Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Bar humbug

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Mystery bar #14 - stairsMystery bar number 14 proved easier than I expected for a brand new place. It looks like some of you were either keenly watching for what happened to the old Steamboat, or are much more familiar with the views out of Courtenay Place windows than is healthy.

The scungy old karaoke haven Steamboat has been transformed into a sleek yakitori and sake bar called Kazu, which I presume is an offshoot of its namesake restaurant in Tory St. I'd prefer a longer list of sakes, but it's an attractive place and I look forward to going back and trying some of the yakitori skewers (especially those that don't involve giblets).

That'll be the last mystery bar for a while, since I'll be away from Wellington over Xmas. Expect the odd post over the next week or two, but otherwise I'll be taking a little break from blogging. So thanks to all my readers, all the other bloggers I read, and especially all those who turned up to the inaugural meeting of the WWBCLS. Ka kite ano.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Mixed messages

There have been a few notable developments this week that could potentially have a major impact on the future of sustainable urban development in Wellington. Some of these have been good, some bad, and some have the potential to go either way.

Wind farms got the go ahead at Quartz Hill and Puketiro. Together, they could produce 236MW, enough to power nearly 125,000 homes.

Of course, Makara residents are planning an appeal against the Quartz Hill decision. I would have some sympathy if the objectors were farmers whose livelihoods were being put at risk. But only 5% of Makara residents actually work in the agricultural sector: the rest are "toy farmers" who consider that their right to views of untouched gorse from their lifestyle blocks is more important than sustainable energy for the wider community. Anyone who complains about "visual pollution" spoiling their ersatz bucolic idyll ought to live next to a coal-fired powerstation for a while.

The carbon tax got the chop. I haven't studied the tax in enough detail to form an opinion on how effective it would have been, but the signal is clear: pollution doesn't matter; short-term profits do. Both No Right Turn and Frogblog have predictably lugubrious posts on the issue.

The Harbour Quays development will now have to undergo public consultation and consent processes, as the district plan has been changed to ensure that it undergoes the same scrutiny as central city developments. This is potentially good news from an urban design point of view, as the present masterplans, while well designed, have no binding power and are stuck with an exurban "office park" mentality. This has raised concerns from a range of people, including the Architectural Centre, the council's City Gateway planners and even at least one property developer.

From what I've been able to make out, the main concrete effect of the change is to make the area subject to the Te Ara Haukawakawa design guide (1.2MB PDF) that cover the neighbouring Stadium and railyards area. The document covers design issues (public space, street furniture, spatial hierarchy etc) but doesn't try to encourage specific uses. Looking at the current masterplans and the new Stats building, there are already several things that don't match up to the design guide, such as creating positive open space, providing active edges to buildings, and avoiding large buildings in isolation. I can't see anything that will ensure mixed use and good connections to the rest of the city, but it's a good start nonetheless.

Inner residential neighbourhoods, namely Newtown, Berhampore and Mount Cook, now have stricter controls on multi-unit development. While these are designed to protect the historic character of the area, which is definitely a good thing, they will also make it harder to increase densities. I haven't read the details yet, but the main changes include: a reduction of maximum height from 10m to 9m; 45% maximum site coverage; and a 3m front yard rule.

While these rules might have stopped some of the truly hideous, cynical, overscaled, low-quality developments that have occurred, they will also prevent potentially well-designed housing at densities that are quite moderate by international inner residential standards. I generally believe that mid rise (three- to six-storey) housing produces better streetscapes and social interaction than true high-rise apartments, but with these limits on infill it's looking like there'll have to be more highrises in the CBD and Te Aro if we're going to prevent sprawl. Perhaps it's time to push for some residential development to be included in the Harbour Quays masterplan.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Red light revival

Note: many links here are Not Safe For Work. Oh, the sacrifices I made to research this post! Online only, of course.

For a while, it looked like the famous "smallest red light district in the world" was going to shrink away to nothing. Liks was boarded up, the Evergreen Coffee House closed and burned down after Chrissy's death, Club Exotique left nothing but a quaint neon sign and the old Playgirls sauna had been derelict for years, leaving just the sex shop on the corner to carry on the reputation of Vivian St. Strip clubs opened up in Taranaki St and Courtenay Place, and the focus of the Wellington sex industry seemed to have moved on.

However, things look to be changing. Liks is back in business, though under new ownership since sleaze king turned reality TV star Brian Le Gros threw a tantrum at not being able to move to Courtenay Place and moved to Auckland instead. And now there is Il Bordello (if nothing else, the Prostitution Reform Act has promoted truth in advertising).

Michael Chow (owner of The Mermaid, Splash and Just Hotel, though funnily enough not Chow) has stated his intentions to revive Vivian St as the red light district, and has used press releases to this effect to gain an impressive amount of free advertising. I'll refrain from passing judgement on the ethics of the industry, but I will note from an urbanist's point of view that brothels are not the best businesses for providing an active edge to the street (except in Amsterdam). It's also interesting that in the past, Chow would have been shunned and derided as a filthy pimp living off immoral earnings; while these days the word "pimp" is used approvingly in other contexts, and in the public's mind, Chow's worst sin has been to allow a protected kowhai tree to be cut down on another of his properties. Fair enough.

If you look closely at the picture, you can see charred timbers on the side of Il Bordello, a reminder of the fire earlier this year that razed the building that was once Chrissy Witoko's Evergreen Coffee House and flat. While the building was going to be demolished anyway, there were dark rumours about whether the fire was indeed caused by homeless people as the building owners claimed. Chrissy's amazing collection of retro furniture is apparently safe, though, and would make a wonderful fit-out for a bar some day. In any case, Chrissy's legacy of good work lives on in the form of the Teapot Trust and Black & White Ball.

I've only skimmed the surface of the seedily intriguing history of the area. For more info, have a look at the lesbian and gay historical walk of Wellington or William Minchin's book (Wellington: the Dark Side) and walking tour ("A walk on the dark side").

