Mt Wellington townhouses on Ruawai Road raising questions about Auckland Council’s commitment to quality design

Are these “ugly homes” and “godforsaken design” what Auckland’s leaders and planners had in mind when they promised a new era of high quality design?

“Design will be the X factor,” trumpeted Auckland design champion Ludo Campbell-Reid at the time the Unitary Plan was being drawn up several years ago.

“Does higher density mean ugly? The feedback we’ve had is that Aucklanders don’t oppose apartments – they oppose ugly apartments. And we agree,” Auckland Council said.

Four years on from the introduction of the Unitary Plan, these assurances are coming in for criticism over a new development on Ruawai Rd in Mt Wellington.

Where a single house stood, a developer is building seven townhouses on a 809sq m section. The three-storey terraces each have three bedrooms and a single car park.

But it is the two townhouses facing Ruawai Rd causing a stir on social media and upsetting the neighbours.

“It’s cheap, rotten housing,” said Roger Samson, whose home of 40 years is directly across the street in Ruawai Rd.

His wife, Julie Samson, understood the need for intensification, but said absolutely no thought had gone into the design. What’s more, the large front windows reflect light into our sitting room, she said.

“It sucks,” said one neighbour, saying the new builds look into their kitchen and bedrooms and had meant buying new blinds for privacy.

Images of the townhouses facing Ruawai Rd have caused outrage on two Facebook pages with several people comparing them to shipping containers, piled one on top of another.

“Cripes, what sort of godforsaken design is that?” said one person.

“What ugly homes”, “God these are awful”, said others. A few people welcomed the homes to put more roofs over people’s heads.

Russell Cannons, a director of Construkt Architects which do multi-unit, infill and social housing, said density and intensification is a good thing.

As the city intensifies in existing suburbs, he said, it is important the first developments display good architecture and context within the grain, scale and texture of the surrounding area.

Cannons said the Ruawai development might not have achieved some of these goals, including understanding the architectural language of the area.

The design of the front facade might have been better, said Cannons, but cautioned it would pay to wait to pass final judgment until the houses were completed and the landscaping is done.

One of the developers, who did not want to be named, said the terrace houses were of a high quality design, citing the use of large windows at the front.

The woman said people need to get used to the Unitary Plan of more intense and smaller houses, saying the new generation of Aucklanders could not afford big houses.

The developer’s planning application to Auckland Council said the houses ensure a good level of attractiveness and create visual interest along the road frontage.

In the decision to grant resource consent, the council said the variation in cladding, landscaping along the street frontage is intended to mitigate the visual dominance of the front houses by creating visual interest and breaking up the bulk of the development.

The property is zoned for terraced housing and apartment buildings.

In a statement, council’s general manager of resource consents, Ian Smallburn, said the site is still under construction and key aspects, such as landscaping, have not started.

“While we understand the first property in any area to change housing type often receives attention from the community, this area is marked for significant change and growth.”

Smallburn said given the zoning for the area and with only seven units, “this development is small in comparison to other developments that will likely follow”.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff declined to comment on the design of the Mt Wellington townhouses.

He said the council does not have the power, nor does it set rules around the attractiveness of people’s homes, but does have urban design panels and urban design staff to help significant buildings and large residential and commercial developments meet the standards of good design.

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