New life for ghost town Denniston in forward-thinking design proposal

New life for ghost town Denniston in forward-thinking design proposal
Former mining town Denniston - home to just six people - could find itself a leading light in design.

Roger Wilson's accommodation pods designed for DennistonFormer mining town Denniston - home to just six people - could find itself a leading light in design.

The tiny West Coast town of Denniston, untouched since the 1960s, is known more for its status as an isolated ghost town than its innovation in design.

But when Aussie company Bathurst Resources flagged its intention to mine in the area again, one bright student saw the way forward to prettify the landscape with a resurrection plan.

Victoria University student Roger Wilson picked up the NZIA Graphisoft Student Design Award last year, as one of four top architectural students in the country.

His plans? A social and commercial hub with links to three different types of accommodation, linked by an original ‘rope road’ that miners would use to lift coal buckets.

On offer is a multi-level apartment building for miners and their families, with small pods reminiscent of early pioneering huts, bound to draw tourists. The design features smaller apartments for couples, too.

Wilson drew inspiration from the historic masonry chimneys found across the West Coast. He also considered trying to raise the apartments as high as possible to maximise sun exposure, rejuvenating the miners after spending their days underground.

Designed to be self-sufficient and sustainable, each detached building has access to its own filtered water system and a wind turbine to produce electricity.

With so many derelict towns around New Zealand to choose from, why Denniston?

Both its history and individuality were a big pull for city boy Wilson. The renewed interest by Bathurst also piqued his interest – after the mine closed in the 1960s, the town’s population dropped from 2,000 to just six residents.

But it was on a trip to Europe in 2009 that the creative fairy godmother paid him a visit. Surrounded by beautiful buildings, he realised he could take the architecture he’d seen abroad and replicate that in Denniston.

“I love the density and diversity of the place,” Wilson says of Europe. “There’s so much happening currently and towards the future, yet at the same time there’s a constant presence of history.”

So what’s next for this budding designer? He’s dreamed of being an architect, but in the meantime Wilson’s got a wad of cash burning a hole in his pocket – the NZIA Graphisoft money, that is.

He’ll travel to Sydney to meet some of Australia’s leading architects, another perk of the prize. Unfortunately, with the lure of so many beautiful buildings beckoning him overseas, Wilson may end up as just another victim of the Kiwi brain drain.

Hopefully one day he’ll be back, returning to university to hit the books and study civil engineering.

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