Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Shops we love: 10 Haining St
A new shop has just opened in what was once Wellington's Chinatown, selling art, t-shirts and a range of well-designed little knick-knacks. It goes by the self-explanatory (if unoriginal) name of 10 Haining St, and it's taken over an old substation building, which is now enlivened by some stained glass windows and colourful flags.
"Ah," I can hear some of you saying, "the tide of gentrification moves ever onward. What was once a gritty light-industrial part of Te Aro is being taken over by chi-chi designer boutiques, lining the pockets of corporate retail chains or providing an excuse for bored suburban matrons to indulge their 'creative' pretensions."
In some cases this might be true, but in this case the truth is very different. 10 Haining Street is actually run by Art Compass, a charitable trust set up to provide studio and gallery space for artists with intellectual disabilities. The building itself is owned by the Sisters of Compassion, who also own the semi-derelict building between this one and the Suzanne Aubert Compassion Centre on the corner of Tory St. The substation was going to be empty for some time, but they decided that it would make a perfect retail outlet for the work of their artists and others.
And it is a lovely little space. On a grotty day it felt full of light, and it's a strange feeling to step through the low and narrow door from a drab street into a room full of intriguing and unusual things. Most of their products are unavailable anywhere else, surprisingly reasonably priced (I bought a t-shirt for $30), and go beyond the clichés of "outsider art".
I had thought that this part of town would take a while before it attracted small retail shops to join the big boxes, building supplies wholesalers and film production companies. There are a lot of apartments going up in the neighbourhood, but until recently there was very little in the way of retail and hospitality business to bring active edges to the streets. The arrival of this place, together with the fact that it's something different from all the other shops in town, is a very welcome sign.
Update: unfortunately, it didn't last long, closing on the 18th of March 2006.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
I can see my house from here - part 3
This is the third instalment of a series covering mapping sites, remote sensing and other views of Wellington that are available on the web. Previously, I've dealt with satellite imagery and aerial photography, as well as topographical and street maps. This time I'll look at a map that shows an invisible but nevertheless important aspect of downtown Wellington: WiFi access points.
CaféNET is a fantastic asset for the city, but as of yet it is still far from ubiquitous, so it's important to know where you can get connected. Their website has a map of Wellington coverage, but it's broken down into quarters, making it hard to get the big picture of coverage throughout the city. So after a fairly rough bit of Photoshop hacking, this was the result.
It looks like a fairly good distribution, and for visiting businesspeople up the suity end of town, there are certainly plenty of places to grab a post-meeting coffee while mailing off the latest sales projections. But what about a spot of leisurely dinnertime blogging, or surfing with a snifter of Cognac? After hours, you're more likely to head for the Courtenay/Cuba end of town, but the picture there is decidedly patchy.
In fact, many of the "hot spots" marked on the Willis and Cuba quarters are daytime-only cafés, offices, photocopy shops or "general coverage", which means that unless you can find a nearby café that manages to grab a little bit of bandwidth inside, you'll have to be prepared to share a bench with Blanket Man. I was excited when I heard that new hot spots were opening up in upper Cuba St, but so far I've found that coverage is intermittent in Olive and virtually nonexistent in Floriditas. If this is your hood, you'll have to wander down to Felix for post-prandial bandwidth. (Update: I've just heard that the Cuba Mall coverage around Slow Boat records and Olive had a glitch but should now be fixed).
Things are even worse in southeast Te Aro. If you find yourself in that part of town after dark and fancy some time on the wireless web, then it's time for a trip to Courtenay Place. I haven't tried out the coverage in Hummingbird or Establishment, but on all but the quietest evenings they would seem far from conducive to relaxed surfing. Espressoholic seems like the place to be, judging from the number of glowing Apple logos on display the last time I was there.
Aside from CaféNET, there are a lot of enthusiasts offering access points around the city. NodeDB is a worldwide project that helps people list and locate such places, and this is what their map for Wellington looks like:
As far as I know, none of these access points are being set up as free-for-all Internet access points. Some are just for testing, but some say that if you ring or email ahead, they'll give you access. I haven't tested any of these myself, but as these people seem keen to offer a cooperative wireless network, feel free to give it a go.
Wireless LANs are notorious for their poor security, and if you've ever tried connecting to CaféNET you may have noticed various unsecured networks detected by your computer. It may even be possible to just go ahead and connect to these, surfing away for free on some poor sucker's bandwidth: I couldn't possibly comment. So far, I haven't seen any warchalking signs in Wellington, but maybe I just haven't been looking closely enough.
Monday, November 28, 2005
There were a lot more waterfront-related letters in last week's Capital Times. This time, one guy agreed with me (thanks, Peter Frawley) and three others were generally on the other side. None from Wadestown, for a change: just Khandallah and Crofton Downs!
A lot of the debate seems to have deteriorated into quibbles about who said what. As tiresome as it is, I've had to try to set things straight about what I've been saying, so here's what I sent back:
Peter Brooks denies that Waterfront Watch want nothing but park for Waitangi, but the article "Election Promises Questioned" (Capital Times, 12 October) stated: "a motion was passed opposing the large buildings, proposing instead that the entire Waitangi/Chaffers area between Te Papa and Oriental Parade be declared public park land indefinitely". That's a vision that I, and most people I talk to, do not share. He also says they accept mixed use, so I assume they want homes and workplaces on the waterfront?Oops, I was rude about the Hutt again! On the other hand, they have been asking for it.
Doris Heinrich suggests that my vision is for "buildings along the length of the waterfront" with "a few narrow pathways between buildings". Personally, I could handle a more urban waterfront, but my letters always advocate the balanced solution that is proposed, which is far from Heinrich's caricature. For example, the public spaces leading to the water at Kumutoto will be wider than Cuba Mall: hardly "narrow lanes"!
We'll never agree about whether empty spaces are dull. The Hutt Valley has plenty of open space, and it's as dull as ditchwater; downtown Wellington is fairly built up, and it's relatively lively. Let's have a waterfront that's alive around the clock, not one that dies when the sun goes down.
