The Eye of the Fish

Maximus
March 20, 2014

Donald’s deathly dullness

Oriental Bay is one of those rare Wellington locations with both northerly sunshine and views, and as such is heavily sought after by those with money to burn. Unfortunately, those keen to burn vast amounts of their funds on high cost glitzy real estate seldom also possess much taste. While earlier buildings on this southern riviera concentrated on individual villas with character galore, like the much admired seven sisters of domestic bliss by Joshua Charlesworth a 100 or so years ago, more recently the waterfront has been the place for apartments to congregate. There are some apartment buildings with class and grace, like Edmund Anscombe’s slightly deco streamline block, a nicely proportioned low rise building with a top floor apartment commanding a superb view.

Some of the later apartment buildings like Sunhaven were much larger, and concentrated more on housing for everyone, rather than just the elite few with oodles of cash. Sunhaven performs more as a vertical piece of urban design, quietly accommodating a serious number of aged retirees, growing old gracefully in their own setting sun. There are still some houses dotted around, where a remarkable number of young friends of mine have managed to eek out a spot amongst the highrises, lapping up the luxury of sunshine and view, without the need for a million dollar bank balance. Over all, Oriental Parade is an interesting mix of old and new, tall and small, heritage and modern.

But slowly but surely, the interesting architectural features of the area are getting ripped out and replaced by blandness and vileness. Over the last couple of decades, the apartment buildings being created here having been getting more and more vile, with a faux-Miami Vice experience being portrayed to the world. Vast expanses of flat horizontal strips wrap around the inevitable wall to wall balconies, offering a chance for aged orange skin to be exposed to even more sunlight, basking away their retirement years while watching reruns of The Old and the Tasteless. Glass is inevitably tinted, with long ribbons of bland facade frontages obliterating any sense of individuality in the apartments within, and inevitably reeking of crassness.

There are many fine apartment buildings in Wellington as of late, designed by architects with care and a sense of proportion, making our inner city streets interesting with carefully thought out facades and a varied use of materiality. But in Oriental Bay, we seem to be seeing more of the opposite. Appalling developments with untold more money than taste, resulting in deathly dullness from Donald Design. The street frontage is inevitably just converted into an endless series of tedious garage doors and blanked off panels, enclosing the inevitable plethora of high-end SUVs within. There’s no sense of the location, and bugger all relating to context, unless that context is just to comply with the equally hideous neighbour, and by god there are some hideous highrises here already. Having been inside a few of these monsters, I’m always amazed at how any trace of individuality and interest has been wiped out in a horizontal slice of tedious beigeness, the tinted glass and miles of flapping white curtains contrasting with the clutter of inherited antiques and some serious quantities of art works trying desperately to stay out of the harsh sun. Despite the allure of the view to those inside, the buildings really need to offer something back to those outside, other than just a fuck-you I’m rich attitude. Something more substantial than smoked glass to break up the blandness wouldn’t go amiss here.

Indeed, verticality is something that is missing here. Despite Wellington being known for years as a mini-Manhatten, a mantle it wore proudly for years as its office towers strove to reach for the sky, just across the bay at Oriental Parade, recent developers seem to be striving for a mini-Miami, with all the tastelessness that implies. Cue Don Johnson music, vast power-boats with enormous engines and twin pneumatic blonde outriders cresting waves across the bay, chasing tanned coke dealers with gold medallions and bags of blow, being cornered in a back-street carpark by a couple of cops driving Ferraris. Surely all those coke-dealers can’t have come to Wellington to retire? Yet the architecture seems to say so. Where else can you stash that property except in hideously large boats or houses?

What is curious is that those who live in these monsters seem to think that they are “all in the best possible taste”, as Kenny Everrit used to say, except that the rest of Wellington doesn’t seem to think so. Donald Design’s scheme at 308 Oriental, a vast staircase of god-awful development marching up the hill, is one of the most execrable pieces of real estate in Wellington, simply loathed by all for its ugly aesthetics, poor design, and vulgar crassness. Nearby, another Donald Design building at 310 Oriental (these are all lovingly portrayed on his website) proudly shows off the black tinted glass and glass lift fronting the building above a suite of shiny garage doors lining the street, killing off any last signs of street life. The lift, of course, keeps breaking down in the harsh marine environment – a consequence, perhaps, of not using an architect, but allowing an engineer to play at developer instead. No doubt Donald means well, but what he keeps doing is killing off the very things that we like about Wellington – the quirky, the interesting, the well-considered. The prospect of yet another vast crass acre of Donald Design deathly dullness fills me with dread, in much the same way as the upcoming Royal Tour – it’s something that we could well do without.

m-d
20 - 03 - 14

Interesting premise at the beginning, and underlying this whole post – but allow me to play the devil’s advocate: I wonder what architects and associated architectural commentators of the day thought of the Victorian frivolity and Anscombe’s later streamlined moderne. I wouldn’t mind betting that your ancestors (so to speak), those who were in charge of defining ‘good taste’, applied a similar disparaging commentary to the buildings that we so value today.

