The Eye of the Fish

October 16, 2009

Leaky Leushke

It’s that time of the year again, it seems, when the rain never stops falling: a soft grey mist of english churchyards this is not: a howling, lashing fury of thwarted raindrops conspire to penetrate my coat, and render umbrellas rightly useless. As we huddle inside in the evening, hopefully around a nice warm open fire (or, in the case of most urban dwellers, a large cat) for warmth, we can listen to the sound of rain pelting down on the roof outside, whilst watching reruns or surfing the web – occasionally remembering our earlier origins when all our forebears had were raupo roofed huts and the Lambton Quay flooded regularly at high tide. It’s nights like this that I’m glad I don’t have a leaky house – and of course I don’t because it was designed by an architect. They’re good like that.
There’s been a minor / major stoush to the small town to the north of us, where in Auckland a rather miffed architect by the name of Leushke was getting a thorough slagging off by members of the public over his involvement in a masterplanning exercise. Having just had a major case of the refurbs due to an seriously leaking housing complex, Leushke settled in/out of court on one case, and then settled down to a nice case of the non-leaky kind involving some large scale masterplanning.

“Last night, Mr Banks and council chief executive David Rankin refused to give details of Colin Leuschke’s leaky building history, which includes a $101,010 settlement for an 18-unit apartment block in Eden Tce in 2007.”

But it seems the public have seen different. Once a leaky home builder, always a leaky home builder it seems, in that public’s eye’s. And despite there being no obvious link between a leaky facade and a masterplan, it seems the public think that plan may leak as well, perhaps spilling out some small housing units across the Orakei Basin, or allowing a thin trickle of landscaping to work its way down through a drained and ventilated cavity into the basements of eventual home owners.

The side effect of all this is much less expected however. For a moment there, I almost felt sorry for him. But then: Leushke, in a fit of pique, mouthed off to the reporter that nearly all architect designed buildings leak, and that architects were being sued en mass for their wicked part in leaky building scandals.

“There are 1600 architects in this country and more than 1000 are being sued as we speak … if you want to find an experienced architect in New Zealand that isn’t being sued you are wasting your time.”

Speak for yourself, leaky man! That bit of information leaking out of Mr Leuschke is a different kind of leak all together, and I suspect is being firmly denied by the architectural world – and certainly will be horrifying the bean counters at the Insurers, who notoriously try to keep that sort of information strictly under wraps. But is it a true figure or an erroneous one? Does it really have some basis in fact? No figures have ever been published before – it certainly doesn’t sound right from what I’ve heard, and may just be a monstrous case of sour grapes and rotten apples, making some giant kind of festering fruit pie for the lawyers to get stuck into. Methinks Mr Leuschke may be told off if it is not true: but will he be lauded if it turns out correct? And if so, by whom?

Buildings in New Zealand have always had a long history of leaking due to our raging weather, and architects have also had a sometimes cavalier disregard for the ingress of water – with Frank Lloyd Wright merely telling his client to buy more buckets, or move their furniture. Nearly every old NZ house leaks air and water like a sieve, but being made of sturdy rimu studs, just dries out again later. Our modern timber, pinus balsa radiata, can’t cope as well, and due to a number of reasons, rots like a fetid zombie corpse buried neck-high in a Tennessee swamp. It’s up to all of us: builders and architects alike, to stop the rot – by stopping the ingress: and by and large we seem to be getting there.

Nonetheless: Leushke’s figures are arguably wrong. The inimitable Roger Hay (scourge of the DBH and their hallowed halls of Power) has undertaken a fair stack of research and proven that architect designed houses are a tiny minority of the leaky homes out there. We all know now that plastered polystyrene is a terrible choice for a facade over flexible, rottable, pinus plonkus, and that no architect worth their salt has specified that system for the last 8 years or so. Who would take the risk? – well, not the insurers, that’s for sure, who will only insure something if there is not the slightest chance of it ever happening. Alien invasion? Sure. Second Coming of Christ? Sure thing. A bit of a leak in a weatherboard? Are you Crazy?! No way!

So now I feel even less helpfully inclined towards Mr Leushke. Not only has he slandered the good name of the architect by lumping them together with leaky, rotty syndrome, but he appears to have exaggerated that to no good effect – and in fact to an overall very poor side effect. But most of all, I feel disinclined towards him as he has designed a monstrously ugly pile of evil slag hill in the midst of our town, near the Courtenay Place. Not just ugly, badly designed, appallingly conceived, and shunning of great views for the alternative of looking straight into your neighbour’s boudoir: for the next 50 years we will have to walk down Taranaki St looking into the toilet windows of a black, blank wall. A vista of Mount Doom itself would be more pleasant.