Shooting from the hip
Last week's post on the link between dress codes and hipness caused a bit of a stir. Most of the online comments were in general agreement, though some of my friends were a little miffed at where I placed Boogie Wonderland on the chart (it's okay, I still love you despite your complete lack of misguided taste in nightclubs).
I admitted at the time that my method of assessing the hipness level of a bar was far from scientific, so I've drafted a technique that could place this assessment on a more methodical footing. Please bear in mind that I'm not claiming that "hip" = "good" (you could equally see it as "hip" = "pretentious") or that "hipness" = "street cred" (dingy, serious music venues like Valve, Happy and Bodega have more of the latter than the former).
The methodology is extremely simple. Every bar starts with zero points, then you add or subtract points for whichever of the following statements apply. Good luck with your field research!
Features an extensive list of cocktails +1
That the bar staff can actually make +3
Cocktail list specialises in innovative and delicious inventions +5
Cocktail list specialises in shooters with "hilarious" "suggestive" names -2
The most popular wine is Viognier +2
The most popular wine is Chardonnay -1
The most popular wine is Chardon, eh? -5
The chef is ex-Huka Lodge +2
The chef is ex-Le Gavroche +5
The chef is ex-Paremoremo -5
Has a dress code -1
Dress code includes "no hats" -3
Dress code includes "no gang colours" -10
The punters shop at Zambesi, Good as Gold, and an Op Shop in Newtown that the masses haven't found yet +5
The punters shop at Hallensteins and Supré -3
The punters shop at Rodd & Gunn and Line 7 -5
The punters shop at The Warehouse -7
Everywhere you look there are large screen TVs -1
That are playing continuous Sky Sport -5
That are playing J2 -10
Frequented by international movie stars +2
Bouncers notoriously turned away international movie stars +5
Prominently displays photos of grinning proprietor with international movie stars -5
Designed by a prominent architect +1
Who crashed his client's Ferrari +2
Who took the rap for his client crashing his own Ferrari +3
Used as a venue for album release parties and live recordings +2
For bands on LOOP +5
For NZ Idol finalists -5
Mentioned in Pavement or Urbis +2
Mentioned in Wallpaper* +5
Mentioned on nzweddingplanner.co.nz as a hen night venue -10
Plays a lot of retro music +5
Unfortunately, "retro", doesn't mean rare John Coltrane recordings, lost funk classics and experimental New York electro, but endless repeats of Abba, Bryan Adams and whatever was in the charts 5 years ago -10
The biggest nights of the week are when an international guest DJ or up-and-coming local band performs +2
The biggest nights are ladies night and corporate shout Fridays -2
The biggest nights are Bikini Jam and when the Tui girls are on tour -7
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Evolution in action
Friday, November 25, 2005
Mystery bar number 11
It took you a surprisingly long time to recognise the previous mystery bar as the Southern Cross, which has recently emerged from hefty renovations as a much smarter and no doubt much less rowdy place. I had presumed that there must be a few recent ex-students reading this, so the old Zebo's should have been familiar, but I guess few of you have gone back recently enough to recognise the tarted up version. Anyway, time for a bar that hasn't seen any renovations for quite some time.
This week's mystery bar is so old school that it almost resembles the headmaster's office at my old school. The wood panelled walls and brown leather sofas give it a dark, cosy feeling which is let down only slightly by a few decidedly 80s tub chairs. Among the celebrity signatures framed on the walls are those of Cleo Laine and John Dankworth, and you wouldn't be surprised to see them pop up in the corner to belt out a rendition of "Lush Life".
Though I'm sure that the bar staff are more than capable of crafting a damned fine martini, this is not a cocktail bar, but instead specialises in wine, aperitifs and spirits. Their cognac collection is particularly impressive, including Remy Martin Louis XIII by the glass (I must remember to pop by next time I have a spare $250).
The clientele is therefore, as you might expect, largely of a mature and moneyed persuasion. While I doubt it often has the need to enforce a dress code, I actually saw one impressively-moustachioed gentleman resplendent in a double-breasted gold-buttoned navy blazer and striped shirt with white collar. Enough to make one think that one is back in the City, what what? It would make the perfect starting place for a Chaps' Night Out.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Dress to regress
I was going to mention this week's Capital Times article about dress codes at Wellington bars and nightclubs, but the Wellingtonista beat me to it. However, I'd like to take it further and apply some elementary statistical visualisation techniques to derive an interesting hypothesis about the relationship between a bar's dress code and its hipness level.
So, I used the bar managers' statements in the article to estimate the strictness of their dress code. Some of them had interesting ideas about what was acceptable: the manager of Jet, Go Go and Mini Bar was quoted as saying "Patches and hats don't look as smart, so we don't allow those". Patches and hats. So throw away that felt fedora from Lock & Co, gents, as apparently it's on a level with gang patches when it comes to slovenly dressing.
Then I applied a thoroughly scientific approach to determining a bar's stylishness and social desirability (that's a lie, actually: I just made it up - though see my later post for notes towards a methodology). Anyway, I plotted hipness on the x-axis and strictness of dress code on the y-axis, and this was the result.
The data has spoken: there is obviously a strongly negative correlation between strictness and hipness.
This has some interesting corollaries:
- Do bars in the Hutt Valley require patrons to wear white tie and tails?
- Is banning collared shirts, dress pants and shiny shoes enough to make a bar über-hip?
- If someone opens a bar where singlets, ripped jeans and smelly sneakers are mandatory, how long will it be before it appears in a Wallpaper* photo shoot?
I wonder where that fish has gone
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a new fish 'n' chip shop planned for the waterfront promenade, underneath the Dibble. Well, the space has now opened, but to my surprise and disappointment, there was no sign of battered fish, sizzling chips, salt, vinegar or tomato sauce: just coffee and juice. What happened?
It turns out that they had intended to open a fish 'n' chip shop, but getting consents for deep fat fryers and the associated extraction paraphenalia proved too difficult. Hence, they decided to open as a juice bar and coffee outlet called Glow. No doubt the Heart Foundation will be delighted to see all that saturated fat replaced by fresh, natural antioxidants, but many of us will utter the plaintive cry: "where are our greasies?"
Oh, and extra geek points for identifying the source of this post's title (the answer is here).
