Thursday, September 3, 2009

Capital Architecture

A quick Google Image search for “Wellington Harbour“ will show you how pretty the waterfront is. It’s a natural amphitheatre. Quite compact and flat, the city centre is easily explored on foot. This gives way to hills dotted with houses. The tricky thing about the terrain is that the forces that created it are also capable of destroying it.

Wellington is very much in earthquake territory. A major fault line runs through the city, with active parallel faults close by. Minor quakes happen regularly, but many locals I’ve spoken with joke that “the big one” is overdue.

This has meant rethinking how buildings are designed, and in some cases, earthquake-proofing existing structures. Parliament House is a great example of this. A New Zealander pioneered the technology that has essentially earthquake-proofed buildings up to about 7 or 7.5 on the Richter scale. (Info from They have a fantastic video that explains the technology.)

A short distance from Parliament is Old St. Paul’s cathedral. It was built in the mid 1800’s in 19th century Gothic Revival style. At present, the building is not earthquake-proof. I’m not sure how it would be done, but this place is worth protecting. Native timber, rich stained glass…it’s not hard to understand why this is an extremely popular place for weddings and other functions.

And I think the Government Buildings Historic Reserve is worth a look. It’s the largest wooden building in the southern hemisphere. That’s right. Wooden. Made to look like stone. It’s quite impressive. You can visit part of it; the rest is used as the Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington. The statue is of former Prime Minister Peter Fraser.

Finally for today, I think it's neat that given the right time of day, even the motorway can help make the skyline look impressive...