Airport building may become a heritage site

Whakatane airport

Whakatane’s distinctive airport terminal may soon become an officially-listed historic place.
Heritage New Zealand is seeking submissions on a proposal to make the airport terminal a category 1 historic place.
Despite being called “an ugly blooming thing” in The Beacon by locals when it was opened in 1973, the airport terminal, designed by famed architect Roger Walker, has become a Whakatane icon and has won several distinguished awards.
There was discussion around the proposal at a recent Whakatane District Council meeting, with some councillors concerned the potential heritage listing might limit what could be done with the building.
Gerard van Beek said he was worried the council might be forced to maintain a building that was “not very well used” and “not particularly fit for purpose”.
Deputy Mayor Judy Turner is also concerned about the upkeep of the terminal and has questioned whether it warrants heritage status.
“I object to something being given status when it has poor design,” she said.
“I don’t think we should be highlighting bad design purely because it’s quirky.”
However, councillors of the day fought to have Mr Walker as the architect as they wanted something different for the town to put it on the tourist map.
The plan worked and following its opening, many people chose to fly from Auckland to Wellington via Whakatane, just to see the building.

Architect Roger Walker

The terminal was Mr Walker’s first commercial design after setting up his own firm, Walker Architecture & Design, when he was 29-years-old and is now his first to be nominated for the heritage list.
“I’m very pleased it has been nominated, it’s quite gratifying,” said Mr Walker.
“The instructions I had for this building is that they wanted a striking building to put Bay of Plenty on the map as they felt they were missing out on the tourists. I think it’s good to have things that are different, there are so many buildings which are just the same.”
Mr Walker said the terminal was one of the first in New Zealand to have the control tower built on top of the terminal. Previously they were separate buildings.
Before the addition of the control tower, Whakatane airport had a “mobile unit”, which was simply a van painted black and white which would drive out from Whakatane whenever a plane was due.
“We really fought to have the control tower on top of the building,” said Mr Walker.
“We wanted the building to be visible from some distance away and make it a landmark rather than a flat building in a flat landscape.”
As for the councillors’ concerns around renovations, Mr Walker said he was “still around” if somebody wanted to speak to him about it.
Submissions on the Heritage New Zealand proposal close at 4pm on February 15.

What travellers say

The potential heritage listing of the Whakatane Airport terminal building has polarised travellers’ opinions.
Some are adamant the building should be listed while others believe it is ugly and have concerns about keeping a building which may become unfit for purpose.
Kay Graham was among those who believed the airport should be preserved because of it’s unique and special architectural design.
“I don’t care if it’s on the list or not, as long as we can keep it,” said Mrs Graham.
“It’s very unique and it’s very Whakatane.”
Other travellers at the airport on Monday morning agreed with Mrs Graham’s sentiment, with people saying they are sick of “cookie-cutter” buildings and appreciate something a little more interesting.
However, others, including Huri Gage, were concerned the building’s potential listing might mean the town was stuck with the building.
“Whakatane is growing and what if in the future we need a bigger building and one that is more fit for purpose?” said Mr Gage.
“But it is quite unique so I’m not too sure if it should be listed or not.”
Other travellers called the building “an ugly Lego building” and said it was dark, dingy and cold.