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
The winners of the Waitangi Precinct design competition have been announced, with a big article on the front page of today's Dominion Post. While I thought that a combination result (picking different entries for the two halves of the site) might be possible, I didn't expect this particular combination: John Wardle's scheme for sites 1 to 3, together with UN Studio's site 4 building.
In my round up of the competition entries, I said that UN Studio's aluminium-clad museum extension for site 4 was the most beautiful of all the proposed buildings, and that it merged with the landscape in an intriguing way. It's certainly a complex building, and hard to get one's head around, so maybe this exploded perspective view might help:
It's a bold choice, and Wellington Waterfront Ltd are striking a cautious note about the likely expense of this building. For more detail, see my review of UN Studio's entry, and the PDF files on their page at the WWL site.
John Wardle provided a dramatic interpretation of sites 1 to 3, and while I had my reservations about the scheme, it's still a very exciting suite of buildings.
Since one of these buildings includes some apartments, finding financial backing is likely to be easier than for the site 4 building. For more information, have a look at my review of John Wardle's entry, and the images on their page at the WWL site.
In a way, I'm disappointed that at least some of the scheme by Architecture Workshop and Kerstin Thompson wasn't chosen, but for all of that scheme's urbanistic and environmental virtues, it just seemed a little too tame. While I believe there are some issues with the winning schemes (such as the absence of a hostel and market space at site 4, and the need for some extensive sun and wind modelling to ensure that sites 1-3 produce quality public space), I'm glad that the jury has gone for bold and dramatic buildings. There's still a long process to go through (public consultation, resource consents, looking for tenants and investors), and with luck that process will resolve any such issues without compromising the creative vision for the sake of pressure groups and short-term commercial expedience. Fingers crossed!
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Seven deadly tags
Just when I had all sorts of plans to write some deeply earnest in-depth articles about sustainable urbanism, Kate goes and tags me. Gee, thanks. So here goes:
The Seven Deadly Sins
Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride. Which (if any) have you broken? Give examples.
I could give details, but a gentleman doesn't kiss and tell. But if you're talking about the realm of imagination rather than reality, there's always this photo (should be safe for work, unless your firewall doesn't like 80s electro glam pop).
Gluttony: Yes, but not as much as I used to.
I like to think I'm more gourmet than gourmand, but I still have my weaknesses. Two words: quattro formaggio.
I am immune to the supposed appeal of much of the merchandise in our consumer society (expensive cars, plasma screen TVs, glowing chimps). But then again, Chateau d'Yquem and Prada shoes don't grow on trees...
Wrath: Not much.
Okay, some people piss me off no end. But I don't indulge in fisticuffs, and I've never used the word "F*cktard".
In my youth, my family once stayed in a chalet near Interlaken that was owned by one of my father's ex-colleagues who'd "gone private". This was their second-smallest house, smaller than their family home in Bern and their beach house in Grenada (the real one, not the crap one) but bigger than their ski chalet, and it had about ten rooms. And in every single room, even the toilets, there was a Miro original.
It's nice to be a Slithering Reptile rather than a Slimy Mollusc!
Hadyn, Ben, David, Dena and James: get tagged!
In a comment on last week's post about the Croxley Mills apartments, David asked why there isn't more high-density housing in New Zealand, even compared to his home town of Darwin:
Do Kiwis just not want to live in city centers, or do they not want to live in high rise blocks, or is there some regulatory intervention happening to make it hard to develop and live in big apartment buildings?I think that there's no single answer, and also that the situation is changing, especially in Wellington. Regulation may have been an issue a few decades ago, but it doesn't seem to be the case now. It seems to me that if anything, the Wellington City Council has been more than happy to grant consents to buildings that are over the District Plan limits (and if anyone reading this has experience in designing or developing high rises in Wellington and disagrees, I'd be interested to hear otherwise).
Wellington did go through a spate of residential high-rise construction after WWII, leaving a mixed legacy in terms of architectural quality and urban design, but in general there was little in the way of "inner city apartment living" until the late 80s. We still have no really tall residential towers (like the 33-storey block planned for Darwin): of our 50 tallest buildings, only a handful are residential.
So why is that? I think the answer includes geographic, economic, historical and cultural factors. Though Wellington's topography has tended to make it the exception, New Zealand's cities have been surrounded by ample cheap land, so why go to the expense of building up? Unlike Europe or the American East, most of New Zealand's urbanisation has occurred after the advent of the car: with apologies to Oscar Wilde, one could say that New Zealand went from rurality to suburbia without urbanity in between. And culturally, most New Zealanders are descended from ancestors who either lived in kainga or emigrated from Europe, often specifically to escape high-density city life. The "quarter-acre pavlova paradise" is part of Pakeha mythology.
But much of this is changing. Cheap land is no longer the norm, and cheap oil may be over for good. Our cities have been around long enough now to have their own cultures and economies, rather than being rural service centres, and CBDs now have more entertainment than in the post-war generation (why bother living close to town in the days of six o'clock closing?). Our cultural makeup is changing, too, and most NZ apartments are palatial by Hong Kong standards, so perhaps some of the new immigrants can teach us something about compact living.
But I believe our main challenge in the move to higher-density cities is not a dearth of high rises, but a lack of medium-rise (3-6 storey), medium density housing on the city fringes. With the exception of parts of Mt Victoria, The Terrace and Thorndon, Wellington (like most NZ cities) has tended to go straight from CBD to suburbia. We haven't had extensive areas of recognisably urban residential districts, like London's Georgian terraces or New York's brownstones. Attractive, well-designed neighbourhoods at that sort of density are crucial if we're to encourage families (not just young singles and empty-nesters) to live close to the city. The only other living thing that I want in my apartment is cheese, but most people will still want to be close to plants, pets and children, and that's difficult on the 30th storey.
Unfortunately, there's a limit to how much we can increase the density of our inner suburbs without compromising their historic character. Some of the objectors to infill may just be Nimby's worried about diluting their property values, but some of the developers' efforts make no pretense about being about anything other than quick, cheap profit. So if we're to fight urban sprawl, Wellington might need more high-rise apartments in the CBD and Te Aro. And in case you think that I'm a fan of skyscrapers, have a look at these guys!
