The Eye of the Fish

July 31, 2014

TV shows beggar belief

A slight digression from buildings in New Zealand – while I’m watching one of those house-building programs about self-build housing in the UK. This one, on Tuesday nights on TV3, is called The House that £100,000 Built. Ruth and Tony’s “cash-strapped” project in Shropshire was the feature house this week, with a timber-clad couple of boxes that look similar, but not as sophisticated, to an architecturally-designed New Zealand house.

I’m puzzled though, because as with all these shows, the commentary seems to be that they make it up as they go along. A large Rayburn range cooker, de rigeur for every pommie middle-class rural house, was financed by the deletion of a sedum green roof. The external brise soleil was deleted as well, to help pay for the cladding. How can they do this?

With the Grand Designs program, hosted of course by the wonderful Kevin McLeod, there was frequent featuring of the architects, and discussion about who was going to take on the project management role. It makes for good television when everything goes pear-shaped, but I’ve never quite understood how the awkward phase of “getting it through council” works with these programs. I know when I worked in the UK that this took quite some time, and I don’t remember any instances of Council being at all helpful with getting random alterations / deletions approved. The Aussie version of Grand Designs was closer to what happens in NZ, although for some reason that Peter guy never really grabbed me – he was trying far too hard to be Kevin-lite. It will be interesting to see how the show comes across in NZ (they’re filming it now / over the last several months / year) as we all know the trials and tribulations of getting our helpful Council officers to agree to anything out of the ordinary. (The NZ presenter of the show is of course a big secret, although I found out who it was the other day, and so probably half of New Zealand’s architectural profession already knows. Obviously, they did not ask me – fish are rarely photogenic enough for prime time, except on the ITM fishing show…). It’s a poisoned chalice – I hope our NZ presenter enjoys it… Previous hosts of reality TV shows, like the Mitre-10 Dream Home, were hosted by Roger Walker, who already had some fame for a number of reasons, including his partial hosting of a program of petrol-heads sorry, car culturalists, hooning around a track in a fast car, like a watered-down version of Top Gear but without the Clarkson. Or the Hammond. Or Captain Slow…. Sad to say it, and hard to believe, but Roger Walker just wasn’t bonkers enough.

But back to the sub £100K house show – can anybody update me on how this apparent ignoring of the rules of building comes about? Have the poms actually got rid of their rules in total? Do they have licensed building practitioners for design? Or for construction? Or not? Is it because they all seem to be home builders? Has anyone of our readers got any advice about having been a home/self builder themselves, or having worked with someone in that way in New Zealand? Have any of you been home owner builders in recent times? Unqualified designers? Unqualified disasters? Please do tell – I’d be interested to know…

31 - 07 - 14

As far as my experience stands (some twenty years since I last worked there) the UK regs are even more onerous than those here although I have no clue on the rules around the actual licensing of builders.

I think this generic debate about ‘affordable’ (cheap) housing is a continual driver for poor quality homes. Surely a better answer is to make old housing affordable and new housing of better quality. Why should the focus on affordable be on new construction?

Any guesses on the size of this GBP100k house (and its relevant per square metre rate? my guess is around 160 square metres, which would put the price at the equivalent of $1,300NZ/m2… Cheap as chips… Getting an NZ contractor to build like this, even a group home type, would be at least 50% more expensive… perhaps this shows the value of self-build, but as they say, “you get what you pay for”.

31 - 07 - 14

I can own up to being in the late (ie: post-cash) stages of a major building conversion. I have worked with excellent engineers – essential for the rather rickety underpinnings of the building in question – and had the welcome help of a friendly architect to convince the Council that a building which has stood, weathertight and sound for 80 years won’t suddenly start to leak simply because they now know it exists.

The Gun Club project has been pretty much classic Grand Designs material, even down to the forlorn drip-shot which always seems to come after the second ad break when the triple-glazed windows haven’t arrived on time from Luxembourg (or in our case Ngauranga Gorge). Thanks to the engineers’ slide rules and the hypervigilance of the Council, much more of the inadequate budget than expected went straight from the concrete truck into muddy holes in the ground, but at least we’re looking forward to laughing at the Big One.

The most annoying part of the Council experience has been their caprices – like turning up on site and ordering the builders to switch to stainless steel nails or deciding that very sound and characterful corrugated iron which had served so well for so long could only stay on the building if we could produce a 15-year manufacturer’s warranty for it.

