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

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


For years, architects have been trying to break down the distinction between interior and exterior. At one end of the intellectual spectrum, comperes of home makeover and real estate shows are always wittering on about "indoor-outdoor flow", which is not always a good idea in Wellington where the outdoors tends to "flow" at gale force. On the other hand, architectural theorists are wont to use phrases like "this project deconstructs the binary discourse of in/ex-teriority and usurps the post-Miesian rationalist hierarchy by inscribing a non-linear narrative of non-Euclidean interpenetrative manifolds". Or something like that. But recently there's been a surprising influence blurring interior and exterior: the Smoke-free Environments Amendment Act 2003.

Bars can no longer allow smoking inside, but most still want to retain as many of their nicotine-addicted customers as possible by giving them some sort of shelter. The act is notoriously vague about the definition of "substantially enclosed", leaving plenty of wriggle room for proprietors and designers, So, many bars that have opened or been renovated since the act became inevitable have responded with an ingenious range of architectural strategies.

Hope Bros - indoor/outdoorHope Bros has chopped away much of the Dixon St frontage to the former Fat Ladies Arms, producing two smoking areas, one either side of the entrance. The area on the Eva St corner flows out onto the pavement, and despite its depth, probably seems enough like a part of the street to be seen as "outdoors". The other area, though, is completely blocked from the pavement by a planter, meaning that the only entrance is from the inside of the bar. How many "outdoors" areas boast a big-screen TV?

Tasting Room - indoor/outdoorThe Tasting Room has a much shallower smoking area: just one table deep. But there's an aspect of this that makes it more problematic for non-smoking patrons inside: the inner doors fold right back, leaving very little barrier against smoke drifting right into the interior. And it raises the question: why stop there? If the management placed smoking tables just inside this inner door, could they argue that these are hardly any more "substantially enclosed" than the current smoking area?

Downtown Local - indoor/outdoorBut it's the Downtown Local in lower Cuba St that gets really cheeky with the definitions. This place has two tiers of "outdoor" smoking area. There's an area that could reasonably be argued to be a terrace or balcony; then there's a room (there's no other word for it) that extends much further back into the building. This second area is separated from the first by an air curtain, and has not only TV screens but a pool table. Yes, an "outdoor" pool table. By the way, observant readers (such as Josh) will have noticed that this was indeed mystery bar number 20: the former Ox bar between Cuba St and Manners Mall.

I'm not quite sure what to think about these developments. The grumpy non-smoker in me sees these as cynical attempts to subvert the law, and in many cases one has to run a reeking gauntlet in order to get to the entrance. On the other hand, I have to admire the ingenuity that has gone into some of these solutions and the more subtle relationship that they create between interior and exterior. The end of smoking in bars has been great for my lungs, though not for my liver: I get out a lot more now, and there are some places (Sandwiches, Happy) that I'd never have ventured into before due to the inpenetrable fug. It can now be frustrating to look for an outside table on a nice day, and all those patio heaters can't be good for global warming, but overall I have to applaud the unexpected urbanist implications of the law: the streets are now much livelier, with a much more active engagement between the public and private realms.


At 1:00 pm, February 14, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its the same deal at the back of Fidels. How on earth they can classify that space as 'outdoors' is beyond me. I mean its almost entirely enclosed with only a small gap between the roof and the tops of the walls. The cigarette smoke totally puts me off having my lunch out the back there.

Although yeah, I do know what you mean about feeling like a grumpy old bastard :-)

At 11:30 pm, February 14, 2006, Blogger Will de Cleene said...

Last time I tried having a cigarette out back of Fidels, I was told off. AFAIK, the only smoking area in Fidels now is out front. This is a pity, because one of my pleasures was sitting out back reading the paper with a coffee and cigarette. Now I sit at home doing much the same thing, but without the sly human observations.

There's plenty of room for wowsers in Fidels as it is. Smokers are people too!

At 2:14 pm, February 15, 2006, Blogger Jo Hubris said...

I really like the little booth-rooms out the front of Red Square, or at least I liked them the one time I went there, although fitting the entire office in was a bit of a squeeze. As a non smoker, I'm always on the lookout for a place I can go with my friends who smoke and not be either a) abandonned like at Good Luck or b) forced to stand out on the street forlornly like at Ponderosa.


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