Saturday, November 05, 2016

Ugly houses



(N.Z. Times.)

The Times reporter, boiling with indignation, approached a man with a foot-rule and a large pan in his hand. The man was an architect—cum— bricklayer—carpenter—builder.

"I see," said the inquirer, that the Governor has been saying that architecture in New Zealand is contemptible, that the dwelling-houses of this fair land are eyesores, so to speak, and that for sheer ugliness there, is nothing to compare to a Dominion cottage as it were."

The architect measured off a piece of land three feet six by seven and a half. He intended to erect on that piece of land a two-storey six room house. Being a philanthropist he would only charge 31s 6d a week rental.

When asked if it was true that the house he intended to erect out of fourth-class timber (and as little as possible of it) would be the worst kind of a blotch on the scenery he was intensely angry and said several columns of things about the fearful price of timber and labour, the decline in the birth-rate, and threw in a few reflections about Baltic and Oregon pine.

In the course of a voluminous statement, he said that it was absolutely unnecessary to erect houses that were beautiful because no one in New Zealand demanded beautiful houses, and if they did so this was no reason why a builder should build beautiful houses. When the reporter told him that there were people in this vast world who would refuse to house their dogs and horses in the weatherboard boxes with which this city abounds, he said that the poor landlord had to live somehow and if he couldn't live honestly—at this point he exploded violently and the reporter had to leave.

Another reasonable soul who was about to stick fifty pounds worth of timber on the side of a scraggy hill —the whole when erected to be purchasable for eight times its value— snorted defiantly.

“It isn't only the houses in New Zealand that are shoddy. We depend almost entirely on the outside world for the manufactured goods we use. We pay first prices for third-class goods. Did you ever see a real good cup and saucer, a shapely frying-pan, a tip-top saucepan (etc., etc., etc.). The Home manufacturer, and his German relative and his generally Continental cousin see us coming. The point is that it is too far away to the other side of the world to send rubbish back, and so in disgust the colonial shopkeeper sticks to it and adds 10 per cent, to the selling price to heal his anger."

"I know that the houses in New Zealand are the jerriest built houses in the world," said a man with shavings in his hair, "and that New Zealand carpenters do the worst work in the world (not because they are not skilled workmen but because the bosses hustle them along to finish a job.) But we only follow precedent. New Zealanders don't understand having anything decent and why should we give 'em good goods? The New Zealander has for years and years subsisted on 'seconds' in the way of tucker. His best butter goes Home. He takes the scrag mutton because the London market won't have anything but prime, for which it pays only two-thirds of the price we pay for the scrag. If we ever raise anything decent —and we can raise the most decent things in the world—we pack in a box and ship it Home, where the people sniff at it and buy it because they can't afford to pay the price for Home-made stuff. As for the houses nobody in the country has ever yet demanded real comfort and that's why they don't get it.

“The New Zealander is absolutely unappreciative of beauty. He doesn't know that his bush is the most beautiful thing in the arboreal line this side of Kingdom Come, until some foreigner comes along and tells him so. He shaves the bush down, by the million acres, and when he wants a breakwind he plants some forlorn-looking foreign specimens that are as near being an eyesore as anything can be that the Creator turns but. Any old box of a house will do for the Colonial. He doesn't roar if the wind comes through the weatherboards and blows his candle out. If he roars the landlord tells him to quit, and gets another tenant in at an increased rent. Other countries have a habit of thinking of to-morrow and the day after. The New Zealander thinks only of to-day. He doesn't care how soon a house falls down if he has left it and he never has cared twopence about the appearance of anything except himself. He will wear a six guinea suit and gleefully drink out of a cracked penny cup for which he has paid sixpence. His wife will pile a heap of expensive gauds on herself looking out all the time on a backyard twelve feet square and which the jerry builder has left in its native state. She doesn't care. He doesn't care. Why should the jerry builder care?"

The reporter was speechless and forgets now whether he agrees with the infuriated persons he interviewed or the calmly condemning governor.

"Ugly Houses," Marlborough Express, 
Volume XLII, Issue 224, 
21 September 1908, 
Page 6

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