Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Theme from a summer Place

For longer than anyone can remember, Khartoum Place has been a sordid blot on Auckland's urban landscape. Its rebuild in 1993 did nothing to change that. Rather than make it an attractive transition between Lorne St and Albert Park, it achieved little more than putting colourful ribbons on a pig.
Welcome to Auckland, where a sordid blot looks like this. Yes, even our eyesores have running water.

I find myself at variance with the estimable Hamish Keith, a man who has done much to tell Auckland about itself and stop it from doing itself more harm. Still, this time he sees an eyesore, I see a fountain. But then he thinks the new and improved Auckland Art Gallery is brilliant while I think it looks like an office furniture showroom in a business park on the edge of Whangarei; à chacun son goût.

What is it with the Auckland art community and the Suffrage Memorial? "A recent poll, admittedly at the Auckland Art Fair, showed that 85% favoured a reconfiguration of the Place while only 15% wanted it left as it is." Yes, but this was the Auckland Art Fair, full of ghastlies who buy art for investment purposes, the sort of people who have a Terry Stringer in the gazebo. How many of these people would give a stuff about suffrage? How many of them would use Khartoum Place, or Mr Keith's Suffrage Square? And why is it that the great and the good seem so determined to take away this public space and replace it with a staircase?

You see, while Mr Keith paints a lurid picture of Khartoum Place which makes it seem like Bedford-Stuyvesant, it is in fact a nice place. People go there to eat lunch. It is one of the few places in central Auckland which provides shade in the summer, natural shade produced by trees. The waterfall is cooling. Occasionally, on high days and holidays, oicks add dish-washing liquid, but this is not the end of the world. Best of all, there are no cars there. While crossing Kitchener Street to get to the spiffing new Art Gallery is taking one's life in one's hands, in Khartoum Place one is safe. There should be more places in the city like this.

Besides, not many years ago a large amount of money was spent improving the Place, putting in new seats and so on. It didn't really need improving, but that was better than Plan A, which was to let Urban Designers ruin it, just like they always do. And there was Chris Saines, trying to get rid of the steps and the memorial because they spoilt the view to his Art Gallery. Fortunately, he and the art establishment did not win that time. But now they want to do it again. Of course, every stakeholder will be consulted, from the lowest civic nuisance to the wealthiest philanthropist, but nobody will talk to the people who use the Place, just like they never do. Anyone for Tilted Arc?

Besides again, why do we have to spend our money replacing things that don't need replacing? The steps do what they are supposed to do. There is nothing wrong with them. It is just that a bunch of powerful people want rid of them. Whilst such people simply adore street art produced by Elam graduates pretending to be oicks because it is so gritty and authentic, they cannot abide a work which is genuinely political and which seems to be very popular.

And look what they want put in its place: a fooking great staircase. So, instead of a simple set of steps and a fountain which work, they want something that could have been designed by Albert Speer. All it lacks is an equestrian statue of Chris Saines at the top, and maybe a few banners. Whilst the steps and fountain offer shade and water, the staircase will be accessible only to the fleet of foot (the people of money don't think about this, because they arrive by car, but infirm people appreciate having resting places on a staircase) and will bake its users in summer.

But then, the users don't matter. The purpose of the staircase is to add lustre to the Art Gallery. Of course, as you can see in the artist's impression, the staircase blocks access to the buildings facing the Place; but again their occupants do not matter. Nobody matters except the great and the good.

And what of Suffrage Square? Well, apart from being an ugly name which will challenge wearers of false teeth, what is the point? The Place is not a Square. We could condescend to women by getting a lady sculptress to make a statue symbolising the spirit of womanhood, just like they did in the Thirties, but we don't need another sculpture - Auckland has quite enough ugly realist sculptures. Besides, Mr Keith should know that public commemorative sculpture is not exactly the cutting edge of the avant garde these days. We would not get anything that would not make us cringe. In any case, while we are thinking of names, how about the Potemkin Staircase? The City could employ a woman with a pram in a performance piece to celebrate suffrage.

So how about we tell the great and the good to sod off and leave our public spaces alone? They got their Art Gallery. They have their atrium. The Gallery is quite bossy enough to keep the oicks away. So perhaps the great and the good could now ease off on the arrogance and leave alone something that belongs to the rest of Auckland.

Meanwhile, Mr Rudman also is on the side of the steps. Here is Haunted Love, who have an album, which is very good:


Samuel said...

I read this, went to the SST story, and thought that all it needed to be perfect was an Odessa Steps reference; I read one more time and there it was.

Very nicely done.

Stephen Stratford said...

I would not wish to interpose my person between you and Hamish (of whom I am strangely fond) on this - and because I don't live in Auckland I don't care and it is none of my business, but I do think this is a brilliant idea:

"All it lacks is an equestrian statue of Chris Saines at the top".

I bet Chris looks splendid on a horse.

There was a scheme done some years ago by Julie Stout and David Mitchell for Khartoum Place which seemed a good idea at the time. I might even have published it in Architecture NZ. It retained the trees which as you say are a boon.

Hans Versluys said...

I think we have a dearth of equestrian statues in Auckland. Perhaps a jousting pair of Brown and Joyce at Britomart's entrance would enhance the city rail link debate.

Craig Ranapia said...

Love Hamish, love his work, but turning Khartoum Place into a terraced wind tunnel is it? Really, if that's the price of doing down the hairy-pitted man-haters it's too high.