Monday, November 21, 2005
Shops we love: Beckon
You may have noticed that most of the shops featured in the "Shops we love" posts specialise in items that you can eat, drink, read or wear. That's because I'm generally happy to leave interior design and homeware stores to those who actually spend some time at home, but in Beckon's case, I'm willing to make an exception.
This little shop, which opened last week in Willis St just along from Willis St Village, has a few qualities that set it apart. First, unlike chains such as Askew, Iko Iko or the Vault, it's a one-off shop run by and named after its owner (Bec Knox). Secondly, virtually all of the merchandise is designed and made in New Zealand, and much of it has a distinctive local flavour. And finally, most of the items are surprisingly reasonably priced.
This stretch of Willis St (between Manners and Dixon streets) is starting to get a bit livelier again. There are a couple of new cafe/bars at the south end - Eclipse (aka Mystery Bar #3) and Mojo Invincible (aka Mystery bar #9) - and rumour has it that the old Armadillo site (which was briefly Ostro) will reopen soon. The Settlement may be a ghost of its former self, and under threat of demolition, but it'll be interesting to see what happens when DoC moves into the renovated Mid City complex and the apartments on the former Fishbowl site are complete.
Friday, November 18, 2005
A place in the sun
On a day such as this, wouldn't it be nice to sneak out of work early, saunter off to your local watering hole, and enjoy a thirsty quenching beer/Pinot Gris/mojito in the afternoon sun? The only difficulty (apart from escaping work) lies in finding a decent bar that catches the last of the sun. A fellow dipsomaniac asked me for suggestions just now, and here are a few possibilities:
- The Green Room
- The Malthouse (balcony)
- Bouquet Garni
- Jet (before the B&T crowd arrive)
- Last Supper Club (if you time it right)
- The Tasting Room
You'll have noticed the relative lack of waterfront venues. That's partly because the orientation of the Wellington CBD, with hills to the west and harbour to the east, limits the possiblility of late afternoon sun at the harbour edge. Dockside gets the best sun (so it's usually packed on a nice day), and The Green Room's small outside area gets a bit of late sun, but apart from a few tables on the southern side, Shed 5 loses it fairly early. What about Chicago and the Loaded Hog? Please: I do have some standards. Bring on the Hilton!
There's always the Shed 22 brewery of course, and in summer it's hard to beat their Verboden Vice, but by beer o'clock they're mostly in the shadow of the Odlins building. Here's hoping that the Free Ambulance building gets a decent bar when its renovations are complete (in January, with any luck), as that will have some of the best sun in the city, and it will be especially pleasant when the lagoon is extended southwards. The wharenui is expected to have a cafe when it's complete, which will also help make this corner of the waterfront much livelier. But there's currently a dry zone from Taranaki St to Oriental Bay, so we'll have to wait to see what the Waitangi precinct delivers.
So, most of our best places for evening sipping are inland. In fact, if you're willing to trek up into bypass territory, I'm told that our latest mystery bar gets plenty of sun in its garden bar. Yes, as one of you worked out, it's the Southern Cross, and from the looks of things it may have seen its last $3 jug, but maybe its distance from Lambton Quay will save it from the suited hordes.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Taking the piss
Copies of this poster have been plastered (terrible pun intended) all over Cuba and Ghuznee streets today (just up the road from Glover Park).
The only surprise is that it's taken so long. The incident and the election campaign were some time ago, and it's nearly two weeks since Blumsky expressed his disgust at the homeless people of Wellington. Frogblog were the first to point out the irony of the situation, before more tragic events took over.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Density done right: Croxley Mills
I wrote before about the Ebor St townhouses as an attractive example of new medium-density housing. My one criticism was that they seemed slightly out of place in the inner city, where one could expect densities to be even higher, and should instead be seen as a model for the inner suburbs. So, here's an example of a denser, more urban apartment development that seems to do most things right.
This is the Croxley Mills apartment development in Frederick St, Te Aro, in what was once Wellington's Chinatown but has more recently been full of light industry and bulk retail. It's an example of a typology that is becoming very common in central Wellington but is rarely done well: the rooftop addition.
In this case the architects (Custance) had an advantage, in that the original building was not a highly decorated neo-classical or Art Deco building, styles that are hard to add to without resorting to pastiche or resulting in a total aesthetic disaster. Instead, it was a robust industrial building with clean lines and solid bones, and it has lent itself well to addition and subtraction to produce a crisply-detailed and elegant apartment block. If anything, the lightness of the glass and steel, together with the internal balconies and varied roofline, actually reduces the visual bulk of the building. Much of the rhythm of the original building has been followed into the addition, and the results are so harmonious that some people are surprised to learn that the whole building hasn't been built from scratch.
My only criticism is from an urbanistic rather than aesthetic point of view: almost the entire ground floor is given over to parking and storage, presenting a blank and unfriendly pedestrian environment. I realise that it would have been optimistic to expect a retail or hospitality tenancy to flourish here straight away, but the nature of the area is gradually changing. By leaving this ground floor as blank concrete, the developers have effectively ruled out any possibility of this becoming an active edge when the demand does eventuate. Perhaps a wholesale, light industrial or trade-oriented business could have worked here in the interim, leaving the possibility for a livelier mixed-use precinct to evolve over time.
Despite that issue, this is still a great example of how a contemporary modernist six-storey apartment building can be attractive and unobtrusive rather than monolithic and dominating. Imagine this with ground floor retail, a veranda and a bit of greenery, then put it in place of the open-air car yards of Taranaki St or Cambridge Tce, and you'll start to get an idea of how good architecture, coordinated planning and increased density can combine to produce attractive streetscapes.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Mystery bar number 10
Mystery bar number 9 proved to be truly obscure, and even dropping some extra hints didn't tip you off, so I finally had to put you out of your misery by identifying it as Mojo Invincible. It's a tiny little place, and not quite on the beaten track, but well worth a try.
Today's mystery bar should be a doddle by comparison. It's a popular place that has recently gone through a fairly radical refit, presumably with the intention of attracting a very different demographic from its traditional regulars.
The decor, while clearly much more upmarket than its previous incarnation, is intentionally a real mish-mash, with exposed concrete and polished steel walls contrasting with busywallpaper and wooden cladding. There are a lot of comfy leather sofas and booths as well as an eclectic mix of chairs and kiwiana cushions. Parts of the ceiling are covered in a pattern of mismatched panels, giving an effect that reminds me of work by John Mills Architects, though I'm not sure whether the revamp was done by them.
Will the new incarnation of this place attract new customers while retaining the loyalty of the old punters? Somehow I doubt it. The further you go into the depths of the bar, the closer it seems to the original, but I think that the two groups are deeply incompatible. If the artworks, designer fireplaces and flower arrangements don't put off the regulars, then the prices probably will. And if the old school drinkers remain here in force and stick to their old raucous music and sticky carpet ways, then the attempt to go upmarket is clearly doomed.
If this place had arrived out of the blue, I would probably love it for its cosiness, interesting design and relaxed feel. But it's hard not to feel a sense of loss. I don't have many memories of this place in its heyday (I'm sure I went there, I just don't remember), and it was never exactly my idea of a good time. I just hope that the old crowd has somewhere else to go - and that it's nowhere near me.
A while ago I did a round up of local mapping resources on the internet, but now there's a new one to add to the list. There was an article in yesterday's Dominion Post about a new mapping service, ZoomIn, from Wellington startup Projectx. At first glance there's nothing special about the map itself:
It's nice and clean, but lacks some of the detail found on the Wises and Where Are We? maps. However, there are some very nice features, such as the fast and intuitive Google-style panning, auto-completion of street names as you type, and the bread-crumb trail that lets you quickly zoom out to suburb or city level. Unlike either Wises or Where Are We?, it also lets you search by street number and link to it with a simple URL:
So far, it's a nice addition to local mapping resources, but they're only getting started. But they're aiming at something more ambitious. Projectx's Ben Nolan says:
"We want to have flavour. We don't want to be a generic, homogenised bloody list of where all the boutiques or Starbucks are in town," he says.That's the sort of thing that people in the US have been able to do with the Google Maps API for a while, and it's spawned all sorts of fascinating commercial and community mapping applications. I've looked before at opportunities for integrating blogging with mapping, but in New Zealand we've always been limited by the lack of online mapping services. Perhaps all this will change when ZoomIn's API becomes available next month.
"We want it to be a lot more 'two-way', so instead of just indexing things and plotting them on the map, we want people to add stuff - like their views of what cafes they like and what beaches are good, so people can use it to share information. They could perhaps take a photo of some street art and add it to the map."
Monday, November 14, 2005
Did you ever have one of those nights when you get home at a reasonable hour, only to decide that an evening of wine, pizza and DVDs with friends (however pleasant that may have been) just doesn't cut it for a Friday night? Well, I happened to know that there were some "interesting" acts scheduled for Happy that night, so off I went to see what the night would deliver.
I just caught the last half of Christchurch duo Thomas:Parkes, who were billed as "Electro pop" and sounded somewhere between very early New Order and The Lightning Seeds, with perhaps a hint of Skallander at times in the vocals. Then there was seht playing with the 1/3 Octave Band, producing dense intriguing textures from music boxes, tape loops, contact mikes and 70s samples.
The term "wall of noise" is often used to describe certain sorts of music, but [D] Yellow Swans don't just produce a wall of noise: they give you all four walls, a floor and a ceiling, then proceed to add on more and more floors until there's a vast Corbusian tower block of noise sitting on your head. I might have almost enjoyed this if my ears hadn't been bleeding so much.
Leaving the blogger-filled environs of Happy (Hi Stephen, Hi Rose), it was interesting to note the contrast with the bright syncopated rhythms emanating from Latinos above. Which started me thinking about the strange juxtapositions and evocative traces that you can find in even such a bleak corner of our inner city as this part of Vivian St at 3am. Next door is an antique shop that specialises in mid-century retro furniture, approximately Art Deco to 70s, with a healthy obsession with the 50s. I particularly liked this disembodied head floating among the spherical glass lampshades.
A little further down the street, beyond the stridently post-modernist Salvation Army building, there's a reminder of the light industrial past that's gradually disappearing from this part of Te Aro. I can't believe I'd never noticed this giant spanner before! At about this time, I began to notice a constant distant roar, like jet engines at takeoff. It seemed to be coming from the harbour, but I couldn't see anything, so I blamed it on post-Happy tinnitus.
From here it's just a short stagger to Cuba St, and as I walked past Indigo I couldn't help noticing a greater than usual preponderance of a certain pungent herbal aroma emanating from people gathered in doorways. Then I realised that the Hollie Smith gig must just have finished at Indigo: ah, that explains it.
Passing through Cuba Mall itself (where I bumped into a restaurateur I know and got invited to a seven course degustation dinner) I then headed through the deserted Left Bank and the alley behind the church to reach my building. The roaring was still noticeable, and if anything was getting louder. I saw a lot of lights moving through the sky, and vaguely thought that this was odd given the airport's curfew. It wasn't until I got back to the 8th floor that I could see what was going on: Mt Vic was on fire, and the noise and lights were helicopters heading off to the harbour to fill up their monsoon buckets.
Just a typical night in this quiet little town of ours.
I've taken a while to respond to John Macalister's letter to the Capital Times, but I hope I was in time to make this week's edition (update: yes, it was in time, as it was published in the November 16th edition). Dr Macalister seemed to have been late with his letter, as he looks to be referring to a letter of mine from some weeks back, rather than the more recent one that deals with the full text of Jack Ruben's letter. Anyway, here's my letter:
John Macalister accuses me of twisting Waterfront Watch's views, but I don't need to: they're twisted enough already. Most people who know and enjoy cities realise that they are best when a range of uses (including residential, commercial, entertainment and recreation) is mixed throughout the city at a fine scale; yet Waterfront Watch seem to want to go back to the Modernist doctrine of segregating uses.I hope I'm not being too broad when I claim that no-one I know wants nothing but park at Waitangi, but that's definitely the consensus among my friends, and though the comments on my last Waitangi Park post covered a range of opinions, I think it's fair to say that none of you wanted a complete absence of new buildings in the Waitangi precinct. I'm not quite as adamant about the Hilton project (I support it, but with reservations, and I've proposed what I hope is a constructive solution to meet the most serious objections), but even on that most people I know are more in favour of it than against it.
