Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Secondhand Architecture: Finding value in the existing

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posted on 2021-11-23, 08:54 authored by Huynh, Vi

Secondhand architecture explores the potential for significant high-density housing models to be revitalised and offered a second life.  Much of the medium to high-density housing stock built in the mid to late twentieth century is tired, derelict and under threat of demolition. Buildings from this period, both here and internationally, are increasingly dismissed as outdated for not meeting a range of today’s housing needs. A combination of technical and functional obsolescence have contributed to their downfall along with numerous social and management issues, of which local authorities are failing to recognise and act on.  Today the demand for housing is considerable. Governments and private developers seek ways to address this demand yet frequently overlook the upgrade potential that this current housing stock possesses. To some extent, this is due to failure by authorities and the public to value their intrinsic heritage and architectural significance. The impetuous decision to demolish risks compromising our living heritage and losing a portion of our significant built environment.  In New Zealand and overseas, there is a general lack of recognition for the historical significance of our modern architecture. Amongst modern buildings, the post-war high-density public housing models is considered of lesser significance here due to the higher appreciation for detached suburban housing being entrenched as the desired norm.  This thesis makes a case for adapting and reusing modern public housing to operate as living patrimony - exploring their inherent value through design and reviewing their potential to assist increasing density within our inner cities. The George Porter Tower, designed by prominent architect Ian Athfield in the 70s, faces demolition due to its perceived poor living conditions and susceptibility to earthquakes. Using the Tower as a case study, this thesis explores strategies to repair, improve and reform our significant public housing models. These strategies are explored through five layers, providing a methodology that identifies the successes and failures of the case study and guide the iterative design process.  This thesis argues for the rehabilitation of a building to address the contemporary housing requirements. In acknowledging the value of these as a critical part of our built heritage, it demonstrates how history can exist within the present to maintain links to our past. In doing so, it celebrates the continual metamorphosis of the building, adding to its heritage values.  Secondhand architecture considers that buildings should be constantly evolving, not something that is frozen as icons of the past.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Architecture (Professional)

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Thompson, Kerstin