The Eye of the Fish

November 9, 2009

Loyalty Beyond Reason

Seeing as media mogul Tommy Honey just mentioned this on the Radio New Zealand: National (Nine to Noon with Kathryn Ryan), and in case you’re searching for the discussion he mentioned by Chris Moller: we’ve reproduced Moller’s comment here. Also, if you want to catch up with what Tommy’s going to be talking about next fortnight, here’s a link to the subject we’ve discussed before: the over-used word “Iconic”

Chris Moller is an architect, an urban designer, an industrial designer, and quite probably a raconteur, and a flaneur. He’s been popping up in discussions around town for the last few weeks, and popped up into our discussion yesterday. One of the sharpest minds around, he has evidently lived in Europe for a while, and brings a European eye to our antipodian situation.

But for now, here’s Chris Moller’s comment in full, unedited.

“WOW, wonderful writing, I’m in hysterics reading all of this….. it certainly makes entertaining reading. The sad looser is the quality of architecture and design. And the deep lack of understanding or experience as to what it really takes to create the conditions to allow brave, original, lonely ideas to emerge.
Having won a series of major international competitions and also having been an international jury member it is interesting to reflect on New Zealand’s current dilemma.
There is certainly a lack of serious commitment and respect for the work designers, architects and engineers and the enormous amount of passion, ideas and investment made by them in such a competition process.
Being asked to do such work in three weeks is simply absurd, while the brief itself leaves much to be desired.
For clarity for a project of this size it normally takes about a month to distill really good original ideas especially amongst a good multi-disciplinary team, before then really testing them out and developing them up into a well thought through and resolved design which often takes another month. But then there is the very different task of how best to present the design, and the production of the drawings, models, perspectives and text takes another good two to three weeks at least. In Utzon’s case it took him about six months to really distill his underlying idea – which is even now extremely radical and brilliantly appropriate to its site. But of course Auckland didn’t have time for that – or did it? An enormous amount of time and effort was spent discussing and debating how the competition should be set up, and of course it took about six months to do all of that….. interesting !

But I have only commented on the production process of an architect or designer, which assumes that the brief is clear well set up, fair, anonymous and transparent – including a clear statement of the judging criteria and the identity of the judges (neither were mentioned in the QW competition). Next, it is critical that a really good jury is chosen with the appropriate experience and knowledge, and that their decision is final – this must be taken very seriously – and can not be left to politicians. Auckland did not have a jury, their status was only as advisers who only reported to the heads of the various organisations involved who in turn then referred on to the politicians – this quite frankly is a complete sham. A professional Jury needs to be taken seriously !

Both competitions were not at all well organised or run, both mixed together a call for ideas from the public (in itself very good to do separately) only to confuse it with the very different task of choosing well resolved design proposals by designers.

Both cities should reflect deeply on the lessons that we need to learn from these two competitions, and think more deeply about what it really takes to produce outstanding work, on really important public sites.
It is clear that neither have unlocked the necessary conditions for a process in which something special, something original and truely uplifting could emerge.

I was very fortunate to find this kind of environment that allowed the realisation of my own work in the Netherlands – the winning result of a major international europan competition in 1993 which was finally completed in 2003. The example that the Europan organisation together with the commitment of the municipality has set is quite extraordinary – and a good one to learn from. However there are many other good examples too, essentially it is all about how to create a nurturing environment that is committed deeply first and foremost in a wonderful, special and unique idea, which is then defended and supported through to its realisation. It is this kind of total commitment that has enabled the realisation of great works of architecture in the past such as the work of Antonio Gaudi, or Louis Kahn, or Alva Aalto, or Jorn Utzon’s brilliant Sydney Opera House, or Renzo Piano & Richard Rogers Pompidou Center in Paris, or Norman Fosters Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, or Foreign Office Architects Yokohama Terminal in Japan.

In fact we have a much better and more accessible example which is much closer to home. As any parent knows their own kid needs to be supported and nurtured in order to flourish, in order to grow, and in order to have a chance in the world. Really good architecture is just like this – its not a quick fix, or something that is whipped up in a couple of weeks – as the ongoing work on the Sagrada Familiar church in Barcelona shows – the brilliant genius of both Barcelona’s Antonio Gaudi, and New Zealand’s Mark Bury have combined into a work of deep significance and originality.

This quality that I am talking about which every parent invests in their own children is what it takes to open the possibility for this fragile miracle to emerge, to grow and to flourish – It is what Kevin Roberts of Saatchi and Saatchi refers to as ‘Loyalty Beyond Reason’ .

This is what New Zealand needs now …
we know what it takes to give this precious gift to our kids,
we know what it takes for such a small country to excel in depth and breadth in sport,
it is now time to take architecture seriously.
It is time to give the precious fragile gift of architecture a chance
just as we would our own child

9 - 11 - 09

If there is anyone who read this because of the Radio NZ article, we would like to know. Please leave us a comment – even a simple Hello will do. And we promise we won’t bite or spam you. We’re just interested to know. Thanks!

name (required) Mike Moller
9 - 11 - 09

Hi, I heard this o radio and pricked up my ears because that Chris Moller is my cousin. In fact I was led here by a google news alert for items concerning Chris Moller, my brother, which had picked up on this article. I was amused to see Chris referred to as a flaneur (that extended my personal vocabulary thanks to a search in a dictionary :-)

I can relate to Chris’ expressions of frustration over time wasting and ineffective processes that leave little, and frequently insufficient, time for professionals to make properly considered responses. In my days in the IT field I found that all too often Requests For Proposals (RFPs) were all to often generated at great length and much bureaucratic flourish and expense from a major accounting organisation, using their in-house methodologies, only to be handed out too potential bidders at the last possible moment and giving perhaps a week or ten days to respond with a multi-million dollar project solution. These sort of procedures are sold to the end users as risk management an risk protection where the execution simply by denying respondents time to think their proposals through thoroughly. In my opinion more IT systems projects have been put at risk in the local body field by this cause than any other management lapse.

