Gordon Wilson Flats Oral History Project

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The Gordon Wilson Flats is an imposing modern apartment block on the The Terrace in Wellington. Built as social housing and opened in 1959, the building was evacuated in 2012 due to an earthquake risk from the facade.

In September 2014, the University of Victoria purchased the Flats from Housing New Zealand. The following year, the University applied to have the property rezoned from ‘Inner Residential Area’ to ‘Institutional Precinct’ and to remove the Flats from the District Plan’s heritage list. In April 2016, the Council approved this application, but within three months the Architecture Centre lodged a successful appeal with the Environment Court.

In light of the building’s history and more recent developments, the University wanted to learn more about the lived history of the Gordon Wilson Flats. Stage One of this investigation consisted of oral history and archival research.

The beginning of an oral history archive was built up, with eleven previous tenants and two near neighbours interviewed. Further previous tenants were researched via archival records and online sources.

The biographies of these previous tenants, combined with government records from the early days of the Flats, created a social history of the first decade of the Flats. How tenants came to live in the Flats, what life was like, and problems such as exploding heaters were all covered.

Additionally, a review of academic and popular literature on the interaction of social housing and built heritage was conducted, to provide context for Stage Two of the project.