City |

Sociable Housing.
Arlington Masterplan.


As Wellington looks for ways to accommodate population growth all options are being considered; residents have said that they want the future city to be compact, green, resilient, inclusive and connected. Arlington is the city’s largest social housing site, but its housing stock is no longer fit for purpose – it has been sitting empty for years. Isthmus led the development of a Business Case Masterplan to set out a bold vision for a higher density residential neighbourhood with almost 300 varied housing units.

Arlington is situated in the suburb of Mt Cook, just 20 minutes walk from Wellington’s waterfront; its city fringe location is ideal for medium to high density living.

One of the biggest challenges facing Wellington today is the provision of affordable and accessible housing. Planning for an estimated 30,000 new homes by 2043 is focusing on the urban core as the best solution to maintain Wellington’s reputation as one of the most liveable cities in the World. Arlington holds potential to further this reputation with the development of a new residential community.

Arlington has a rich history of providing for Wellingtonians in need of housing – in the early twentieth century it was occupied by workers from nearby brick and clay factories, all housed in a tight grid and rows of cottages.

In the 1970s the site at Arlington was cleared, and a ‘village’ of terraces and standalone dwellings and a tower block, designed by the late Sir Ian Athfield in collaboration with King and Dawson, was constructed. Operated by Wellington City as social housing for four decades these units, along with the earthquake-prone George Porter Tower now lie empty.


An accelerated masterplanning process was required to develop quantifiable data on which to assess the business case and achieve the politically-driven timeframes. The design team assessed the optimum number of housing units, urban design and landscape considerations and planning principles for the site and indicated how a spectrum of low, medium and high-density housing options could be designed and delivered in a way that would bring the community together and connect residents with the surrounding area. The masterplan ‘scaffold’ sets out a framework for future land use alongside improved community amenities while retaining flexibility for the type of future buildings and how these can be arranged.

The masterplanning, based on a ten-week investigation into the contexts and opportunities of housing at Arlington, establishes an optimum capacity and layout that is both technically feasible, financially viable and planned in a way to deliver excellent urban design outcomes. Concurrent investigations also saw a business-case masterplan developed to show potential for integration with the wider community, and a movement strategy developed to illustrate how walking and cycling could be encouraged alongside newly activated public spaces and future-proofed housing options.

The rationale for the masterplan draws on the amenity of the nearby Town Green Belt at its south-western interface with that of the urban amenity of Cuba Street’s south extension at its northern interface. This set up one of two key moves that underpins the masterplan scaffold – the Spine – a “trees to town” link. The other key move – the Cascade – intersects the Spine midway in an east-west direction and is fundamental in managing the slope at the steepest portion of the site.

For many years, Arlington has been closed to the outside world; impermeable and disconnected. The Spine is a mechanism to correct this, to draw people in, connect Arlington residents with community in a landscape that is stimulating and enjoyable.  Where the Spine meets the Cascade the community’s heart will form, a social space at the core where both residents and visitors are welcome.

The Scaffold

The scaffold upholds a level of flexibility and adaptability, ensuring that the core idea is robust and is not susceptible to change, while still allowing typologies, tenure mix, market demands to influence how the masterplan is populated. This design framework blurs the site’s edges, opening the development up to the wider neighbourhood and forming a base for community. It is about placemaking; a ‘whole site’ outcome to bring community together.


The scaffold is an ambitious and future-focused device that is cognisant of the potential for water-sensitive urban design, and opportunities to employ new building technologies and to promote reduced car dependency as well as other sustainability initiatives. Through the business-case masterplan, these environmental and community aspirations were intertwined, with both aspects considered in the design of streetscapes and building typologies.

Interestingly, the Scaffold also leverages site context – it is authentic to the history of the site in that it recalls the historic street and block network, pulling Torrens Terrace into the parcel of land, and acknowledging the organisation of past housing typologies, when all homes were compact and clustered in a way that related neighbour to neighbour.

Typology and Topography
A series of housing typologies cascade down the steep slope along a connecting spine. At Arlington, the site’s topography is both an advantage and a challenge; an asset in terms of views and outlook; a challenge in terms of building platforms and transitioning.

The housing itself spans a wide range of typologies that ensures diversity through; size, spatial arrangement, bedroom make-up and combinations, siting, choice and price point. Housing typologies were filtered to ascertain the make-up of; tenure, bedroom numbers, social and affordable to open market housing and their location and integration.

Each building on the site is composed of a mixture of apartment typologies to add variance and diversity. All up there are almost 300 social and affordable houses in a range of typologies, including up to 40 supported living units for vulnerable people.

At the higher density end, 1, 2, and 3 bedroom apartments are included in varying building block configurations up to 6 storey’s high with commercial space at the ground floor and limited basement carparking. These are located at the northern and lowest portion of the site where the greatest height can be managed without adverse effects to existing neighbours.

Terraced housing features prominently to the western and southern parts of the site and is provided through a varied range of unit and block sizes, while smaller blocks of walk-up apartments and townhouses are centrally located.


In terms of overall urban form two scenarios were developed, one that was compliant with district planning requirements and one that optimised the sites unique features, location and constraints. The optimised scenario was developed further, assessing risk in terms of consenting paths, geotechnical challenges, market viability, cost, staging and deliverability as part of the business case. The existing George Porter Tower was the focus of extensive analysis in both scenarios in determining the viability of either retaining or demolition of the earthquake prone structure.

With the site’s steep topography (more than a 20m fall from Hankey Street to Arlington Street) the house typologies work hard to “absorb” the gradient into stepped levels, vertically inter-locking units and small building footprints that continually transition across varying levels through the site benefiting from the Cascade concept. A height analysis was undertaken to ensure sensitive interfaces with existing neighbours.

Outdoor spaces
It is landscape that fundamentally stitches a neighbourhood, or series of neighbourhoods, together, and Arlington’s proposed landscape works on several levels to achieve physical and visual links to the wider neighbourhood, contribute character and provide health and wellbeing benefits through play and social connections.

Within the Spine, the central Cascade Steps are a social place for play, gathering and sitting. Rather than being formally programmed, it is envisioned as an area for imaginative or casual play: for kids to jump, crawl or scramble across steps to platforms, or into enjoy pocket spaces within wider terraces.

Fun, safe and convenient connections to Nairn Street Park and the Town Belt, for instance, are key moves to encourage active recreation and play – improved physical wellbeing alongside access to nature with its well-established benefits to improved mental wellbeing. Outlook is important too; a planned stair connection with decks and viewing platforms between The Hankey Street walkway and the Spine is designed for future residents to enjoy the drama of the topography and the native planting, while pedestrians will be rewarded with views towards Mt Victoria and the National War Memorial.


More structured play options are presented at Arlington Street Pocket Park, which is extended and drawn into the site with a junior play area and a terraced lawn, gardens for exploring via stepping stones, slopes to roll down, and a loop path to scooter around. The concept locates the playground on the existing pocket park site, utilising the potential for shade and enclosure and the connections to the wider Torrens Terrace neighbourhood to create a positive and lively environment.

Urban Perspectives
Tonkin & Taylor
Property Economics
Dunning Thornton
Woods Bagot

Wellington City Council