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Mystery bar number 14

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Last week's mystery bar was guessed by Mike C, who thoughtfully hinted at it's name so as to give others a go. It's the new branch of One Red Dog down at Kumutoto, and it has finally opened after months of looking half-finished. "Family-friendly" pizza chains may not exactly be my idea of fun, but cheap Bolly in the sun definitely is, and as I've yet to see it overrun by rug rats, it could be worth a look.


Mystery bar #14 - by the windowThis week's mystery bar might be a bit trickier, as it's not so visible. It goes for a very minimalist look, but the dark materials and use of rough exposed concrete give it a warmer, more textural feel than if it had had smooth white walls. It also make it feel compact and intimate, though that's not difficult given its small size: just a long bar, a couple of leaners and some low tables. If it weren't for the window at one end, giving access to a balcony and a lively view, it would verge on the claustrophobic. As it is, it's cosy and stylish, though it might be a different story when it's packed.

I think it could really fill a gap in the Wellington bar scene, since it specialises in a particular intoxicating beverage that other specialist bars don't. They also seem to have a basic cross section of the usual beverages, though I'm a little dubious about the three-litre beer towers: call me a snob if you like, but I think they lower the tone a little.

Mystery bar #14 - along the barThe previous business on this site was a restaurant that had more of a reputation for drunken hilarity than for cleanliness and culinary excellence. The place has certainly been cleaned up, and the food, while more snack-oriented, should be excellent if the owners' reputation is anything to go by. It could still go in different directions, depending upon the clientele it attracts: relaxed and sophisticated, or drunken and debauched. Personally, I'm hoping for a combination of the two, as while there's a certain formality, bars overseas with a similar vibe have turned into the perfect spots for indulging in a bit of late night loucheness.

Thanks for all the fish

There was quite a commotion down at the waterfront yesterday evening, with crowds of people gathering to point out to sea and take photos.

Crowds watching dolphins off Taranakai Wharf
They were watching a pod of up to a dozen dolphins that were swimming around between the diving board and the entrance to Chaffers Marina.

Dolphins in the harbour

Monday, December 19, 2005

Density done right: Summit on Molesworth

My previous posts on the Croxley Mills apartments and Ebor St townhouses both dealt with medium-rise (3-6 storeys) developments on top of or within heritage buildings. This time I want to look at a relatively high-rise (11 storeys) apartment block that was built from scratch. The Summit on Molesworth apartments (designed by Warren Young of Jasmax) occupy what was once a traffic island at the intersection of Molesworth and Murphy streets, in a neighbourhood that most people think of as part of Thorndon but is officially called Pipitea.

Summit apartments from the northWhenever two streets meet at an acute angle, there is an opportunity to produce a building that is much more dramatic than a right-angled grid would usually allow. The Flatiron building is the classic example, but we have a few good examples in Wellington, such as the MLC building on Lambton Quay (see image), thanks to our clash of regular grids with the old beach lines. When the site is also as prominent as this one (overlooking the motorway, and at the northernmost edge of the "high city"), even a prosaic programme such as housing demands a bold architectural treatment. Luckily, this building lives up to the challenge.

While the form is really just an extrusion of the site plan, the shape of the plan meant that it could never have been a boring box. But it's the detailing and use of colour that lifts it out of the ordinary. It may be a very strict geometric grid, but the depth of the balconies and brise soleil give a sense of complexity and a play of light and shadow that curtain walls rarely provide. The blocks of primary colour lift it out of the strict purity of po-faced white-walled modernism, with a dash of humour that I presume is a direct allusion to Mondrian. Perhaps the building could have been named "Molesworth Boogie Woogie"?

There's also a human touch at street level, with a sheltering verandah and a retail space that I assume is intended to become a café. It remains to be seen how much demand there is for a café at this end of town, but it's an important step towards enlivening the street.

Summit apartments at street level
While not everything about this building is perfect (the southern end is mostly blank, perhaps in anticipation of a neighbouring development), it's proof that the elegant geometric simplicity of modernism can be enlivened by detail and imagination without losing its integrity. The building is light and airy but striking and memorable, showing how high-rise developments need not be dull and predictable, and it has a wealth of detail that reveals interesting compositions at every angle.
Summit apartments from below

Friday, December 16, 2005

Odious comparisons

There are a lot of straw people being chucked around in the letters page of the Capital Times at the moment. Denise Stephens doesn't want the waterfront "completely built over", but then neither do I, and no-one's suggesting anything remotely like that. Even Kumutoto, which will have the closest to an "urban" feeling of anywhere on the waterfront, will be much less built up than the CBD, and there will still be big green parks at Frank Kitts and Waitangi. Not according to Lindsay Shelton, though, who apparently can't read a map or understand the meaning of the word "predominantly".

But it's the redoubtable Ms Swann who (predictably) takes the cake. She dismisses Amanda Morrison's enjoyment of Sydney's waterfront because Sydney's much bigger than Wellington. So: we're smaller than Sydney, so we have to have a boring waterfront? Morrison wasn't trying to compare the number of restaurants, but the character of the waterfronts, pointing out how much fun an waterfront can be when it's inhabited at night. And in any case, she uses a meaningless comparison (whether through intent or Alzheimer's) of Wellington City (no Hutt or Porirua) to the whole Sydney metropolitan region. If you use more relevant comparisons, the differences are not so great:


Yes, the City of Wellington actually has a greater population that the City of Sydney! These comparisons rapidly get complex and meaningless, but the main point is just this: that a lively, urban, mixed-use waterfront is a lot of fun. Anyway, I tried to squeeze what I could into 200 words, and fired it off today:
Pauline Swann misleadingly compares Greater Sydney to Wellington City, and anyway misses the point that it's density that drives the liveliness of the CBD, not absolute population. The City of Wellington actually has more people than the City of Sydney, and we have almost as many people working in our CBD as Auckland does. Wellington will grow by 35,000 in 25 years, and is already crying out for office and retail space.

