Monday, December 31, 2007

A house fit for horrors

This is a time of year when bloggers should put aside the petty concerns of politics and consider instead matters of the Arts. So, following the example set by Mr Peter Cresswell, I shall indulge myself in a little architectural criticism.

The house pictured is the holiday home of one John Key, who is shown in the photograph. The house is one of several featured in an item from yesterday's Herald on Sunday, entitled, "Revealed: the holiday hideout of rich and famous." Mr Key, a retired foreign exchange dealer, is described by the paper as a "Prime-Minister-in-waiting."

Whilst he is waiting, Mr Key really should think about doing some gardening. I may be mistaken; perhaps the appearance of abandonment is newly fashionable among people of money; possibly Mr Key wishes to give the impression that he is too busy to spend time on personal concerns. Maybe he holds to Green principles and wishes to let his plot of land grow naturally, without human intervention. Or perhaps he has simple tastes and prefers weeds to flowers. But I think not. He should find a landscape gardener immediately, before people think he is the sort of man who would leave a car on his front lawn.

His gardener, if she has taste, will suggest tactfully that the garden be adorned with fast-growing trees, perhaps Leylandii or even Pinus Radiata. It is imperative that the house be concealed from public gaze as soon as possible. For there is only one word that can adequately describe this immodest abode and that is "vulgar."

It is difficult to know where to begin. Here is a house (described somewhat disingenuously by the Herald as a "bach") which has the appearance of a miniature office building. Rather than its present location at Omaha Beach, its design suits it to a business park on the outskirts of the city, conveniently near major transport hubs. The reader should note the extravagant and charmless cornice, apparently supported by massive piers, as well as the floor-to-ceiling windows in tinted glass. The reader should note these and resolve never to have a home with these features; unless, that is, he should wish to have regular visits from photocopier salesmen, for surely they will flock to his door.

Should one be visiting Mr Key in his holiday home, whether to attempt to sell office products or for social reasons, it would be very bad form to tap one of those seemingly weighty piers. It would chime like a bell. The piers must be hollow, since the wooden deck which apparently supports and surrounds them could not bear the weight of so much masonry. Wits might observe that this is a hollow house for a hollow man.

Fortunately, one can see little of the interior through the tinted glass. One suspects that it would contain a white leather lounge suite, on which Mr Key would relax with half a glass of Chablis while listening to Air Supply's Greatest Hits on the Bang and Olufson. One imagines the bookshelves, if there are any, would contain works by John Grisham and Dean Koontz. Doubtless, the walls are adorned with paintings of sailing boats, done in a pseudo-impressionist style.

If only, for the sake of this nation's reputation abroad, one could say that Mr Key had inherited this unfortunate state of affairs. But, as he never ceases to tell us, Mr Key was brought up in a State house, one which probably was a much better work of architecture than this. All this, apparently, is Mr Key's work. He bought the empty plot seventeen years past for a mere $147,000; with the house, it is worth $2.95 Million. The choice of design was his own, as is the location: Success Court.

I would continue, but readers of this blog are men and women of delicate aesthetic sensibilities. Instead, I shall wish you all a happy New Year.


Anonymous said...

Sadly this level of "architecture" is not unusual at Omaha. It's a beautiful spot but most of the housing is very much of this ilk, made even less attractive by the Rav4s in the driveways. Best to view the area from the wonderful walk to Ti Point across the water, where you can't see the houses in any detail.

Julie Fairey

Anonymous said...

Attributed to Le Corbusier: "If you want to see bad taste, go into the homes of the rich."

Brett D

Jake said...

I think you've missed the point, Paul, and that your appreciating of the elegance of this building has been blinded by your good taste and knowledge of architectural styles.

Key's bach or 'holiday home' as the good folk of Omaha would have it is a classic example of the Mesa-de-Cafe school. Note the stunning references to IKEA's latest line of the LACK, complete with the useful area for storing magazines below. Thus, the hideous tinted windows become a technique for blocking out space to achieve the illusion, whilst the lawn which you dismiss as unkept cleverly creates the illusion of corporate style carpeting from the early 1990s.

You don't see this simply because, living in New Zealand, you have been deprived of the wonder that is IKEA in a way that Key, a member of the jet set, has not. Your understanding of what a coffee table can be has been limited to Early Settler and Furniture for Flats on the corner of Ponsonby and Great North Roads. You must realise by now that Key's cosmopolitanism is therefore a sign of us punching above our weight on the global stage, and your tall poppy syndrome isn't helping.

dad4justice said...