It's ironic for Dr Macalister to accuse others of 'smug, "we-know-best" attitudes', when Waterfront Watch is always claiming to speak for all of Wellington. "We Wellingtonians know what we want," he says. Well, I'm a Wellingtonian too, and I know that I don't want Waterfront Watch's big, dull, empty spaces.
Waterfront Watch want nothing but park between Te Papa and Oriental Parade, but I don't know anyone who thinks that's a good idea. Jack Ruben wants an outer T without buildings, and most of those I've talked to believe that the result would be windswept and bleak, with or without sculptures and paintings.
"We Wellingtonians" don't go into fits of self-righteous apoplexy when we learn about plans for a lively, urban waterfront: instead, we say "That's cool: we can't wait!"
If you disagree with what I'm saying, please say so in a comment: I'm happy to engage in informed debate on these issues (I've enjoyed my discussions with Andrew, for example), and it would be arrogant of me to claim to speak for WellUrban readers unless there is general support for my views. I don't want to turn this blog into a site for my ranting, but I do want to make it clear that Waterfront Watch do not speak for all Wellingtonians.
Friday, November 11, 2005
Tonks for the memories
Among the exhibits at the Architecture School graduate exhibition (at the Vivian St campus until the 20th of November) will be a few "Architecture in the Community" projects specific to Welington. Matthew French has designed a New Zealand Human Rights and Development Centre for the northern end of the waterfront. Charlotte Goguel proposes an autism day-care centre for the former defence camp at Shelly Bay.
And, perhaps most intriguingly, Ruth Wivell presents a scheme for the relocation of Te Aro buildings on the completion of (read "in the aftermath of") the bypass. Are we to read anything into the fact that the contact person for the exhibition has the very Te Aro name of Amanda Tonks?
Lounge against the machine
This is completely unrelated to Wellington, but I couldn't resist. The new album by Richard Cheese (horrid pun obviously intended) is out now: Aperitif for Destruction. Of course, lounge covers of contemporary rock songs are nothing new (where are you, Mike Flowers?) but anyone who can bring the swing to Guns 'n' Roses, carry off a bossanova version of Sunday Bloody Sunday and make Alanis Morrissette sound almost half decent deserves a tip o' the fedora.
I've been waiting for this since I read Mr Cheese's interview with Modern Drunkard magazine (yes, I do own a collection of back issues - why do you ask?). Which reminds me: can the lounge revival revival be far away? And to bring it back to Wellington, where would be the best local venue for this revival to occur?
Mystery bar revealed
Oh people, I had such faith in you. No bar, pub, club or booze barn could open in this burg without one of you (yes, you) identifying it from the blurriest of photos. But mystery bar number 9 had you completely baffled, so I'll have to put you out of your misery.
It's Mojo Invincible, the Willis St branch of the coffee chain which has been taking over Wellington. Until recently, this was a daytime café like the rest of them, but a few weeks ago it started opening late from Thursday nights, with a wine list from sommelier extraordinaire Stephen Wong (formerly of Matterhorn and Rouge fame) and some very acceptable tapas. The name comes from the Art Deco building (Invincible House) that it shares with what must be the most impressively named convenience store in the world - The Invincible Dairy.
As anyone who's been anywhere near Wellington (or read The Wellingtonista) recently will know, tomorrow's the day that the frigate Wellington will go to Davey Jones' locker, or "the bottom of Island Bay" as we scientists call it. This image (click for a bigger version) shows the exact location, and might hint at some good vantage points. Hey, I think I can see Grabthar Heights from here!
Being Wellington, of course, the weather may have it's say. According to the Sink F69 site, the weather criteria for sinking are reasonably broad, and since there won't be a southerly wind or significant swell, the only worry will be keeping the northerly to under 20 knots (37 km/h for you landlubbers). It's currently 24 knots gusting 36 at the airport, and while the official inshore marine forecast (you'd think that James of all people would know to link to that!) has it dropping off tomorrow evening, the question is: will it have eased enough by 3pm?
The current aviation forecast only goes out to 1pm, and doesn't have it easing before then. NOAA's GFS model (this meteogram comes from a page that uses word verification, so I can't link to it directly, but you can create your own from this page by entering "NZWN" in the "ICAO or WMO ID" box) shows the wind easing off during the afternoon, but it's unlikely to have the resolution to model Wellington's (ahem) "interesting" microclimate with much accuracy, so I'd take its forecast of under 15kt for sink time with a pinch of salt (spray). So, it's looking like it will be touch and go, and the forecast rain might deter some spectators, but the spectacle should be worth the risk, so jump on the number 1 or number 23 and take a look.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Last week's mystery bar really seems to have stumped you, so here's a more revealing photo and a little clue about its name: it really can't be beaten.
It formed a very pleasant stop along the way of our tapeo evening last Friday, with its interesting wine list and platters of simple but delightfully fresh nibbles. I've often thought that the tapeo (and its Basque cousin the poteo-ir-de-pinchos) is a very civilised tradition that we ought to have here, despite our bracing climate and dour dominantly Anglo-Celtic heritage. The tapeo (or tapas-crawl) involves wandering with a group of friends from bar to bar, having a drink or two at each bar while sampling their unique tapas dishes. Along the way, you bump into old friends and make new ones, and in many cases it replaces a sit-down meal altogether.
In parts of Europe this is a tradition that crosses age and class divisions. Unfortunately, we still have a social environment where eating out regularly is considered the exclusive domain of the affluent, and drinking is considered as either a social evil or purely as a way to get grossly intoxicated (not that there's anything wrong with that...) rather than as an accompaniment to food and as a healthy and integrated part of everyday life. There are still some legal hangovers from the era when food and drink were strictly segregated, and can you imagine plates of grilled crab pie, tuna salad or pigeon in pastry being arranged along the public bar of the Cambridge?