Yesterday’s developer-driven crassness becomes today’s valued heritage fabric?

In that case, might future fishlings and arbiters of good taste one day be valorisng the work that you dismiss here?? (or, even better: Churton Park heritage precinct anyone?). I guess first the buildings would have to be physically durable enough to last that long in the first place…

Nick
20 - 03 - 14

Such a shame we’re not seeing more of this kind of thing – http://www.p-a.co.nz/mitika%20apartments/mitika%20apartments.htm

Maximus
20 - 03 - 14

So, m-d, you’re saying that we can’t say that bad is bad or ugly is ugly or bland is bland until 60 years after the date? Surely not.

and Nick – talk to the architect of Mitika as to why he didn’t want to design any more of those…

starkive
20 - 03 - 14

Max, I’m intrigued. No arguments about Oriental Parade – although I suspect there’s glimmerings of a good idea in 308. But how about referencing some apartments designed “with care and a sense of proportion, making our inner city streets interesting with carefully thought out facades and a varied use of materiality” (aside from the snazzy Mikita). Not the deeply disappointing Il Casino?

Not saying there aren’t many (if any), but not sure how much consensus we’d get…

Maximus
20 - 03 - 14

Starky, no, correct, not il Casino. I might agree with you that it is disappointing, but I’m still waiting to go inside for a visit. But there are a number of apartments around town that are definitely hideous, by any stretch of the imagination – and others that are passably quite nice. I swore (to myself) a couple of years ago, that if I couldn’t say anything nice about work from other architects, that I should just shut up, but as Donald is not an architect, I feel no compulsion about critiquing him.

But let’s talk shop. There are some good elements in the recent spate of apartments from Architecture + although they don’t really float my boat. A bit too small, for the most part, but they are aimed at the upper middle of the stratosphere, rather than right at the top (Donald’s design at 320 starts at over $3m for the cheapest). So: the brick New Yorkian simplicity of the Republic apartments (1+2) are a simple step up for Wellington. Piermont and Mondrian – interesting, to say the least, but tiny floor plates again. Those two in College St – Forte and Trinity – both by Jasmax? have some sense of proportion and although they are too heavy, overshadowing the street, again, i haven’t been in there, and so feel i really can’t comment more. Nearly all the rest in Tory St – ranging from meh to downright hideous…

It’s the vulgarity and the blandness of the filthy rich’s abodes that i really dislike.

60 MPa
20 - 03 - 14

“Churton Park heritage precinct anyone” – brilliant m-d, just stunning

As for tasteful apartments, some of the best imho are custom conversions repurposing industrial spaces like the old fruit and vege markets in Blair or near the candle factory between Ghuznee and Dixon.Also there are some nice penthouses along Wakefield

Funnily enough I used to live at 308 before that set of angled beige hurdles got dropped in like some croquet set from hell – it had about 160 steps up there and swayed mightily in an earthquake but a great view nonetheless

starkive
20 - 03 - 14

There’s plenty to like about the better conversions I agree, and the improvements to the bottom set of Central Park flats are a really encouraging restatement of public housing values. But there seems to be an inability in the new blocks to cross-match high-efficiency floor plans with even a halfway decent exterior. Who says that people want to sleep, eat and snog behind curtain glass? What’s the point of those ridiculous balconies? Why is there always an ironing board against the window? How much Semtex will it take to knock them down in 30 years?

I am watching with dismay as Adelaide Rd finally starts to sprout high density, boulevard housing – which turns out to be strangely sawn-off versions of the least inspiring Te Aro blocks.

m-d
21 - 03 - 14

“So, m-d, you’re saying that we can’t say that bad is bad or ugly is ugly or bland is bland until 60 years after the date? Surely not.”

No – certainly not, you’re welcome to say whatever you like whenever you like. I’m just pointing out an inherent irony to the whole business of popular versus ‘good taste’…

I definitely do not desire the slippery job of muzzling this fish!

(Fish muzzle – now there is a term that Google cannot provide an image for!)

David G.
22 - 03 - 14

While I agree with your criticism of the architecture on display here, there is a lot more to Miami than the tackiness you impute to it. At the very least it is the northernmost capital of Latin America and certainly pulls its weight in the international cultural market. That Deco apartment house you praise would be common enough on South Beach’s promenade.

Maximus
22 - 03 - 14

Thanks David G. Yes, I’m not saying that Miami has not worth – its a fantastic place, with much great architecture, many intriguing buildings both highly modern, and also rather old, as well as a fantastic collection of exuberant deco. It’s also home to incredible cultures of the ultra rich, and the associated drug cultures and gangs that support those drug cultures. I’ve never seen so much glitz and glamour and so many silicon implants in leathery brown skin as when I went there.

But what Miami is not, is Wellington. Or, to put it another way, Wellington has one way of doing things, and Miami has another way. In my mind, buildings designed for Wellington should be appropriate for Wellington – and we are not a big money, big tits, big speed boat, sort of city, but a small and carefully crafted city, with quirkiness in our winding streets, elaboration in our building details, and a dry sense of humor expressed in very small building budgets. Some people get it right, others get it wrong. The creation of an architecture that tries to emulate something else, from somewhere else, is, I think, really not what Wellington is about, and that aesthetic then spoils what we do have. Hopefully that makes sense?

Maximus
22 - 03 - 14

Starkive – i always appreciate your comments, thank you. And I do agree with your points about ridiculously small balconies and snogging behind glass walls. But I do have a question for you about your comment re new housing projects in Adelaide Road. I can’t think of any new housing projects in Adelaide Road, either along the main bit heading on the flat towards Newtown, or down the bit through Berhampore heading to Island Bay. Where do you mean? What do you mean?

Or are you referring to the stumpy Nuovo / Nouvo ugly black thing parked outside the Governor General’s front gate? Yes – yes Gods, what cretin at the council let that heap of shit be built?! Totally depressing, and totally inappropriate.

starkive
22 - 03 - 14

My mistake. I have a long-standing problem remembering where Adelaide becomes Riddiford. My comment was about the three-storey blocks springing up around the hospital – most especially Ronald McDonald House with its mash-up of various cheap-looking surfaces and utterly pointless faux shutters. I’m trying to see the good side of the latest, a formica and timber riff on traditional Newtown shop fronts, but it’s a struggle.

David G
23 - 03 - 14

I am not saying that Wellington should not have its own architectural and urban culture. I wouldn’t be an avid follower of this blog if I thought that. As I hope to continue to read and occasionally comment here I hope the following will be taken in the spirit of elucidation.

I am saying that the buildings you are criticizing do not represent “Miami” in any meaningful way any more than they do any city internationally that has fallen victim to the glossy, impersonal style of corporate residential psuedo-modernism (Miami certainly among them). If the buildings in Wellington are an actual “copy” of something, they are a copy of similar work in Australia’s Gold Coast – also an Anglo-dominated Antipodean city with a growing Asian population, completely without Latin, Caribbean or African influence.

I admit I am offended by your implication that Miami is all about “big tits” and that somehow the small gesture, the lucid moment and the eccentric approach are beyond the capability of its people to appreciate. The Wolfsonian Museum, the Villa Vizcaya, the Venetian Pool, Coral Castle and the Deco District itself belie that charge as do a hundred other places, points and historical facts.

I would like to point out that it seems odd that Miami should be a perfidious influence, when Manhatten (sic) apparently is not.

Maximus
24 - 03 - 14

David G – elucidate away – your comments are always welcome, and in this case, particularly well put. Certainly I am guilty of using “Miami” as a global hold-all for cities that exude a “glossy, impersonal style of corporate residential psuedo-modernism” as you so perfectly put it. Gold Coast is also another example as you say – and again, my point is that this style of architecture is more suited to the Gold Coast than (I believe) it is for Wellington.

The point I was trying to make (evidently unsuccessfully), is that the Miami Vice portrayal of Miami (in the 1980s) was showing off that glitzy boats and bikinis hedonistic lifestyle, hence the comment about the solicon breast implants so prominently on show, and that’s a theme continued on in the 2000s with programs like CSI: Miami etc. Or did I imagine that? I know there was a CSI: NY and a CSI: Las Vegas, etc, but I fully accept that to base a city on impressions gained from a crap tv show is inherently unsound. That would be like basing impressions of Auckland on episodes of Shortland St… or impressions of Wellington on Gliding on or Stickmen… all of which may be relevant in their own small way, but obviously cannot be said to be everyone.

But back to the architecture. I still am intensely bored by this building, and feel it is inappropriate for the city of Wellington. The estate agents are of course frothing at the mouth over the building (nothing to do with their 3.5% sales fees on apartment sales that start at $3m of course), spouting their usual garbage about timeless elegance and other schlock. But then who ever took the word of an estate agent as being worth listening to?

davidp
24 - 03 - 14

It has been a while since I have visited Miami, but the art deco bits are absolutely gorgeous and carry much of the super-cool vibe that the city has. So I don’t understand the negative references to the city either, especially when the top most photo is of a building that would fit in just fine on Ocean Drive. Although it would need some palm streets and someone would have to be doing a fashion shoot nearby.

I had some friends from Auckland visiting recently and they remarked that Oriental Parade would be full of cafes if it were in Auckland. I’m not sure why it isn’t. Although it isn’t really that busy except at weekends, or during winter. And it is a bit too far away from the city’s center of mass for people to pop out for a coffee during the work day. I wonder if this would change if there were a few more jobs in Oriental Bay? Maybe pop a BNZ or Meridian style office building on the car park by Freyberg Pool?

davidp
24 - 03 - 14

Oops… “palm streets” should read “palm trees”.

Maximus
25 - 03 - 14

Actually, the reason that there are very few retail / dining establishments in Oriental Bay, is due to a combination of District Plan requirements from the past, and resident’s preferences for the future. If you look at all the new buildings that have been completed on O Bay in the last 10 years, you’ll note that none of them have included anything like a retail outlet. In fact, most of them have carparking at ground level (as will the Donald design above) and so several of them just have interesting wall patterns to try and disguise that. One, the latest one opposite Fryberg, even got rid of the cafe (Parade) from the ground floor during the rebuild.

To get cafes etc wall to wall along O Bay, you would need to have a District Plan that mandates that, and then also developers prepared to go along with it. On the whole, as they don’t HAVE to, there’s is no incentive. Mixed use developments are a bit of a pain in the arse for developers, and the general reaction is that they are just not that interested in the extra hassle. Plus, you know, late night dining clients have fun, make noise, and generally disturb the view and the sleep of the elderly wealthy geriatrics in the floors above.

Lindsay
27 - 03 - 14

And don’t forget the absentee owners. If you can fork out several million for an apartment, you can also afford to fly off to other parts of the world whenever you feel like a change of view. Hence the fact that many of the new waterfront apartments are dark at night. No one’s at home. The owners are in one of their other homes in another place. This demolishes the architectural argument that apartment dwellers will run a free security service by keeping an eye on what’s happening down below. Not so.

m-d
27 - 03 - 14

Natural Surveillance relies on perceptions of being seen, rather than the active presence of people monitoring for crime. I suspect, that, even though some of the apartments are empty, the perception of being seen is quite high with all that glass frontage – lights on or not. I certainly haven’t heard of much of a crime wave on the mean streets of Oriental Bay! (perhaps I am missing something?).

Maximus
27 - 03 - 14

Actually, Lindsay and m-d, you raise a good point here. The animation and liveliness of facades, reflecting the lives of the people within them – it really is an issue for the city, and one where richness = dullness. So far, for me, that has been most apparent in the Odlins building, which as a backdrop to the city, has been deathly dull as well, even if there has been no Donald involved there. The issue of absentee owners is quite noticeable there – you’d think that maybe, seeing as the building is on the edge of the harbour, there might be a lot of time spent on balconies looking at the view, and thereby animating the facade for other people on the waterfront, with colour, light and movement.

However, it seems that rich Odlins people hardly ever open their doors onto their patios and go out. They maybe are overseas, or away at a country home in the weekend, or are eatin out at a restaurant… Fun for them, no doubt, but All very boring for the rest of us. By contrast, some of the much cheaper and nastier and badly designed buildings around town, with small balconies, and student flats etc, are fun buildings to watch, with students dripping off the balconies, yelling vague obscenities at neighbouring flats, smoking, drinking, and generally having fun. Not so good if you want to get to sleep, but makes for a lot more exciting city…