Berhampore Flats

493-507 Adelaide Road, Berhampore, Wellington

  • Berhampore Flats. Image courtesy of Vivienne Morrell.
    Copyright: Vivienne Morrell. Date: 27/04/2016.
  • Berhampore Flats. Image courtesy of Vivienne Morrell.
    Copyright: Vivienne Morrell. Date: 27/04/2016.
  • Berhampore Flats, Wellington. Model of the Centennial Flats, Adelaide Road, Berhampore, Wellington. Ref: MNZ-2160-1/2-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.
    Copyright: No Known Copyright Restrictions.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7432 Date Entered 28th August 1998

Locationopen/close

City/District Council

Wellington City

Region

Wellington Region

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 57300, City of Wellington

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Historical:

The Berhampore Flats are a 50-unit block of rental accommodation built in 1939-40, the inaugural multi-unit scheme in a vast State housing scheme that was dominated by detached and semi-detached houses and flats. Only 13 of these higher density blocks were built, making them an aberration in a public housing programme that has continued to favour the single-unit detached cottage or the semi-detached house.

Nevertheless, the multi-unit complexes had significance for being designed for "those who have interests other than babies and gardens". Berhampore Flats was the first of the big State complexes and with its medium density accommodation set around a central green space and circular community hall, indicates the sense of community that the Labour Government and its bureaucratic servants were attempting to cultivate in its housing programme.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Architectural:

The Berhampore Flats were designed in the Inter War Modern style otherwise known as the 'International' or 'Functionalist' style of the period 1915-1940. The Style continued after the Second World War as the Post War Modern style. Important style indicators are:

- Cubiform overall shape.

- Plain, smooth wall surfaces.

- Corbusian (after Le Corbusier, 1887-1966) window motif in the form of a distinctive rectangular fenestration containing window casements arranged in a continuous horizontal line.

- Contrasting non-rectangular shapes in the form of semicircular or circular wings, porthole windows, and rounded streamlined comers.

- Stairs expressed by vertical emphasis.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

The provision of housing has long been an important aspect of New Zealand history. The Berhampore Flats were part of a massive state housing programme initiated by the First Labour Government. Viewed in the light of the numerical insignificance of high-density accommodation to the state housing programme and the fact that detached and semi -detached residences remained the norm long after the high density flats were finished, it cannot be said that the complex greatly influenced public housing programmes. However, the International Style-influenced Berhampore Flats are important for a number of reasons: they were designed in part to meet the needs of people who did not belong to the typical nuclear families for whom the orange-tiled cottages were designed; in pushing the complex back from the road and in placing a large green space in the centre and in maximising privacy for each unit, architect Gordon Wilson and his assistants consciously tried to bridge the gap between New Zealanders' attachment to the concept of detached suburban housing and the large inner-city blocks of Austria and Germany which influenced émigré architects. Finally, the addition of a large, circular communal social hall (complete with small stage and kitchenette) jutting out into the communal grassed area, demonstrated contemporary belief in the positive value of aspects of communal living; perhaps not surprisingly, that space was later converted into an individual flat.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

DATE: 1939-1940

ARCHITECT: Francis Gordon Wilson, 1900-1959. (See Biographical Essay)

STYLE CODE: 66: Inter War Modern of the period 1915-1940

DESIGN: The Berhampore Flats constitute five blocks of flats which were formally arranged so as to make up four sides of a rectangle. The quadrangle thus formed in: the centre of the design was planned as a communal green space with a Circular community hall located on the south side projecting into the middle of the quadrangle. Modernist design aesthetics were thus firmly established from the outset by the architect, Gordon Wilson, who contrasted the rectangular shapes and flat roofs of the accommodation blocks with the non-rectangular or circular shape of the community hall.

An emphasis on contrast was continued by employing a curvilinear shape for the three storeyed stair-well located at the north west end of the east block. The stair-well also exemplified the modernist penchant for vertical emphasis by being placed externally rather than internally. Balconies on the three floors adjacent to the stair-well had (in the final design as built) segmented or rounded ends thus adding to the design a delightful touch of Art Moderne streamlining characteristic of late 1930s architecture.

