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

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Shooting fish at the bottom of the barrel

The Architectural Centre has had a go at identifying Wellington's worst buildings, and the results are featured on pages A8 and A9 of yesterday's Dominion Post. While I might quibble about the precise rankings, I agree that they're all pretty hideous and deserve to be singled out for criticism. Here's the list:

1 Chaffers New World (279 Wakefield St), Foodstuffs internal designers
2 TSB Arena (Queens Wharf), Craig Craig Moller
3 Courtenay Apartments (120 Courtenay Pl), Calcott Design Ltd
4= Marickian Apartments (135 Taranaki St), Bruce Welsh Architects
4= City Lodge Apartments (cnr Knigges Ave & Vivian St), Peddle Thorp & Montgomery
6 Galleria on Tory (77-87 Tory St), Archaus
7 Renaissance Apartments (above Burger King, 79 Manners St), architects refused responsibility
8 Big box development (generic, but the Airport Retail Park was singled out)
9= Defence House (2 Aitken St), Craig Craig Moller
9= Environment House (23 Kate Sheppard Pl), Campbell Pope
11 Circa Theatre (1 Taranaki St), Ampersand Architects

The paper asked the architects to respond, and two themes emerged:

It's not our fault. Bruce Welsh replied "It's a bit rich for people to criticise a building without knowing the constraints of a brief". Perhaps the way it was presented in the Dom was a bit unfair, since identifying and inviting a response from the architect, but not the client or the planners of the time, implies that the architect had sole responsibility for the design and hence can take all the blame. But the article was about "Wellington's Worst Buildings", not "worst architects", and it's the result that's being judged, not the skill or otherwise of the architect. If a brief makes it impossible to design a decent building, then the brief is at fault, and people are quite within their rights to criticise the result.

There is some justification for passing on the blame in the case of heritage additions, where the council heritage rules of the time seem to have forced some hideous travesties of neoclassical architecture where something simpler would have been much more honest. On the other hand, just saying that the consent application was approved by the council (as Foodstuffs responded) isn't quite good enough: essentially they're saying "we got away with it". Architects and developers should be actively looking for ways to produce good buildings, not just relying on planners to fight the worst aspects of their proposals.

City Lodge apartments: Wellington's fourth equal worst buildingIt's okay on the inside. This is the most worrying argument, since it implies absolutely no grasp of the idea that a building should be responsible to its neighbours and the city as a whole. Revealingly, Richard Kay said of City Lodge: "We designed the building from the inside out", and it shows. In these designers' eyes, the apartments have "lots of light, good kitchens, rooms and amenities", and that's all that counts. The fact that the building is a ridiculous, poorly detailed, overbearing lump that detracts from the quality of the street doesn't seem to matter. I'd expect such attitudes from the most cynical developers, but not from architects, who should at least have some professional pride if not an actual social conscience.

While it's important to point the finger at buildings that detract from the environment, it's all a bit depressing to dwell on the negatives. I look forward to seeing a list of Wellington's best buildings.


At 1:56 pm, April 12, 2007, Blogger llew said...

No need to sugar it up like that Tom, just tell 'em what you think.

At 7:51 pm, April 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, reading the article / comments in the paper, re the no. 1 pick Worst building: New World Chaffers: their property manager says that they are "about to completely upgrade this supermarket" and then goes on to say that their planning and resource consent has been approved.

Does that mean the new Resource Consent? maybe the Council managd to convince them to change their building? I'm sure the council would agree that it was wrong to site it in its present location in the first place, so they must have been pushing for a better urban design outcome. There are some very clued up clever bods in the council nowadays - i'm sure they wouldn't allow a travesty to be continued. Can anyone clear up the confusion?

At 8:59 pm, April 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm hoping against hope that Foodstuffs will at least knock down the very south end of the New World, to allow a clear viewshaft of Cambridge Tce.

At 10:50 pm, April 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

my favourite response was the architect for the circa theatre: (paraphrasing)
"Oh come on! There are at least 3 buildings worse than mine!"

actually there were ten worse buildings, but that doesn't excuse the mistakes.

At 8:06 am, April 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

your comment : Shooting Fish at the bottom of the barrel, sort of implies that it was unfair to criticise these buildings. Why? Is there some sort of law against criticising bad buildings? Isn't it more that there should be a law against building bad buildings in the first place? After all, we the public have to live with them... and that's where it is really unfair.

At 8:31 am, April 13, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Anon2: no, it's more just a rushed choice of title on my part and trying too hard to cram in two clich├ęs to make some sort of bad pun. I certainly support the idea of criticising such buildings, especially if it's constructive criticism (I'd like to see suggestions of how these buildings could have been designed better).

On the other hand, I do get a feeling that these buildings are a bit too easy to criticise, since they're fairly widely loathed. The Architectural Centre's publications carry a wide range of criticism and praise, but it seems the papers are only interested when it's the best or worst.

One thing I really like about the list is that much of the criticism is urbanistic (about active edges etc) rather than aesthetic.

At 5:08 pm, October 18, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are suuuuch a douche

At 10:25 am, January 17, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe that Post Office House building is not top of your list


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