As to Chris’ comments on the QW project “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”

Not a Moller
9 - 11 - 09

So there’s more than one Chris Moller? This isn’t the guy who runs the Rugby Union?

9 - 11 - 09

No, completely different person. This Chris has a strong focus on architecture and urbanism.

The questions Chris raises about the competition process are so valid in NZ. We haven’t actually got a very good history of successful competitions in NZ – Te Papa springs to mind as a disaster. Can anyone think of a successful one? I guess there must be some ….

9 - 11 - 09

“Can anyone think of a successful one?” Well, yes, there have been hundreds, all run successfully. If the competition is set up well to start with, then the results are open and honest and the results are great.

Importance is, as Chris says, to have a clear brief from the client, and then have a fair judging process that respects the brief and the design teams.

Sadly missing in this case.

chris moller
10 - 11 - 09

“The issue is quality ! ”

NZ it is time !
It is time to focus on quality,
It is time to raise the bar.
The recession is an opportunity – but the real issue is total commitment to quality.
If you need examples outside of architecture and urbanism to understand this, if it is business models that you need
then look no further than the extraordinary example of Apple CEO Steve Jobs – who has driven his company strongly through not one recession but two since he returned to apple in 1997.
Not accepting compromise, and not accepting mediocre projects !
beyond reason….

to learn job’s secret i recommend watching his speech at stanford

he’s just been voted CEO of the decade by forbes magazine (links below) – this sends an extremely strong message to business people and politicians in this country

– it is time to stop short term quick fixes,
– it is time to invest in quality !
– it is time to stop knee jerk panic reactions
– it is time to listen and respect your design community
– it is time to seed an environment conducive to producing brilliant quality architecture
– it is time !

10 - 11 - 09

can you please give us a few examples? Some of us haven’t lived here long enough, or don’t have good enough memories, and don’t find “yes, there have been hundreds” to be particularly convincing.
In my time here I’ve seen one good competition, but it only resulted in paper architecture – nothing tangible.

Turf War
10 - 11 - 09

Actually, “Not a Moller” is not all that far off the mark – rugby does have a huge part to play in all this, as always in Aotearoa. Remember that only a year or two ago, Auckland was presented with a proposal to build a stadium on the waterfront? From memory, it was Trevor Mallard who was in charge – now we have Murray McCully – they’re both rugby nutters – and Mallard held a gun to our collective heads and said “you have 3 weeks to agree with me that this would be a better place for a Stadium” and there was some nonsense about how if it was on the waterfront it would be a national stadium and paid for by central Government, whereas if it was in Mt Eden it would have to be funded just by Jafas.

On reflection, and given a reasonable amount of time, the foreshore and seabed may have been a good place to build a stadium, but the 3 week time span was completely unfeasible. Fletcher Construction had the piling all sorted out, and ready to go. The roading and rail access networks are there already. The political ramifications of building on the Foreshore and Seabed were thought insurmountable then, despite most of the players being polynesian. Iwi wouldn’t have been happy. “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” would ensue, discussing ownership of fishing lines, sight lines, and try lines.

So again we are faced with an ultimatum in Auckland, a bullet to the collective brain. Is there any godly reason why Auckland needs to spend millions just for a place to drink between rugby games? No, there isn’t. Games will be taking place all over NZ, and nowhere else will have a purpose built venue apart from the Stadium work itself. Aucklanders will throw open their doors to their neighbours and have a party in their back yards if they want to, like any other event. Revellers on the few occasions that the Mt Eden Stadium is occupied will spill out into bars spread from Eden Road to Karangahape Road, and a few may reach the waterfront. A central venue is neither needed nor wanted.

Let’s think about the long term instead.

10 - 11 - 09

jayseatee – sure, no problem:

Off the top of my head, a couple of years ago – there was a Housing NZ competition:

and more recently, there was another, with the DBH, for Starter Homes:
(which is being built)

The ProductSpec house
(construction well underway)

Back in the 50s, there was the Wanganui Hall:
Which was built and is still standing very happily

and going way back further, even the design of the Auckland Museum was subject to as competition:

OK, so I can’t put my hands to 100s straight away, but it is a fairly common means of gaining projects overseas, while you’re right that in NZ it often gets to the stage of paper only. But it’s the same old thing with any program: if you set it up wrong, it will go off the tracks. Garbage in, garbage out.

11 - 11 - 09

What is the point of competitions that are open to school children and eccentric unemployed people with plenty of spare time and their own set of felt tip pens? I’ve seen a lot of iconic buildings and, as far as I remember, none of them were designed by an 8 year old using crayons. Or a 66 year old man who had recently retired from the accounts section of the Ministry of Health and was looking for something to keep him busy when he wasn’t out in the garden.

If a potential customer invited me to produce some free IT architecture for them, and told me that I might get paid as long as they liked my ideas better than those sent in by a class of Year 3 students, then I wouldn’t bother. I’d assume that the customer was taking the piss. I don’t see why building architects should put up with it either. I’m all in favour of architects competing, but there should be some sort of reputation-based entry requirement. Perhaps entrants should be required to have architectural qualifications and have completed a development worth at least 50% of the expected project cost?

18 - 11 - 09

Alan, I’m afraid that NZ does not have a tradition of well run competitions and I hope the the lows of the Auckland Queens Wharf are a wakeup call to the public to expect and demand more from Government, Councils, Developers etc.

Wellington Waterfront has been making a good effort: