Sunday, November 18, 2012

Villa people

Over a quite tolerable glass of port and some coffee afterwards Dale, a New Zealander by birth but trained in England, began to talk. 
Yes, it was a good country, he explained, for the man who had land, for the businessman with energy and ideas, and for the lawyer and the doctor. It was even pretty good for the working man, though they had their share of labour troubles in New Zealand and the Liberal Government had rather spoilt the labouring classes to catch votes. it wasn't so good for the architect. Not yet at least. 
But surely, I said, those houses we've seen, most of the residences in the city, and a good many of the business buildings, they're made of wood. Won't they want buildings in something more solid? 
'Not the way their minds work here, at least yet awhile. Wood is what they've got plenty of, so wood is what they build with. Not only that. They've got plenty of space as well. So they build outwards, not upwards. A passage, two rooms along each side, a kitchen, a wash-house, that's what the average man wants. That's the basic pattern and anything more ambitious is just an extension of it or another floor on top of it. And there's always the veranda, of course.' 
'Yes, I noticed them. Shelter from the sun and rain, I suppose?' 
'That, and habit. The veranda's got itself established in every young couple's mind as the thing and so a veranda it must be. But that's not the worst of it, my boy. The trouble is that the formula for the average house is so simple that the chap who builds it sees no case for an architect. Everyone here is accustomed to one man being able to turn his hand to everything. So the builder as like as not is the architect as well.' 
And all these people who've made money want somehow or other to establish something that's going to last. They're still not convinced that they're here at all, that the whole thing isn't a mirage. They're frightened they'll wake up one of these days and find the bush is back where it used to be. A house is something solid.' 
They've got about as much idea of architecture as a horse has of caviar and without their wives to bully them they're a pack of skinflints who can't see why the design of two matchboxes laid on top of each other won't do as well for a town hall as for a dog kennel. If it's their own house nothing but the best will do, heart of kauri seasoned for a year and the rest of it. But a public building? White pine and single brick smeared with cement.'

The life and opinions of an architect in the early years of the last century, as imagined by Dan Davin in No Remittance.  (London: Joseph, 1959, 24-27)

Here is a promo, directed by the estimable Jonathan King, for the Close Readers, Damien Wilkins' popular beat combo. You can buy the music here.


Stephen Stratford said...

It is a very good album, best played LOUD. Especially track #4.

My father, an upholsterer at the time, designed and built his first house in the late 40s. It is still standing. My wife's grandfather, a farmer, designed the family's holiday house at Lake Hayes, one of the best-designed houses I have ever stayed in. Not saying architects are over-rated but... OK, maybe I am.

Peter in Dundee said...

And of course the other reason the houses are wood is because it's lighter and more flexible than brick, stone and tiles WHEN the earthquakes hit.

I would not want to be in this pebbledashed brick semi in a decent earthquake. Even if the walls stay up and the floors don't pancake the heavy roof will come down.

Not to mention that with pile foundations if it moves you can jack it up and put it back. The problem with a lot of houses in ChCh is they were new concrete slab jobs. There are EQ reasons for that but it does mean when it does move it cracks badly and twists everything. You may not die, but your house is more likely to.

Peter in Dundee said...

I note the brick and tile two story Dunedin townhouse we rented the top floor of as students is now gone. The landlord and his wife came around and demolished the brick chimney when I told them the whole house shook in the wind. No big EQ's in the year we were in it.

Stephanie said...

Can't comment on the materials debate, but I have watched far too many episodes of the Pommie Location, Location, Location chappie so have learnt how the English are wedded to two up and two down, for no apparent reason. They locate to Oz or NZ and find it hard to see a single house for what it is. they want to go upstairs to bed, and the children's beds above the public rooms.

Dan Davin got it almost all right.