A Concrete Legacy
Many of you will know that most of the Karori Teachers’ College campus, designed by the late Bill Toomath, is threatened with demolition by its new owners, Ryman Healthcare. I don’t know enough about the previous VUW/WCC ownership shenanigans to comment on that side, and the practicality of maintaining its role as a community asset are best left to that community, but I will mourn the loss of a fine and significant part of Wellington’s architectural heritage. While it’s still here, I decided to make a sort of “ambient documentary” recording its wonderful interplay of form, texture, landscape and light.
I know that not everyone appreciates Brutalist architecture, and in some contexts it can indeed be as grim as its popular reputation suggests. However, the way that Toomath integrates building and landscape is sometimes sublime, and the juxtaposition of boldly textured concrete and dense greenery is surprisingly natural: the U-shaped stairwells emerge from the undergrowth like limestone boulders or the remnants of ancient temples. In contrast, the upper courtyard is light-filled and gently scaled, combining elements of mediaeval cloisters with Japanese influences and rigorous planning to produce a refreshingly humane strand of Modernism. Not just concrete, but glass and wood, are deployed as a surprisingly broad textural palette, almost sensual in places, with a Guy Ngan sculpture as a fitting centrepiece.
You can find more about its history and heritage on the Architectural Centre’s website and in this article by Ben Schrader.