How can the waterfront be "well catered for" with restaurants and bars, when there are only seven places open at night (and only a couple make a decent mojito)? That's the same as Featherston St or half a block of Courtenay Place, but spread out over 20 hectares! You could visit all seven places in a single weekend, if you can get a table.

Lindsay Shelton accuses the council of ignoring its policy that Waitangi should principally be a "large green park". Has he even looked at the map? New buildings will take up less than 10% of the area, bringing activity, variety, sheltered spaces and great architecture that more than make up for the loss of views from the Warehouse car park. Let's make it happen.

So hot right now

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As Hadyn points out, it's been unseasonably warm in Wellington these last few days. Unseasonably? Well, technically it is supposed to be summer, but while I haven't checked the climatological records, anecdotally it's generally assumed that Wellington doesn't get hot, still days until after Christmas. Normally, Cook Strait forces the wind direction to be either northerly or southerly, depending upon whether pressures are higher on the north or south side of the Strait. But we've been lucky to get stuck in a light northeasterly flow, which means that the wind gets confused and doesn't know which way to go. Yes, that's the official meteorological explanation: "the wind gets confused".

So how hot is hot? Official temperatures have been peaking in the mid-20s each day, which doesn't sound that hot. But remember that these are taken at the airport, which is close to the moderating influence of the sea and is exposed to winds from all directions. Temperatures in sheltered places can easily be 5 degrees higher, which explains why Upper Hutt and Wainuiomata have been getting into the 30s (they have to have some redeeming feature). But any sheltered spot will be the same, and the city is full of little spots and sun traps (Civic Square is a good example) that will also feel baking hot. The city also creates an "urban heat island" due to all that concrete and asphalt. Add in the high humidity and unusual calmness, and we breeze-accustomed Wellingtonians start to melt.

Meteogram for WellingtonTo see how warm it is right now, you could look at the hourly reports from the airport. Here are the last 24 hours in tabular and graphical form (remember that the times are given in UTC, so you have to add 13 hours: 2200 is 11am) . The regional council also continually measures temperatures around the region, with some very nice graphs, though their city station at the corner of Victoria and Vivian seems not have had any readings since 9 this morning. To look further afield, MetVUW has a map of temperature and humidity around the country, though bear in mind that these are based on three-hourly reports. Of course, you should get the Wellington forecast and observations from the horse's mouth at metservice.com, and watch the radar to keep an eye on any rogue showers or thunderstorms that might pop up on the hills and drift towards the city.

Remember to use the proper precautions in this weather: slip, slop and slurp. The current mystery bar is sounding pretty tempting right now (no, Sifter, it's not the Tasting Room), as is a Berry Mule outside Establishment, though remember to wave to the camera if you're there this afternoon, and hope that your boss isn't watching.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Mystery bar number 13

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The previous mystery bar didn't spark off the interest that some other ones did. It's The Old Bank Bar & Café, which is half-underground on the corner of Hunter St and Customhouse Quay. Until recently it was called Volt, and while it's not an especially exciting bar, it may have a niche as an "in-between" place. Geographically, it's between the Lambton and Willis Quarters, and could help fill in the drinking gap in this area. Stylistically, it's neither hip nor cheap and basic, but it might work as a compromise between people who would prefer a pub and those looking for something more stylish.

Mystery bar #13 - receptionAnyway, on to new territory. The next mystery bar is in a part of town that is set for transformation. Much of it will seem very familiar, but it has a few unique elements. While it's not entirely light and airy (in fact it's full of dark wood), it can spread out into the sunshine in a couple of directions, making it a possible candidate for drinking in the sun.

While it's better known for food than drink, my tuna niçoise salad was rather disappointing, with most of the ingredients seemingly straight out of a tin or jar. On the other hand, I didn't try any of their signature dishes, so I'll reserve judgement on the culinary side of things for now. The drinks seem to mostly centre on beers and easy-drinking wines, as you would expect from their food, but the bar itself seems to be moderately well-stocked. It may be worth noting that they are currently offering Bolly for $65 a bottle: less than in most retail outlets.

Mystery bar #13 - behind the bar
There's an interesting use of coloured glass behind the bar that, together with the copper-clad reception booth, adds a touch of visual interest to an otherwise fairly generic place. This shouldn't be too hard to work out, so let's hear your guesses!

Walking the plank

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As Jo mentioned, it's rather a hot day to be sitting around in Courtenay Place waiting for the big hairy guy. It's muggy, with temperatures in the mid-20s and no wind to speak of (by Wellington standards), so you could forgive some people for seeking extreme means of cooling down.

Walking the plankThat's where this comes in. A chunky wooden plank has been attached (firmly, I presume) to the wharf edge down by the entrance to the lagoon. It must be official, since there's a notice beside it urging caution and common sense, and it must be recent, since I walked past at the weekend and didn't notice it then. On rare sweltering days like this, there are always some people who are keen to jump off the wharf, so it's good to see that instead of trying to stop it, the powers-that-be have decided to help instead. This way, divers can jump further out from the wharf and reduce the risk of injury:

If you have to plunge into our less-than-balmy waters, then these people have the right idea. Wetsuits not only help prevent hypothermia, but they also provide a modicum of protection from jellyfish. I know that most of ours are supposed to be relatively harmless, but I don't like the look of this fella.

Now that the diving board is here, the little harbour- side shower that appeared a while ago starts to make more sense. It's good to see that among all the major waterfront projects (as important as they are), little civic- minded gestures like this haven't been overlooked. Personally, my preferred method of cooling off in summer involves mint leaves, muddled limes, bacardi, sugar syrup and a dash of soda, but for those who prefer the cold wet stuff on the outside, this should make their lives a little bit easier.

Oh, and speaking of cooling down, is anyone going to have a go at guessing the current mystery bar? Or am I going to have to let Hadyn loose on it?

Waiting for Kong

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Most Wellingtonians seem quite blasé about film premieres (sorry, red carpet screenings) these days, and King Kong hasn't generated the same excitement as the Lord of the Rings films. But it was certainly a hive of activity around the Embassy late last night. They've tarted up the entrance with a period porte-cochere ...

Embassy entrance being prepared for King Kong premiere
... and there's a biplane that was in the process of installation ...

Biplane being positioned for King Kong premiere
... and be aware that when they say "Towaway Zone", they really mean it.

Car being towed from premiere zone

For some better pictures, have a look at Felicity and Phillip's photostream on flickr, and this post from Kate.. And don't forget the Citylink streaming webcam that looks out from above Hummingbird (give us a wave, Jo!) towards the Embassy: it's useful for more than just seeing whether there are any tables free outside Establishment, you know.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


I said last week that I wasn't going to let John Macalister's letter in the Capital Times get to me, but he seems to be implying that I have some sort of conflict of interest or that I'm a puppet of the council or developers or some sort of shady conspiracy, so I felt that I had to reply. Here's my full disclosure.

I belong to Our Waterfront, which, like Waterfront Watch, is a lobby group of individuals who advocate for their vision of the waterfront. Unlike Waterfront Watch, they are broadly (but not blindly) in favour of the current proposals, and they also know how to put a website together. Amanda Morrison (who has a good letter in the current Capital Times) approached me to join after seeing my letters. While I've joined the group and welcome their contributions to the debate, I don't usually speak for them or consult with them before writing letters or submissions.

I also belong to the Architectural Centre, which in addition to promoting good architecture and urban design, has a long history of promoting art and cultural debate in Wellington. One doesn't have to be an architect to join, which is just as well because I'm not. Some people assume that because I like and write about buildings, I must be an architect or have architectural training. I like food too, but that doesn't make me a chef.

I know some people on the council and at Wellington Waterfront Ltd, but that's only through my letters, submissions and suggestions to the Ideas Bank. I sometimes send copies of my letters to them as a courtesy, or check with them to make sure of my facts, but there's nothing in it for me. And I often disagree with council policies (such as the 'bypass') and express that disagreement publicly as well.

Finally, some people assume that because the waterfront proposals involve private uses of council-owned land that I'm either a property speculator or a right-wing ideologue. Neither could be further from the truth. I don't own any property (not even my own flat) and I don't intend to. I know some property developers, and while some of them are decent human beings, I have major reservations about what a lot of them do and I certainly don't speak on their behalf. And I definitely have no ideological commitment to privatisation: quite the opposite, I believe that there's a lot of national and local infrastructure that would be better off in public hands, and as readers of this blog will know, I believe that local and central government should take a stronger lead in areas like urban design, smart growth, public transport and sustainable energy.

But that was too much to put into a letter, and in any case I want to see what the good doctor is trying to smear me with. Anyway, here is what I sent to the Capital Times:
John Macalister asks that I be "more transparent about whose views" I represent. I hadn't realised I was being opaque, but I'll do what I can.

I don't claim to speak officially for anyone but myself: I am just a Wellingtonian advocating my vision for the city, as is anyone's right. But what started me writing letters was the realisation that there are many Wellingtonians who disagree with Waterfront Watch, and whose voices were not being heard.

So in that sense, I am speaking for those who are looking forward to an urban waterfront; who don't think that four storeys is a "high rise"; who believe that the city is something to celebrate, not escape; who realise that if we want panoramic views of the harbour, all we have to do is go there; who wonder why our waterfront is deserted so much of the time; who love public spaces, but prefer them compact and active rather than wide and empty.

Is that what he means by "transparent"? Or is he suggesting that I am somehow a mouthpiece for vested interests? If Dr Macalister is going to make accusations, it would be refreshing if he were transparent about it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Indigo ponies

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Opening of AaronLaurenceGallery - interiorIt's not every day that a new dealer gallery opens in Wellington, so when one does it's worth celebrating. As I mentioned last week, AaronLaurenceGallery had its formal opening on Saturday, and it was quite a do. The opening exhibition (The Ponie Show) has been a long time in the making, and most of the young(ish) artists had created works especially to suit the equine theme and accompanying essay (by Luke Badger). The large work on the right of the photo is Dan Campion's Night Becomes.

One of the unusual things about the gallery is the location: underground on Lambton Quay. Galleries up this end of town tend to deal with established artists and have prominent window displays. Once you get to the Willis and Cuba Quarters, galleries are more likely to be hidden upstairs (Peter McLeavey), within shops (Hamish McKay) or in side streets (Janne Land). But as far as I know, this is the only permanent gallery in Wellington that is underground.

Opening of AaronLaurenceGallery - exteriorThis location, in the bowels of the historic South British Insurance building, gives it a unique feeling. The labyrinth of low-ceilinged cells provides a variety of spaces, and there are enough industrial leftovers (pipes and fans) to avoid the stereotypical "white cube" effect. Mind you, cramming dozens of artists, bloggers, artist/bloggers, dealers and hangers-on into such a space on a humid night, especially when the paint fumes were still very fresh, was perhaps in contravention of numerous health and safety regulations. Never mind, there's always the street to spill out onto: always the sign of a raging success.

As predicted, many of us ended up at Indigo that night for the Cortina gig. It's fair to say that ironic 80s hair metal is not my favourite genre, but their performance antics make for quite an experience. The support acts were a mixed bag, too. Wearing a white tuxedo jacket and with his head wrapped in masking tape, The Mysterious Tapeman jumped on top of his amp and got the crowd dancing on the sofas with his twangy 60s surf-rock.

Disasteradio at IndigoBut it was Disasteradio that did it for me. Every time I thought I'd got my head around a tune or riff it was supplanted by another. It was as if someone had taken a bunch of old Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode albums, chucked them in a blender with some Gameboy soundtracks and broken effects pedals, then cranked the knob up to 11. There were tunes in there that veered between catchy, cheesy and scary, but they were swamped in unpredictable waves of digital and analogue distortion that assaulted the ears, twisted the brain and got the feet moving.

Suffice to say, I decided to take it easy on Sunday.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Waterfront positivity

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I'm in a good mood today, so I won't let John Macalister's snideness get to me, nor Jack Ruben's histrionic overreaction to the genuinely disappointing news that Waitangi Park is over budget. Instead, here's some good stuff that's happening on the waterfront.

Shed 11The "Urban Life - a Celebration in Art" competition has reached the shortlist stage, and the shortlisted works are on display at Shed 11 until next Wednesday (the 14th). The works are also online, but you really need to see the physical exhibition to appreciate some of the pieces, especially the handful of multimedia and installation works. The range is much more diverse than I expected, and the Wellington-based works are particularly interesting for us parochial locals.

While you're in the vicinity, you'll notice that One Red Dog is almost, nearly, just about, kind of about to think about getting ready to open. I know it's looked that way for months, but surely it can't be long now? While I don't usually get excited about the opening of a pizza chain, any new drinking and dining opportunities on the waterfront are worth a try, and it looks like it'll be a good place in the sun. It'll be even nicer once the Kumutoto open spaces are revamped around it, as there will be some trees and grassy spaces between it and Shed 11 (see the public space masterplan - 1.8MB PDF).

Len Lye Water Whirler displayIf you wander south to Queens Wharf and Shed 6, you'll notice that the Waterfront Project Information Centre is plastered with signs reading "LEN LYE". This is because they currently have a small exhibition about Len Lye's Water Whirler sculpture that's currently under construction around the corner. There's a video showing the way the wand and water jets are intended to move: it's only since seeing this that I've been able to grasp how complex and graceful it's going to be, and I think that this will probably be the most significant of the many new sculptures and art works that are under way in Wellington.

While you're there, take a look at the models and displays about Waitangi Park, if you haven't already. Take a copy of the brochure, walk around to the park site (you can now walk around the front of Te Papa again - finally!) and imagine. The site may look barren and full of concrete now, but bear in mind that most of the planting is yet to begin. Look at the map (1.1MB PDF) and imagine it with tree-lined promenades, a wind garden, reedy wetlands, indigenous coastal plantings and a wide grassy field (to be sown within a fortnight), set off by UN Studio and John Wardle's sculptural buildings, and you'll get a better impression of what an asset Wellington will have when it's finished.

Inaugural meeting of the WWBCLS

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Which, of course, stands for "Wellington Working Bloggers' Cocktail and Literary Society". Though as Kate pointed out, it does contain a derivative of the appalling four-letter word "work", so with ongoing apologies to Oscar Wilde, let me propose this as our motto: "Drink is the work of the blogging classes".

The Maasique at BoulotI've managed to book a table for ten people from 6 until 8 tonight. Sorry for the early timing, but Boulôt is nearly fully booked and we had to bump another table that's due at 7:30 (thanks, Gabe). Anyway, that should give us a chance to meet and sample a few cocktails: I recommend the Scorched Orange Martini, the Rude Boy, and the Maasique (pictured). We can either have early dinner there, or just grab some bar snacks and head off to the next stop on our bibulous voyage.

If any of you think you might be later than 8, but you still want to join us, then send me an email (I've rashly put my address on my profile) and I'll give you my mobile number so that you can let us know when you're on your way.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Liquid links

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First of all, thanks to all of the blogorati who have responded to my call for a BlogHooley (or "Working Bloggers' Cocktail and Literary Society" as Hadyn has christened it). Here are the gory details, as worked out through a shining example of collective decision-making:
  • BoulĂ´t (15 Blair St)
  • Tomorrow night (Friday 9th December)
  • From about 6pm (I'll get there by 6 to grab a table, since it looks like there'll be about 10 of us: let me know if you'll be much later).
  • The agenda will include, but may not be limited to: eating, drinking, talking about blogging, talking about interesting things, and ogling the bar staff.
  • If the mood takes us, we may progress from there to other venues in search of taste sensations and ill-gotten wisdom.
It may not have escaped your attention that Wellington bloggers seem obsessed with drinking. That should not come as a surprise, since the wheels of urban life need frequent and copious lubrication. Cocktails seem to be the drink of choice for many (Stephen, Kate, Jo), so it's just as well that in most of Wellington, you're never far from a decent martini. But there are other ways to slake your thirst in this burg, so here's a quick look at some of the options.


For a while it was looking like the wine bar was an endangered species in Wellington, a relic of the expense-account 80s. Only Beaujolais and Bouquet Garni survived, and as it became the norm for bars to offer a decent selection of wine by the glass, the idea of a special kind of bar devoted to wine seemed quaint.

Not any more. Arbitrageur and Vivo both have a serious (some would say obsessive) approach to wine, and damn good food. Arbitrageur is lighter, more spacious and arguably quieter, and it officially has the best wine list in the country. Vivo is no slouch either, and while Beaujolais has the true London connection (I believe it was once owned by Don Hewitson, whose Cork & Bottle is the one redeeming feature of Leicester Square), Vivo's brick walls and buzzing atmosphere makes it feel like it belongs in a basement somewhere in the Square Mile.

Oh, and am I the only one who really misses CO2? How can we be a real city without a Champagne bar?

I don't buy wine from retailers very often these days, and if I do it's usually something simple and off-dry to take to a BYO curry house, so I may not be the best authority on that sector (Salient has a good round up). I've raved before about Wineseeker, but Rumbles is a treasure trove and an institution, and Truffle also has a great selection of (mostly) European goodies. Though I'm not as much of a wine snob as I used to be, I still enjoy the rantings of those who are, especially when they are as entertainingly opinionated as the blog Screwcaps.


Not having drunk beer for long, I can't do much more than point out the obvious here (Leuven, the Brewery Bar and the Malthouse). For a number of reasons, the Brewery Bar is not my favourite place, but it's fantastic to have some distinctive Wellington beers brewed on the premises. It's a step towards the German attitude, where every city has a distinctive style of beer, and even within a city, every brewhouse makes its own version with its own characteristics.

