statement of postwar architecture" that set the blueprint for modern design nationally.
Warren designed the eight one-bedroom flats for himself and three associates as owner-occupied accommodation, and a flat for each owner to let for income.
When built, Duff said they were soon dubbed "Fort Dorset" for their substantial concrete-block look.
"Tour buses would visit to view what were reputed to be the ugliest buildings in the city.”
However, Duff said they were greatly admired in architectural circles and came to distinguish the "Christchurch school" of postwar architecture that helped shape that type of design around the country.
Category one status was proposed because of their aesthetic, architectural, historical and technological significance, he said.
Warren said the move to recognise the building's history was "an excellent idea”.
"It's really the building that launched a number of ships: it really started modern postwar architecture here.”
He said the building's notoriety had been a "great honour" for him. "It speaks to the effrontery of youth, really.”
Trust heritage adviser Christine Whybrew said the flats marked the emergence of a new kind of residential living, and were recognised as one of the most important "modern-movement" buildings in New Zealand.
"Sir Miles took a total-design approach to the flats by designing built-in furniture and fittings and while there have been some internal alterations over the years, the flats retain many of their original features.”
Peter Howard, who owns the flat that Warren used to live in, said he chose it specifically because of the design.
"It really resonated to me from my childhood – I think most of the people living here identify with the architecture in some way.”
Howard said the "ugliest building" remark had to be understood in the context of the time. "Most of the other places at the time were red brick, red tile houses: people had never seen anything like it before.”
Public submissions on the flats' proposed status close on March 5. They will be reviewed before a final recommendation is put to the trust's board.
Glenn Conway, The Press, 20 February 2010.