I hope there was no stray bricks littering the building site, as they may get into the wrong hands and end up going through the window of Helen Klark's electorate office ?

All and all she is just another brick in the wall . Brick it on .

Channel Chanel said...

im going to have to go against my loyalties here and agree with you on this one, key's "holiday home" infact looks like it has been trucked from howick and dumped on a sun parched piece of rural land somewhere that could be anywhere. it doesnt seem to make sense, there is nothing in the picture to give it any context either which makes it even more bizarre.

Anonymous said...

But Paul I love the symbolism of it.

The house - well that is the National Party status symbol isnt it.

The section - that represents where NZ will be headed with a National government - a physical and cultural wasteland!!!

Josh said...

My parents have a beach place at Omaha, a modest one in the cheap part, built many years before the big push to turn the place into Auckland's version of the Hamptons). For seom time now, one of our favourite games there has been to wander around the newer sub-divisions trying to see who can find the ugliest building. We never want for contenders.

Anonymous said...

As I will shortly be penning a rejoinder to Sontag's classic essay Notes on Camp about fundamentalist Christian "style and fashion", entitled "Notes on Kitsch," may I respectfully differ with your note about aesthetics and taste. Clearly, it has left behind conservative Christian readers of this blog...

Craig Y.

Anonymous said...

Without wanting to differ about the house, I think that 'garden' might actually be the start of the beach.

Which lead to the hope the house may be washed away in the next storm.'

- Lyndon

Craig Ranapia said...

The section - that represents where NZ will be headed with a National government - a physical and cultural wasteland!!!

No, you've got it totally wrong anonymous. I say this more in sorrow than anger, but is exactly what happens when state house plebs make a few dollars and ape their aesthetic, intellectual and moral superiors. They just can't help but expose their wretched oinkishness to the mocking gaze of people like us.

Now if you'd excuse me, I have to cleanse myself with a couple of pages of 'Brideshead Revisited'. The vulgarity is making me faint.

Anonymous said...

Craig - I can only assume the segue from your "working class have no taste" argument to your "brideshead revisited" shtick is intended to be ironic.

Paul said...

Robinsod, evidently you have not met Craig.

Craig Ranapia said...


Heh... then again, I wonder if architecture is the last respectable vent for middle-class snobbery -- and what is more ball-achingly vulgar than the pretentious bourgeois who thinks taste can be had for the price of a sub to House and Garden?

Robyn said...

This is a beach house for people who hate being indoors and hate being outdoors.

The giant pillar on the left throws me into great confusion. Why would you go to the trouble of having floor-to-ceiling windows and then plonk an ornamentally huge pillar in front of it?

I can't think which option would be more unpleasant - being indoors with (what looks to be) beige walls and having your view of the outdoors tinted blue-grey, or being outdoors, amid the giant beige pillars, sparse deck and wasteland/frontlawn.

Would it even be possible to have a relaxing time at this house?

Pass the photocopier toner.

Anonymous said...

Paul, for someone studying the influence of architectural historians on architectural culture your post displays a worrying ignorance of New Zealand’s recent architectural history.

This erection does not resemble an office building and needs to read within its historical context. It appears to be a delightful example from that heady time from the late 80’s to mid 90’s when developments in construction technologies first enabled designers and their clients to replicate the splendors of European architecture at a tiny fraction of the cost of traditional construction techniques. One suspects that stripping back the layers of paint would reveal that this edifice was originally finished in a yellowish beige colour. When first constructed it would have been a glorious sight. With eyes half closed and facing in the other direction one would have been unable to tell if one was still in Omaha or had been mysteriously transported to an Umbrian hill town.

Apart from the unfortunate attempt to update the colour scheme (which could easily be rectified) it is wonderful that this edifice has been kept reasonably unmolested. I hope you are correct and it is still furnished with period pieces right through to the library and CD collection.

This style of architecture needs to be cherished as it is becoming increasingly rare due to the unfortunate combination of untreated timber and leaky fibre-cement sheet claddings which characterize it. It will soon enough be replaced by something inspired by a foreign architectural magazine, but publicized as being a ‘…homage to New Zealand’s unique coastal environment and lifestyle…’

Anonymous said...

one of the few good things about this whole sorry Omaha bach saga, is that the crappy design is equally likely to be met with a crappy construction, and hence in about 5 years time the whole thing will succumb to leaky building syndrome, and fall (dis)gracefully into a heap. Any water getting on the silly column/capital design is just going to run straight down and into the wall, rotting it frantically from the inside. Much like a National party government, should it ever be elected. I look forward to it all unfolding, so to speak....

Anonymous said...

Good Job :)