As Barthes would tell you, one's choice of drink is never purely about flavour or nutrition: it is also a semiotic act that, intentionally or otherwise, broadcasts a message about your social status and belonging. Bruce Holloway at realbeer.co.nz has kindly posted a list of beers and those who drink 'em to help us deconstruct these beery signifiers. I'll let you read the original, but suffice to say I'm glad that I don't drink Ranfurly Draught or Flame beer. It's all centred around local beers and mass-market imports, so my poncy lagerphobic tastes don't even get a look in. And what on earth would he make of people who drink this stuff? (thanks to Hadyn for that link)


Any bar worth its barflies is going to have a comprehensive collection of spirits these days, but Matterhorn and Motel both stand out for their impressive top shelves. Some bars, however, choose to specialise it particular forms of hard liquor:
  • Gin: Juniper
  • Whisk(e)y: The Dubliner
  • Tequila: Flying Burrito Brothers and Establishment
  • Digestifs (not really spirits, but near enough): Capitol
What have I missed? Are there any rum dens or Cognac lounges that the world should know about?


So, you're interested in finding the places that specialise in Ready-To-Drink alcopops? Go: leave now, and never darken my blog again!

On the other hand, it may be wise to learn the locations of these dens of iniquity, so that you can be sure to avoid them. Any of the toplefters would be a good start, though I am sure that any bar that fits in the bottom left quadrant would we equally ready to sell you a gaudy bottle of sugar, food colouring and bathtub spirits. But the quickest way to spot them is to remember two words: Courtenay Place. Salient's A-Z kindly helps out by defining the Courtenay Quarter in TLAs: "RTDs, STIs, VIPs, BYOs and SOBs".


There are times when sobriety and alertness are vital (such as 9am to midday on weekdays), so at these times, coffee is de rigeur. I'm not planning to start a religious war over who's got the best coffee, partly because I'm a bit of a philistine in that regard (a trim latte with two sugars, thanks). Sure, I refuse to go to Starbucks or Gloria Jean's if at all possible, but that's not due to coffee snobbery or even anti-globalisation convictions: they're just so goddamn boring! I'll leave the arguments about where to get decent coffee to Russell Brown.

I also hardly need to point out the influence of coffee culture upon Wellington's maturity as an urban centre. Karl du Fresne already had a go at that in the Dominion Post a few weeks back, and Ian Athfield points out in today's Wellingtonian that street cafés provide the vital urban function of joining the public and private realms (tell that to Waterfront Watch!). He quotes another architect: "Coffee's done more for cities in the past 25 years than architecture's done in the past 150".

And indeed, much of Wellington's transformation since the late 80s is due to the growth of café culture. Young people today won't believe it, but when I came to Wellington in 1989, City Limits (now Finc) seemd to be the only café open after 5pm (and we lived in a hole in t'middle of t'road). But a previous generation of coffee pioneers did their bit for Wellington's cultural life: Harry Seresin is one notable example, but it's interesting to read The Daily Grind, an account of the Wellington café scene from 1920.

That's enough for now: all this blogging is making me thirsty. Oh, and by the way, has anyone figured out the latest mystery bar yet?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Artpunkelectrobogan mashup - with coffee

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There are a few things happening in the local gallery scene at the moment. I'll start with the more genteel end of the spectrum.

Bowen Galleries and Milk Crate cafeBowen Galleries in Ghuznee St has had a bit of a revamp, including a rather Tadao Ando-ish concrete window display space that nicely suits the current Paulus McKinnon installation. They've also inserted a small cafe called Milk Crate: not to be confused with the rather top-left quadrant Milk in Courtenay Place.

Down the other end of town, AaronLaurenceGallery opens this Saturday at 326 Lambton Quay, with a group exhibition called The Ponie Show. Laurence (aka Lorry) is well known to some local bloggers and other artists, having curated the "Drawing as the final product" exhibition at Expressions earlier this year.

On a vaguely related note, Cortina are having a CD release party at Indigo later that night. I say "related", because Cortina are one of the few so-called "art-rock" bands that actually make art. And by all accounts, actually rock as well. There's some debate as to whether they are real bogans or faux-bogans, but leopard skin leotards tell their own story. And I'm looking forward to Disasteradio's lo-fi instrumental synth-pop and chiptune goodness. Should be quite a gig.


The Architectural Centre is drafting a "Manifesto for Architecture". So far, the public draft is just a series of nine headings, and they're seeking input. You can see what people are saying on their forum topic called "Draft Manifesto Headings", and post your own comments if you want. So far, the suggested headings are:
  1. New Architecture must be better than what it will replace
  2. Good Architecture depends on Government taking a leadership role in architecture
  3. Good Architecture depends on a public who are discerning architectural consumers
  4. Good Urban Environments are Designed Environments
  5. Good Architecture facilitates Better Living
  6. Bad Architecture needs to be Acknowledged and Eliminated
  7. Good Architecture needs celebration, and protection as important cultural capital
  8. Good Architecture depends on Investment in Architectural Research of all kinds
  9. Good Architecture minimises its impact on the planet's resources.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

On the block

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There are a number of large sites in Te Aro that are currently being offered for sale, with advertising that emphasises their "development potential". This doesn't necessarily mean that they will be built on, but it might be the first sign of some major changes in this part of town.

For each site, I've linked to the relevant commercial real estate ad. This is partly because the ads contain extra information and photos, and also because its interesting for those us not in the business to see it from their perspective. Sometimes it's quite scary to see what they consider to be the best qualities of a site: when an ad trumpets "First site off the motorway!" it hints that the intended uses might not be the most conducive to a human-scaled and pedestrian-friendly environment. So I've decided to write a little bit about the potential urban qualities of each location, and what could happen if one thinks of a site as being part of the city, rather than just a resource whose financial return must be maximised.

Map of Te Aro development sites
Site 1: Willis/Vivian/Victoria

This is a large site with just one small building on it. Apart from carparking, it's mostly only used for a few hours on Sundays, when it becomes a very popular vegetable market which would be a shame to lose. My green space map shows that it's a fair distance from any usable patches of greenery, so if some of the site could be retained as public space, it might become a useful amenity.