Porthole windows located in the ground floor doors and walls of some of the blocks continued the modernist emphasis of contrasting shapes by being set against the so called Corbusian window motif. In the Berhampore Flats this motif took the form (in keeping with its European origins) of individual rectangular window casements arranged in a continuous horizontal line containing, in some cases, up to twelve lights divided by glazing bars. Top hung, Hinged casement, and sliding windows made up groups of windows for each block, and these various types of window were in themselves a very cogent expression of modernist design principles.

The interior planning of the flats corresponded to the conventional lay-out of state houses, and are therefore not particularly notable for having the open plan concept of some overseas examples of modernist houses such as those designed by the Taliesin school of Frank Lloyd Wright architects, although this particular type of modernism was of the American rather than European persuasion. Julia Gatley describes the Berhampore Flats as being transitional, and while this is certainly true in respect of site planning, materials of construction (reinforced concrete), and design aesthetics, it is perhaps more directly evident in Gordon Wilson's adherence to the conventional planning of rooms divided up by walls as distinct, that is, from the eight inch thick party walls with their historical reference to English terrace housing.

(m) Such additional criteria not inconsistent with those in paragraphs (a) to (k):

International Modernism had arrived in New Zealand by 1930 although it is more generally known by the title 'Art Moderne' in the decade 1930-1940. A review of some buildings from this decade is a useful basis for comparison with the Berhampore Flats. Good examples of modernism early in the decade were few and far between but the New City Hotel, Christchurch, 1930, Cat.II, with its smooth wall surfaces and semicircular comer, has the typical contrasting shapes of modernism in its design as does the Gloucester Court Flats, Auckland, 1935, Cat.II.

Architects had become much bolder in their handling of the style by the end of the decade, particularly as a result of travel, publications, and overseas immigrants. By 1938-40 some brilliant essays in the style were being produced in New Zealand. In this latter bracket one may, for convenience, include examples of both the ordinary and the extraordinary, these being the former MED Building, Christchurch, 1938, Cat.II; the Herd Street P & T Building, Wellington, 1938-40, Cat.II; the Maisonettes, Christchurch, 1939-41, Cat.II; the Departmental Building, Wellington, 1938-40, Cat.II; the State Insurance Building, Wellington, 1940, Cat.I; and the Dixon Street Flats, Wellington, 1940-44, Cat.I.

Examples of International Modernism built in New Zealand following World War Two became more rectilinear in form with less reference to the circular motif but with more direct references to radical shapes like the roof of Broadcasting House in Wellington, and to the construction techniques of modernism such as reinforced concrete, cantilevered floors and roofs, and cubiform shapes with various types of window lighting including the glass curtain wall. The common thread, which was that of contrasting shapes, continued right through the post-war period into the 1960s and 70s. Buildings of note in this latter period include the Greys Avenue Flats, Auckland, 1946-47, also by Gordon Wilson, Cat.II; the B.J. Ball Building, Auckland, 1958, (proposed Category I registration), and Broadcasting House, Wellington, 1960-63, formerly Category I, but now demolished.

On a comparative basis the Berhampore Flats sit very comfortably with both the pre-war and post-war group of buildings given above, since the Flats have all the Modernist design elements identified above. They have, in addition, the special and outstanding feature of being designed in the form of a quadrangular scheme with a contemporary emphasis on the social idealism of the 1930s. This is important and significant for a number of reasons associated, not least, with the radical idea (for New Zealand in the 1940s) of European community style apartment living, and with 1930s concepts of public health, natural sunlight and open spaces exemplified in the open grass space at the centre of the original design for the Berhampore Flats. The Flats were unique in attempting to combine all these ideas into one unified design and, in no small way, they perhaps compare better with Modernist urban planning in New Zealand such as the Naenae Civic Centre by Ernst Plischke (designed in 1943), a scheme which ultimately suffered from modifications and compromises for reasons similar to those which affected the subsequent history of the Berhampore Flats.

Linksopen/close

Construction Professionalsopen/close

Wilson, F. Gordon

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1939 -

Completion Date

1st May 1998

Report Written By

Gavin McLean & Wayne Nelson

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Central region office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.