16 - 10 - 09

They’re the same architects behind Soho on Taranaki. Draw your own conclusions.

16 - 10 - 09

Slightly unrelated, but did you see Close-Up the other night about the new state houses that were having problems? It was a great example of terrible journalism. The occupants had relevant complaints, in many cases consisting of water running into the building, but also other problems of light fittings falling out of the ceiling, door hardware that is broken, and similar other issues. Close Up got a building inspector to look at the houses who started talking about how it was due to the modern/contemporary designs of the house that they were having all these problems, saying how people want traditional houses that work. Only problem – light fittings falling out of the ceiling and broken door hardware have nothing to do with whether the house was contemporary or traditional, and instead of addressing the problem as one of workmanship or maintenance, it was an excoriation of the impractical fanciful whims of architects.

60 MPa
16 - 10 - 09

Apart from Roger Walker (whose roofs are infamous) I would imagine that architects tend to design buildings that don’t leak because they want to build a reputation and they actually *think* about the design as opposed to those good folks at Hardies who seem to think about pushing as much product out the door without getting convicted for bad ideas (twin-track railway tape behind Titanboard, anyone?)

Also nowadays there is much more of a variety of designs so someone pushes the boat out a bit more.
I have noticed that a lot of materials are a lot more “pissy” -technical term- than they used to be eg roofing iron from the 50’s weighs easily 6 times as much as modern corrugated tinfoil; even a simple roller clothesline now has a brushed finish like a damn toaster as opposed to the old simple solid galv box. It’ll dent if ya blow on it..

The rules I follow are-
-Sealant is not a material, a flashing is
-Flashings should leak out the bottom like max’s fine scales
-Eaves are good, even if ya windows get dirty
Oh, and never open a can of tomatoes over an open cutlery draw..

Besides, Max – why would a fish complain about the rain?

18 - 10 - 09

jayseatee – I’m with you on that – I fail to see how anyone could still be designing a traditional “leaky building” today, especially for a client like the Housing Corp (presumably the owner / developer of the new State Houses). The rules and regs that you have to go through now a days is rigorous and council arse-covering in the extreme. Much more likely to be poor workmanship, or under speccing – broken door hardware? How scummy do you have to spec to get a handle that will break? I agree that there is a lot between good quality and poor, but even so, the cheapest handle I’ve seen still wouldn’t fall apart.

60 – wise words indeed, especially re the cutlery draw. Honestly, you’d think they would have taught things like that in primary school now. Basic common sense.
PS – rain doesn’t matter when you’re under water. There’s a place for all that water – in the harbour. There’s a reason why they call it “dry land”.

19 - 10 - 09

The use of Pine in “leaky buildings” is not the problem per se, the problem was the approval of kiln dried untreated Pine for use as exterior framing.

Pine has been used since the 60s in the majority of NZ homes, and the problems with major rotting never occurred, even with issues such as the catastrophic failure of composite weatherboards in the 80s, this was due to the pine being required to be treated with CCA/ “t

19 - 10 - 09

greenwelly – yes, I’m aware of that. I didn’t want to get into all that – leave the boring old chatlist at NZIA to cope with those discussions. But I think you might agree that proficiency at designing facades does not equal proficiency at designing masterplans – and vice versa?

23 - 10 - 09

Don’t mistake the Herald for the journalistic equivilent of the Dominion Post. When someone is quoted in the Herald what they are quoted as saying is not usualy not what they said but an attempt to generate drama …

That said, the article above implies that Mr Leuschke should not be designing the masterplan, because he had previously settled on a leaky building claim (although for role as developer not architect), whereas Mr Patterson, who had been replaced on the job, should be. It appears that Mr Leuschke feels this is a little unfair for obvious reasons … OR

Thinking about Mr Leuschke’s “quote” a bit further a quick look at the NZRAB indicates that he’s probably right about the 1600 Registered Architects. But how many of these are being sued? I doubt that 1000 are “being sued as we speak”, however I’m certain 1000 have been, are being threatened with, or are at risk of, having worked on buildings clad in cavityless Fibre Cement sheet. Scarily ex-employees now starting to be personally sued. There’s also plenty of leaking buildings that don’t lead to publisized legal action because they are out of time or commercial – including award winners by major firms who have never designed a leaky building.

There was a rumour that the NZIA did a survey a few years ago and got a figure of 600. Would be fascinating to know, but unfortunately the NZIA seems determined to pretend the issue doesn’t exist allowing members to be picked off one by one.