A bid to save brutalist-style architecture could once again come at the expense of proposed development in Wellington, this time social housing.

The city's council has begun consultation on a proposed partnership with Housing New Zealand to take a long-term lease of Mt Cook's Arlington complex.

The plan is to develop between 230 and 300 homes, including up to 40 supported-living units.

But amid the empty buildings currently on the site stands the earthquake-damaged George Porter Towers, which have been described as a Wellington landmark.

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A private individual who lives locally has filed an application to make it a heritage-listed building, Heritage New Zealand has confirmed.

The towers were designed by Ian Athfield and built in the 1970s. They are an example of brutalist architecture.

They are named after David George Porter, who was both a former city councillor and president of the Architectural Centre in the 1950s.

It was the Architectural Centre that saved the derelict, graffiti covered Gordon Wilson Flats from demolition following a successful appeal in the Environment Court.

It was also involved in court action successfully opposing a proposed flyover at the Basin Reserve.

The towers are named after David George Porter, who was both a former city councillor and president of the Architectural Centre. Photo / Georgina Campbell.
The towers are named after David George Porter, who was both a former city councillor and president of the Architectural Centre. Photo / Georgina Campbell.

The centre supported an adaptive reuse of the George Porter building before demolition on principle, Architectural Centre committee member Kate Linzey said.

Demolition involved financial, environmental and cultural costs, which were "typically overlooked in people's enthusiasm to get something new", she said.

"No one can deny that the building currently looks dreadful. The design is seen as dated and clunky. It also carries the stigma of having been social housing, as many would like to be able to ignore the existence of those who need housing support.

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"On the other hand, the building is extremely characterful. With some love and attention, modification of the structure and accessways, the building could be useful again", Linzey said.

She said in another 30 years fashion would have swung around and its design popularly admired, like the Star Block apartments in Auckland's Freemans Bay.

Wellington City Council master plan documents show development scenarios explored options to both retain the George Porter Towers and remove them.

Wellington mayor Justin Lester said it would be up to Housing New Zealand to determine the configuration of the site.

"All the master planning we've done to date shows you'd be far better starting with a blank canvas.

"We always have interesting discussions around heritage or lack thereof in Wellington City so we'll see how we go."

The George Porter Towers are earthquake damaged and empty. Photo / Georgina Campbell.
The George Porter Towers are earthquake damaged and empty. Photo / Georgina Campbell.

City council housing portfolio leader councillor Brian Dawson said the tower had serious issues from a public housing perspective.

A lot of money would have to be spent on bringing it up to the building code and making it fit for purpose, he said.

"Every cent that goes into it is money that couldn't go into building more housing units, so the bottom line has to be how many houses it would cost to keep the tower."