So a local tapeo evening has to rely upon relatively upmarket bars and restaurants, rather than your neighbourhood watering hole, but at least there is a growing number of places offering tapas, antipasti, or other forms of "small plates" and platters. I've already mentioned our mystery bar, but here are a few other good tapeo candidates, arranged from Lambton to Courtenay:
- Arbitrageur has some fantastic "delicatessa" plates, and gives you the chance to design your own antipasto platter. It's pricy, but their gravlax, vitello tonnato and smoked cod rillete with truffle oil are definitely worth it.
- Pod has never really done it for me, as its perfectly minimalist interior can feel uninviting unless its packed, and they seem to have moved away from the small plates concept a little. Still, they had some lovely kumara and parmesan balls last time we were there, and geographically they help fill in the north-south bar gap.
- Matterhorn does the business with Mediterranean-influenced "bowls", including spiced pork & garlic fingers, irresistible feta fried in gorse honey & thyme flowers, and aquired tastes such as black pudding (Ecky thump!) with fried apple and garlic mayo. Some have suggested that "da Horn" is past its best as a bar, but for dinner or early evening drinks it's still hard to beat.
- Imbibe is the antipasto maestro, and no Wellytapas crawl would be complete without their themed platters. Stick to the Trattoria platter if you want to stay with European traditions, but it's well worth a trip to the other side of the Mediterranean to gorge on their magnificent Souk platter (we're still lacking a Moroccan restuarant, but this'll do in the meantime) - it's moreish as well as Moorish. The only downside is that they don't serve coffee.
- Zibibbo is probably the closest we get to proper tapas, and they even subscribe to the very civilised tradition of providing free tapas if you order a bottle of wine. There are some exquisite delicacies such as chicken liver parfait and suppli with aioli, and if you feel like breaking out of the tapas mould, their potato, rosemary and blue cheese pizzas are the best around. It's certainly the only tapas place in town with a Michelin-starred chef!
- Chow almost goes without saying, really, though it's a long way from a strictly Mediterranean concept of tapas. Their blue cheese and peanut wontons are legendary, the Thai chicken is great once you get it out of the banana leaves, and don't forget the smoked pork sausages with kaffir lime, lemongrass and other goodies. Not a cheap option, but after a coulpe of Rosebud's you'll be beyond caring.
- Hummingbird has done more than most to expand the "small plates" concept beyond the original tapas cuisine, and while it's expensive and the music is often cringeworthy for anyone who still has their own hair, dishes like walnut and blue cheese tortellini and their succulent duck rillette are still mouth-watering. The location makes it a great place for watching the world go by (although late on a weekend evening it's more like watching the Hutt go by), and now that Eddy's back from Neat, expect a few more absinthe-related hangovers.
- The Last Supper Club is not really a tapas place, but its antipasto platter has a good reputation. The service can be a little amateurish at times, but I've never seen it as bad as Des Britten said in today's Dominion Post. It's worth noting that if you catch it at the right time of evening, the window tables are drenched in sunlight while avoiding most of the wind.
- The Establishment: okay, I know what you're thinking. Barn-like spaces with big plasma screens showing Sky Sports don't make for a sophisticated tapeo night. But they offer an intriguing Tex-Mex take on tapas (smoked bacon with blue cheese and sweet potato, spiced lamb cutlets with chilli onion jam, corn fritters with bacon & chorizo), some rather fine cocktails and an impressive tequila list. Avoid rugby nights and naff themed evenings, head for the more intimate back bar on Blair St, and enjoy.
- The Tasting Room has what must be the closest I've seen to a Kiwiana version of tapas, including a tasting platter that's rich in game, offal and kaimoana. Not recommended for vegetarians, given the preponderance of rabbit kidneys, black pudding and goat, but for those with an open mind and gullet it's truly delicious. Again, you should avoid rugby nights, but there are plenty of seating options including outside in the sun (not always smoky, thank god) and downstairs in the pit beneath the antler chandelier.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
A sporting chance
When I first wrote in favour of replacing Shed 1 with a hotel, I included the caveat that the current indoor sports users should be found a new home. After all, the Waitangi Park development includes a skate park and market space, thereby catering for the only groups who used the old Chaffers site. However, it now appears that no such provision has been made, and the current users are getting angry.
The sportspeople object to the claim that the Hilton would "bring life to the area", saying that there is plenty of life there already, with an estimated 400 people using it every weekday. But the fact that they have to point this out shows that this liveliness is not visible from the outside: it all happens in a closed shed that presents an uninviting face to the world. It's also only in use for a fraction of the time, and the players are presumably not there for the view. But where could we find an alternative location within walking distance of the CBD?
It turns out that there is a very large space right next to the CBD that is not being used to its potential. Underneath the section of motorway west of the Terrace , between the Cable Car and the underpass to Woodward St, there is an enormous empty volume:
With very little structural work, this could be transformed into an enclosed space suitable for a range of activities. The biggest job would be putting in a raised platform above the car park. Cheap lightweight walls could be suspended from the sides of the motorway above, and if these were made from a translucent material like polycarbonate, they could let in some natural light while providing passers by with a glimpse of the activity inside.
The result wouldn't be flash, and it wouldn't be insulated, but the same applies to Shed 1 and as the sportspeople say, they love it the way it is. I haven't been there with a tape measure to see whether it would be wide enough, but it looks just about as wide as the Sheds, and it's four times as long as the usable part of Shed 1. This could be built in stages, eventually allowing plenty of space for other sports (e.g. badminton, tennis) and events over time.
It may seem unfair to shove the sportspeople into the dingy space beneath the motorway, but overseas it's quite common to make use of such spaces for all sorts of purposes. This location also has some advantages over Queens Wharf: plenty of parking, Cable Car access and proximity to the walking tracks beside Clifton Terrace. It's also actually closer to Lambton Quay than Queens Wharf is, with easy access via Woodward St and its Terrace underpass.
This is not a zero-cost option, but it's certainly cheap compared to purpose-built facilities and it makes use of a space that would otherwise have little use. While I still believe that a hotel with its attendant restaurants and bars would be a much better use of the Shed 1 site than its current use, I also believe that an indoor sports facility in the CBD is an asset to the city. So, perhaps it should be made a condition of the Hilton development that the developers and council fund the conversion of this alternative space.