On the other hand, tales from a Res One villa teardown in Ponsonby seem much worse with all kinds of off-the-cuff randomness and avaricious fees. Allowing for earthquake paranoia and leaky building liability terror I guess you’d have to give the Wellington Council a grudging pass mark.

31 - 07 - 14

“wonderful Kevin McLeod” would not quite be my description, but I’m not a building architect. I observed that there were basically two scripts:

1) The client did not employ an architect. We’d get a sermon at the start about why that was a bad idea, and if anything went pear shaped it would be pointed out that this wouldn’t have happened if the client had employed an architect.

2) The client employed an architect. We got an interview with the architect, and lots of shots of them in their office, and looking wisely over the construction site. And when things went wrong, the architect inevitably turned invisible. No further mention on the show. No questions of the ” You screwed this up, didn’t you. Your job was to make sure that part X fitted into part Y, and you failed. The clients are stuck in the tent for another 3 months, and are 80,000 quid out of pocket, and your response was to charge them another 20,000 pounds for the addiitonal time the job will now take. Why would anyone ever hire you?”

I really wanted to like the shows, but the constant uncritical boosting of the architectural profession got too much.

31 - 07 - 14

>With the Grand Designs program, hosted of course by the wonderful Kevin McLeod

No “of course” about it, since Kevin McLeod is a football player with no known interest in architecture. Kevin McCloud is the person you’re thinking of.

I liked the Australian series. The buildings seemed to be a bit more innovative. I loved the house in the bush south of Darwin that didn’t really have sides, since I’ve seen structures there that are just like that. But what really annoyed me about both the Ocker and UK shows was the tendency to build enormous “green” houses. If you care about the environment then build a modest home. Don’t have five bedrooms and a bunch of random whimsy rooms and pretend that you’re ecologically friendly.

31 - 07 - 14

true dat! Right on all counts davidp…

31 - 07 - 14

km – i know what you mean, there is a fairly predictable script as you say, but I honestly think that you cannot tell what the issue really is from those shows – sooooooooo much is cut out and left on the cutting room floor.
Incidentally, this is what the UK show says about the requirements to enter your project:

The Grand Designs team is looking for projects for the next series of Kevin McCloud’s self build spectacular.

If your project is exciting and unique – something you feel we haven’t covered before – we would like to hear from you. Projects must fit the following criteria:

They must be new residential builds or significant residential conversions

They have unique or interesting elements in terms of design, materials, construction techniques, location and/or the people involved

Planning permission is in place and you are planning to live in the property yourself

You agree to be involved with the project and are available to be filmed on a regular basis

How To Apply For Grand Designs

If you have or know of a project that might be suitable, please apply for Grand Designs by contacting us on 01494 733538 or email:

Please follow the instructions above in order to apply to be on the show.

Your application will be received by a member of Boundless Productions and they will contact you directly. Boundless Productions will process your personal data in accordance with their privacy policy.

60 MPa
1 - 08 - 14

Starkive – the Gun Club project?

Now I’m probably drawing an extremely long bow but that wouldn’t be the ex-indoor range up in Brooklyn by any chance?

1 - 08 - 14

Sure as shootin’

60 MPa
1 - 08 - 14

Haha god this is a small town

3 - 08 - 14

Glad that you guys are getting on well. I have this vision that Starkive and 60 have just realized that they are working on the same job, with Starky looking round at all the people on site trying to figure out which one is our hard-as-concrete commentator…

On a related note: the Block. Terrible show, I never watch it. Can’t even stand watching the ads for it. Nice colors, stupid people, bad voice over, irritating music. However, this article in the Herald informs me that one of the judges is an architect called Mark Gasgoigne, who apparently has been involved in over 2000 projects. Now, that’s impressive!

But is it true? I’ve worked on nothing like that many, even if I am already as old as the hills. Typically, if I’m working on a project, I’ll be on that project and not much else, for a rather long time. Maybe a couple more on the back burner at the same time, but to get to a total of 2000?!?!?! Let’s say this Mr Gasgoigne, of whom I have never heard, has been going for 20 years, which is quite a long time. That means he is averaging 100 projects a year. Roughly one project every three days. That’s bloody incredible! The man is a genius! A polymath! A literary giant, an architectural tour de force, a force of nature that knowers no understanding! Or a complete bullshit artist. You take your pick.