Victoria St market site
The depth of the site means that it would be difficult to use it all for residential development while providing adequate natural light for all the units, so perhaps this is a good opportunity for a creative interpretation of the height limits in the District Plan. I can imagine something a bit like an English covered market, with small retail units flanking an open market space and apartments above, perhaps cantilevering over the market space to provide some shelter. On the Willis St side, the market space could open out a bit to take advantage of the sun, with a few planted areas to make a more inviting public space. To compensate for the lost development space, the apartments should be able to go above the 27m (6 storey) limit in places: given the height of the Unicomm building to the north, a couple of tall, narrow towers would hardly be out of place (though the agents' renderings are hardly inspiring).

Site 2: Victoria/Walter

This site extends from the carparks next to The Mill on Victoria St through to Walter St. This could be a good opportunity to build quite densely, strengthening the scrappy streetscape of Victoria St without losing anything special. The one proviso is that it would be good to retain a pedestrian connection through the site so that Walter St is not a dead end.

Site 3: Upper Cuba St

This site is currently the home of the Cuba St Sea Market. Apart from a highly-regarded fish 'n' chip shop, most of the site is taken up by parking and portacabins, so if they're done well, new buildings here could repair a gap in the streetscape and provide much-needed new retail space.

Cuba St sea market site
However, that's a big "if". The controversial development of "The Wellington" hotel and apartments across the road shows that new buildings can make it through the consents process while still having dubious effects upon the streetscape. The Cuba Character Area rules (755kB PDF) may go some way to stopping the most inappropriate schemes, but they can sometimes lead to embarassing faux-historic pastiches that are far worse than if the architects had been given a free hand.

Upper Cuba St has been going through changes that continue to threaten its traditionally bohemian nature. The 'bypass' is the most glaring example, but simply tarting up a pub can be part of the same process. So any development in this precinct should perhaps be subject to greater scrutiny than just applying the planning rules. For example, while I don't think the site extends right up to the courtyard of Fidel's, it might still be possible to build within the rules and overshadow it. Should we recognise that Fidel's is an important and distinctive part of Cuba St life, and thus place special restrictions on neighbouring developments to protect it?

Site 4: Ghuznee/Egmont

On the Ghuznee St side, this is a single-storey wholesaler of lighting products; the rest of the site is carparking. It has more of an existing "urban" feel than the rest of the sites discussed, as it's only a block from the Golden Mile and it's already mostly surrounded by tall buildings. There's also an intriguing opportunity to provide an active edge and well-defined entrance to Egmont St.

It'll be interesting to see what happens once Ghuznee St ceases to be part of State Highway 1. While I'm not as optimistic as the bypass's proponents about how much the traffic would be reduced here, there's still an opportunity to make this a more pedestrian-friendly environment, so the design quality of any new building here could have a substantial impact: for better or worse.

Site 5: Lorne/Tennyson

Old industrial building on Lorne StThis huge block was the site of Pacific Catch's fish processing business, and it now looks like there'll be no more fish in the CBD. Unlike the other sites, this includes one reasonably substantial building. It's not an architectural gem, but if it were retained and restored rather than demolished, it might return a bit of character to a street that's otherwise dominated by bland temporary buildings, asphalt and chain-link fences.

This is the only one of the five sites that's in "SoCo", so are there any opportunities here to work towards the urban design qualities that I suggested for the area? My green map places it in part of the "grey zone", so perhaps this would be a good site for a small park or other public space. I tend to think not, though, because it's close to Courtenay Pl and Cambridge Tce, and while they don't count as "green spaces", they have enough life and openness respectively to fulfil some of those functions. There are some sites deeper into SoCo that could work better, as well as providing more useful mid-block connections. Any development on this site could still contribute, though, in terms of appropriate scale, provision of shelter and a mixture of uses (it's near enough to Moore Wilson that some food-related retail might work well here).

Monday, December 05, 2005


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WellyBlog booze-upHadyn's already posted about next year's BlogHui, but I've got a more modest and informal proposal: a Wellington "BlogHooley". Yes, I know that I proposed a booze-up for local bloggers before, but if we're going to get one happening before being submerged in the tide of pre-Xmas office bashes, we'll have to do it soon. So, I'd like to invite you all to the inaugural WellyBlog Boozeup.

Here's the proposal:
  • We arrange to meet in a local bar for drinks and chat.
  • I suggest some time late this week (Thursday, Friday or Saturday): please leave a comment with your preference.
  • I'm open to suggestions for venue: somewhere laidback and quietish with good cocktails would be ideal (we can head off somewhere more raucous later if we want).
  • You don't have to be blogger to turn up: bloggers, commenters, flickrers and anyone who doesn't mind us wittering about blogging and boozing is most welcome
  • With one proviso: anyone who suggests a bar in the top left quadrant is hereby disinvited.


Montage of Wellington graffiti by 'neonate'You may have seem some graffiti around town signed "neonate", especially in the Ghuznee St area. The graffiti usually take the form of a cartoonish face or character scrawled in black ink, with neonate's signature below. Some of the faces are primitive and grotesque (like the one at top right, which reminded me of one of the Jeffrey Harris works currently at the City Gallery), but others have a goofy or wistful appearance. One of the characters is sometimes given a name: "Bulbhead" (or possibly "Bubhead"), with its round mouth, closed eyes and angelic wings, was the most common of the neonate characters for a while.

Sticker by 'neonate'There are signs that neonate is branching out into other media. This sticker on a telephone pole in Ghuznee St shows a rather lugubrious and hirsuite character, with a somewhat different drawing and writing style to the graffiti, but it bears the same name.

Neonate has moved from marker pens to printed stickers: are aerosols and stencils next? Is Neonate, whoever he or she may be, making a move to be the next Mephisto Jones? Can a Primo ad be far away?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Quay questions

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About a month ago, the council announced plans to lower the speed limit on Lambton Quay, together with a package of measures aimed at improving the pedestrian experience in the area. As I mentioned before, it's great to see anything that assists pedestrians at the expense of cars (for a change).

