Walking through living architecture

Dr Robin Skinner from the Wellington School of Architecture is looking forward to leading a walk through the Kelburn campus on Sunday 31 October during Wellington Heritage Week.

hunter building sketch
Ask Dr Robin Skinner from the Wellington School of Architecture about the Kelburn Campus Walking Tour he will lead as part of Wellington Heritage Week and you can see his eyes light up.

“This is the first time I’m taking the walk. I’m keen to see how it develops because people will share their stories along the way— some they’ve heard, some they’ve lived through, maybe they’ll set me straight on a few things. So many people have an involvement with our campus site,” he says.

Professor Marc Aurel Schnabel, Dean, Wellington Faculty of Architecture and Design Innovation alerted his staff that David Batchelor, a current PhD student and festival director of Wellington Heritage Week, was keen to have guided walks during the event.

“I thought a walk through campus, where we can discuss the buildings and site development, and stop to look at some of the University’s artwork, would interest people. They could be people who have had an association with the site through their work or study or maybe they’ve never been here before,” he says, adding, “The wall of buildings along Kelburn Parade can be intimidating, so it would be good to welcome these interested people in.”

“The University’s story is one of aspiration and development, and I’m sure there will be some good titbits along the way. For example, did you know there was once an early scheme for our University on Pukeahu, now the site of Massey campus? But one of the financiers behind the Cable Car indicated that he was willing to donate £1000 if the University College could be allowed to build on the green belt at Kelburn.”

The walk will start on The Terrace at Mount Street, down by Mena’s Dairy, says Dr Skinner, because that has always been the walk up to the campus.

“In fact, long before the university was established the pathway appears on 1840’s survey maps as a “Native Path” that ran from Te Aro all the way to the Kaiwharawhara forest stream, where the Karori Reservoir now is. We’ll walk up this now tar-sealed path to the Hunter building and the Student Union. The earlier Students’ Association building, where our current Student Union is, was an old two-storeyed Tudorbethan building, where women and men had separate common rooms,” he adds.

“Along the walk, there'll be moments where we will stop to envisage the campus at certain times in its life. After the war, with the increased number of students returning from service, the campus had a series of army huts on Kelburn Park and on the site of the future Easterfield building. The University has had many similar cases of ‘making do’ with available resources to get initiatives running, with growth then prompting better facilities. The opening of Te Tumu Herenga Waka in 1986 is such a milestone.”

In the 1980s the Kelburn campus was described as a disparate collection of buildings arranged in an ad hoc way, says Dr Skinner, but it’s interesting what the campus has become.

“Concerted campus planning has resulted in some really great developments. The creation of ‘Cotton Street’ and the stairwell in the Student Union Building, for instance, have helped organise the site and provide much better circulation. The Hub was a master stroke.”

Dr Skinner’s favourite building on campus is the Adam Art Gallery, because, “It’s an unbelievable success on a very difficult site, and it’s frequently discussed with students at the architecture school.

“We’ll cover it in the tour along with the big ones—Stout, Kirk (also a favourite), Murphy and Cotton—and finish on Kelburn Parade across the road from the site of the Living Pā. That will be our next success story,” he says.

“The walk is really a story of the University. I hope that people on the walk gain an appreciation of how much has happened here and the evidence of long-standing aspiration that’s all around us. That is an important part of who we are. Most of all, I’d like them to understand how buildings can be interpreted and how they tell us about the world of their time and the world of our time.”

The Kelburn Campus Walking Tour will start at the junction of Mount Street and The Terrace (between 254 and 256 The Terrace) at 2 pm on Sunday 31 October. Please email weatherboards@gmail.com to book your spot. Spaces are limited.