Wednesday, July 14, 2010

City of Facades

Perhaps, on reflection, more could be said about Mr Paul Holmes and his opinions on the sheds of Queen’s Wharf.

You will recall that Mr Holmes recounted how he was living for a few months in an apartment on Prince’s Wharf from which overlooked the sheds.. And the mighty Paul Holmes looked down upon these works and despaired.
They are pointless. They are nothing. They are not something anyone is ever going to drive past and gape at in wonder, crying out, "what foresight our forefathers had in designing and building such celestial constructions". I accept there might be features within those buildings that are worthy of conservation. Certainly, the Historic Places Trust, whoever they are, think so. I imagine, however, that its members are the kind of people who look down their noses at rugby and the delights of the common people, generally. I may be wrong but I have very keen instincts.
The members, all 25,000 of them, might be feeling a little uncomfortable. But they will be in good company. My keen instincts tell me that many of us, in the next twelve months, will be accused of hating on the rugby and the simple pleasures of the good keen ordinary kiwi battler, whenever we suggest that perhaps things are getting a little out of hand. It will be the local equivalent of the question that Tea Partiers ask liberals: “why do you hate our troops?”

Look, we need to maximise the human, commercial and tourist advantage of the last great world-class sporting event we will ever be able to afford, and if that means spending millions on a temporary building that will be obscured by cruise ships parked either side of it, then we should not die on a hill. Nor should we muddle on saying no to possibilities. Is that clear?

And what about those flash architects, then? Where the bloody hell were they? Probably they were skulking in jazz clubs, listening to be-bop, taking uppers (and downers), reading poetry; or building high-rise slums.

Wait, there’s more. What about those Auckland politicians, then? They were offered wondrous possibilities: a stadium that appeared at night; that would float miraculously on the water, while thousands of boats and yachts watched its great moments on television.

But then, because of the deliberately designed lack of impotence and decision paralysis of the divided nature of the conurbation, and because all of the local bodies became suspicious of each other, they became suspicious of everything, it was a structure that caused our governing bodies to look for the angles, not the opportunities.

It all makes perfect sense. Of course, had the likes of Mr Holmes devoted a little more of their time and effort to talking about the state of our city, then perhaps the high-rise slums might not have been built and some of the treasures might have been kept. I'm just saying, as they say. All of a sudden, the fate of a couple of sheds on a wharf has assumed national significance, because we are worried about what people from Overseas might think about us. But had we spent a little more time talking about our buildings, we might have a little more to show them. We could have shown them Broadcasting House in Durham Steet (not Lane), from where Mr Holmes made his breakfast broadcast. It was, as Peter Shaw describes it in his New Zealand Architecture from Polynesian Beginnings to 1990, "Auckland's finest Modernist building." It was also "inexplicably demolished in 1990." We might also have been able to show them a little more than the facade of the Jean Batten Building, which is all that remains. The destruction, of a Category 1 listed buiding, was done not in the bad old days of the 1980s but in 2008, and with the cooperation of the Historic Places Trust. Yet scarcely anyone paid any attention. The replacement building, the Deloitte Centre, also occupies the space where the Victoria Arcade once stood.

A couple of Comedy Festivals ago, I was in an audience at the Classic with my friends Ben and Heather. The Australian comedian on stage did the usual round of asking people what they did for a living. When it came to me, I told him I was an architectural historian, a response which would throw most stand-ups. But he had seen the Queen's Head across the road, and the blue glass po-mo tower built on top of it. He wondered why we did this to our old buildings.

I had no reply.

Here's some old Australian buildings:


Stephen Stratford said...

Yes, the demolition of Broadcasting House was appalling. What a staircase that was, and what a theatre. Bowling the Jean Batten Building was unforgivable too.

I had forgotten about the Victoria Arcade, so thanks for the reminder: perhaps there is just so much memory available for wanton acts of senseless destruction in Auckland.

Anonymous said...

I think it's because we hate ourselves.

George D said...

The Go Betweens have just had a bridge named after them...

Historic facades are terrible. Someone should ban them.

Leigh Christina Russell said...

The squabble over the sheds on the wharf is puzzling, and the present 'solution' of making them over into a party venue possibly more so. While I care less than nothing about rugby and sporting world cups I do have an interest in buildings, construction and aesthetics. Championing the sheds does seem an odd cause for the Historic Places Trust to take up, but their success in this where so many other causes have failed is surely the result of their views chiming with certain vested interests within the current political arena. As you say, so much else has been lost. Auckland is a disaster zone in terms of its architectural heritage. I'm old enough to remember the overnight demolition of Brown's Mill: those wanting to clear the site for some other purpose were constrained from doing so, I forget the ins and outs of it, so simply waited until after dark to do the deed... It seems to me that what is sorely needed in addition to the Historic Places Trust is a group of people with a sound cultural and aesthetic values to provide a sense of vision of what can be created for the future. So much of modern construction is not fit to be described as architecture.