The public input period closes at 5pm tomorrow (Monday the 5th), so if you like the idea, fill in their online submission form and give your support. It's very easy, and you can just tick the boxes if you want, but you can also add more specific comments. Here's what I wrote:

What would you like to see as part of the Lambton Quay upgrade:
Better bus shelters at the northern end. Incentives for less interesting retail uses (banks, insurance etc) to move to the first floor while cafes and shops move to street level. Improved connections to The Terrace, Featherston St and the waterfront.

This is a great start, but it doesn't go far enough! I'd prefer to see Jan Gehl's suggestion: that the western half of the Quay become pedestrian only, with all traffic restricted to the eastern half. Or better yet: completely pedestrianise it, with a light rail line.

But any initiative that tilts the balance back from cars to pedestrians is very welcome.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Mystery bar number 12

Last week's mystery bar required a bit of prompting, though several of you got it in the end: it's the Piano Bar at Il Casino. While many people may not think of it when they think of bars, and the Piano Bar certainly exists primarily to provide pre- and post-dinner drinks for the restaurant patrons, anyone would be most welcome to walk off the street and order a drink. Anyone, that is, with a fair amount of dosh on their person.

Mystery bar #12 - the wine cellarOn to the next mystery bar, then, and this is a place that is willing to cut your wallet a little bit of slack. Despite the prominent display of wine bottles in a glass cabinet, this is certainly not a posh wine bar or cocktail bar. However, they do have a few surprisingly fine spirits behind the bar, sometimes at jaw-droppingly reasonable prices. For example, I was served a notably generous double of Remy Martin XO, and had to do a double take when I was only charged $12! At most places, a quality drop like that would set you back two or three times that amount. I can only presume that the bartender miscalculated and charged me for a single, or for the VSOP, but it might be worth going back, because if this is an ongoing error it's one that I am more than happy to take advantage of.

Not everything is quite so good, though. I had an acceptable dry martini, but in general I think it's fair to say that this is not cocktail heaven. Most of the clientele seem content with beer, a limited wine selection and (shudder) RTDs.

Mystery bar #12 - pool tablesThen there's the atmosphere, if that's not too strong a word. There are a couple of nice design touches, like the wine racks above, but it's generally a little barren and dated. I didn't include these in the draft hipness assessment methodology, but I think most people would agree that blue-baized pool tables and a pokies lounge are each worth at least a couple of points off. And this was the place that inspired the plasma screens and J2 criteria. To be fair, when we respectfully asked the barman whether it would be possible to change the channel, he replied (in a Simpson's squeaky teenager voice - he looked younger than most of the spirits I drink) "I agree, but I'll have to ask the manager", and it was eventually changed. Juice is not much of an improvement, but they deserve points for customer service.

There aren't many points of difference here, and the low-ceilinged blandness doesn't help. But they've recently changed name and management, and I really like the effort that they're putting in.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

SoCo stories

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Wellington map with 'SoCo' region outlinedSeveral times recently, I've mentioned a part of town that doesn't really have an official name, so I've referred to it just as "southeast Te Aro". This doesn't really strike me as satisfactory, since the part of the Te Aro flat that's east of Taranaki St has a very different feel to the Upper Cuba St precinct that most people think of as "Te Aro". The council's "downtown quarters" map places this in the "Courtenay Quarter", but you don't have to go far up Tory St to feel a long way from the beerholes and boy racers of Courtenay Place.

If I were a slimy real estate agent or lazy journalist in New York, I'd desparately try to come up with an acronym to market this precinct, along the lines of SoHo, TriBeCa, NoLIta and (shudder) MePa. Something along the lines of "SoCo", perhaps, for "South of Courtenay".

Between Lorne and Tennyson streetsThus far, most of what I've written about this district has concentrated upon what it lacks: green space, cocktail bars and bandwidth. For a long time, this has been something of a wasteland, with grey streets, temporary-looking buildings, State Highway 1 running through the middle and little to offer unless you're in the market for a muffler. But things are starting to change.

Perhaps the first sign was when Moore Wilson evolved from a wholesaler (and hidden Aladdin's cave for those who could wangle themselves an elusive card) into the supermarket of choice for inner-city dwellers. Caffe L'Affare was also a pioneer in the area, and was among the first in the city to offer fresh-roasted coffee and wireless internet access. Then the residential boom started, with some quality apartment and townhouse developments among the usual dross. A few bars and restaurants (Chow/Motel, Lone Star, Beau Monde, 88) have started making their way up Tory St. There are now signs of interesting shops appearing: Cameron in Holland St, Magnolia and Miss Wong in College St, and now 10 Haining St. But it still feels like a bit of a nowhere place: not quite Te Aro, just on the edge of Courtenay Place, a little way from Mt Cook and Mt Victoria, but not a memorable or cohesive neighbourhood.

It has some real strengths, many of which lie in what it lacks. The relative absence of characterful old buildings means that dense residential developments or new public spaces can potentially be created without altering an intimate streetscape or bulldozing a heritage site. There are a handful of galleries, rehearsal spaces and film companies, but relatively few compared to Te Aro proper, so not all developments have to drive out creative people. If the city can find a way to build on the vacant lots and big-box stores before knocking down the inhabitable old buildings, perhaps we can build a new neighbourhood here without driving out the people that currently give it a semblance of character.

So, what does this district need to become a real neighbourhood? Here are a few suggestions:
  • Quality public spaces (I've previously outlined some possible candidates for these).
  • A quality public realm (good paving, street trees, verandahs).
  • Retention and strengthening of mid-block connections.
  • Retaining and making the most of existing character buildings such as these between Frederick and Haining streets.
  • Cohesive, consistent streetscapes, rather than oversized towers next to empty lots.
  • Mixed use, with an emphasis on small independent shops rather than big box chains.
  • Mixed income, with something inbetween student hovels and luxury apartments.
  • A focal point, whether a lively shopping and entertainment street or a public space such as a park or square.
  • A name. "SoCo" probably doesn't cut it, so let's have some suggestions!