It seems that yesterday's post has sparked some controversy, not about the merits of anarchism or resistance to consumerism, but about primatology. I had identified one of the delightful objets d'art in the window display as a "glowing chimp", but Hadyn begged to differ, claiming it was a glowing rhesus monkey. Now, normally I would bow to Hadyn's expertise when it comes to monkeys, but I thought I'd have to go back and take a better photo of our mystery primate:
Hmm, still looks a little chimpish to me. I took a closer look, and it's actually labelled "Gorilla"! So perhaps it's time to follow correct police procedure and pull in the usual suspects for a line-up:
So, ladies and gentlemen (and any other higher mammals who might be reading this), which one is it? And to bring it back to consumerism think about this: this tasteful piece of decor will set you back $169.90. What would you rather spend that on? As for me, I'd probably start here.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
More fish in the CBD
Some time ago we heard that a fish 'n' chip shop was planned for one of the boatsheds under Frank Kitts Park. From the looks of things, it's about to open soon, and the curvy organic shapes and bright orange and white colour scheme hint that it's going to be a bit more stylish than your average neighbourhood chippy. And around the corner overlooking the lagoon, in the old La Felicita space, there will be a new gelato stall run by the Kaffee Eis people. Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my blog.
It's not before time, either. The waterfront is a wonderful place to sit and eat a takeaway dinner, but after Latitude 41 closes in the afternoon, there's not a single takeaway outlet on the waterfront itself, and you pretty much have to walk to the Golden Mile to find anything of the sort. It's difficult to keep such a weather-dependent venture going year-round, but once the waterfront has a few more homes and workplaces there should be a bit more local activity to make this sort of thing viable.
The anarchist and the glowing chimp
This real estate sign on a vacant showroom in Willis St has been grafittied to express disgust with consumer society and its relentless need to drive more spending. I presume that it is the work of someone who identifies as an anarchist, given the circle that has been added around the 'A' on the left of the sign.
Now, I have a lot of sympathy for some of the local anarchists' campaigns, such as their opposition to the 'bypass', but regular WellUrbanites will know that I'm not entirely averse to a bit of retail therapy. I mean, c'mon guys, we need to go shopping in order to eat, buy clothes and books, and otherwise furnish the necessities of life. Surely it's going a bit far to reduce all this to "buying more shit"? But then I looked across the road:
Hmm, maybe they have a point.
Monday, November 07, 2005
Taking back the streets
In many older cities, streets are first and foremost places for people. In most of New Zealand, however, they are primarily for cars, and are treated as roads (ways to go through on the way to somewhere else), rather than streets (places to be in their own right). A prime example of this will be the inner-city 'bypass', which sacrifices urban values in favour of small and debatable decreases in travel time.
On the other hand, there are some encouraging signs that the council is sometimes willing to take space and priority back from roads and parking in order to benefit pedestrians. The planned Courtenay Place park is a good example, as is the widening of footpaths at the corners of Featherston St with Waring Taylor and Johnson streets. But the most significant initiative is the recently announced proposal to reduce speed limits along half of the Golden Mile and upgrade adjacent pedestrian connections.
The detailed proposal (545kB PDF) shows the extent of the speed reductions and lists the other improvements. Of particular note is the widening of the footpath in parts of Lambton Quay by removing the taxi ranks from in front of Midland Park and Capital on the Quay and placing them on side streets. Some other parking will also be replaced by wider pavements - see the image above. They also plan to make it easier to walk along the eastern side, by narrowing the entrance to side streets such as Panama St while raising the pedestrian crossings, and there will be a number of new trees and benches throughout.
There will also be an attempt to make Farmers and Masons lanes less dingy, so that they can become safer and more attractive links between Lambton Quay and the Terrace. As this photo of Farmers Lane shows, I think there's definitely some room for improvement!
Much of this would seem to be the result of Jan Gehl's study of pedestrian connections. Gehl went further in his recommendations for improving pedestrian priority (291 kB PDF), including the suggestion that the entire western half of the Quay should become pedestrian only, with two bus lanes on the eastern half and no cars during work hours. However, it's encouraging that so many of his suggestions are becoming reality, so maybe we can still hope!
Of course, not everyone is happy about this. In today's Dominion Post article, a Taxi Federation spokesman said that our streets were narrow and footpaths too wide, and the secretary of the Wellington Tramways Employees Union suggested chains or railings on the edge of the footpath with designated areas for people to cross! That's right, keep those pesky pedestrians locked up and in their place. Note to bus drivers: pedestrians are your customers! Just as pedestrians ignore the loathsome chains in upper Cuba St (one delegate at Urbanism Downunder suggested an extracurricular expedition to blow them up), they will ignore them elsewhere and the chains will do more harm than good. Jan Gehl sums it up well:
The jay walking culture and the culture of red crossers is ... not a sign of well-behaved versus less well-behaved pedestrians, but merely a sign of a trafﬁc system which is not laid out to meet pedestrian requirements for short waiting periods at lights and easily accessible crossings at level. ... A high number of jay walkers in the city usually points to a trafﬁc culture which is out of balance.The council is seeking submissions on these proposals, so have a good look at the details, and if you believe that city streets are better when people are put ahead of cars, fill in the online form and add any other suggestions you might have. Submissions close on the 5th of December.
Friday, November 04, 2005
Mystery bar number 9
Mystery bar number 8 was far too easy: it was Neat, which I'm afraid has, after weeks of circling undecidedly around the shark, definitively jumped it. Now that Eddy's gone back to Hummingbird, and without the visual distractions of Ra, Dana, Nina et al, the days of Tiger Lilies and absinthe nights are gone for good. But rather than dwelling on the past, let's move on to the next mystery bar.
This place has a very cosy, European feel, with its dark wood and gleaming metal. Although better known for its coffee, it also boasts a small but cunning wine list that reaches beyond the usual suspects to include delights from Hungary and the Basque regions of Spain.
The evening menu is largely based on small tasting plates somewhere between tapas and antipasto, and while I haven't yet had the chance to give them a thorough taste test, they do sound delicious. I don't imagine this is a place that would ever get raucous and loud, but its size means that it could feel quite lively with only a small group. This could be a great stop on a tapeo evening, something that I've tried to get insituted as a Wellington tradition and should start again now that summer is tempting us with warm days and balmy evenings.