The Eye of the Fish

April 7, 2010

The Politics of Architecture

There was a time, before my time, when Architecture would get involved with politics. When to be a Modern Architect, meant that you ascribed to certain political beliefs as well as architectural ones, instead of just designing cute looking buildings in a fairly squarish sort of style.

That view has pretty much gone now, although there are the odd spot of political posturing by those involved in Architecture. Sometimes the Arch Centre gets a little grumpy, but it doesn’t have enough muscle to get really political. The NZIA is a pretty non-political animal, aside from the debacle a few years ago when they cocked up the review of the Architects Act, and the Select Committee went all feral on them, and changed the carefully laid course of history.

However, some things are slowly changing. The magazine NZ Architecture – sold to AGM publishers some years ago and so not an official NZIA magazine – has recently published an extensive article on the review of farming tenure on the high country in the South Island. Its a very well written article – sorry, can’t remember the author’s name – but what is fairly amazing is the fact that :
A – it is got absolutely nothing to do with architecture, but heavily to do with politics, and
B – it is heavily critical of the government.
C – it has been proudly published by John Walsh, the editor, who appears to have more guts and moral fibre than most architects.

The argument goes that there is a concerted selling off of High Country land, and that this is a highly dubious practice, out to improve the lot of Farmers, but to do nothing but make a loss for the NZ Government and by proxy, the NZ public. That’s not such a huge surprise really, being as we have a rabidly right wing government hiding behind the soft smiley face of the ever-cuddly John Key, but what is more of a surprise is that the Maori party, by now tucked up firmly in bed with the Nats, haven’t been jumping up and down. Can someone up North please send Peta Sharples a copy of NZ Architecture please, in case he hasn’t read it yet? If people are worried about the Crafars selling land off to the Chinese, then they should be just as worried about public land being sold off to private interests.

The architect’s chatlist, of course, has been totally silent on the subject – preferring, as usual, to debate the finer points of architecture such as plotters for sale and adverts for athiests on the side of buses. I’ve been watching the chatlist with one eye open lately, to see if they would pick up on it, but no. Sadly, it is now a pretty much pointless medium for discussing much beyond Font sizes, and if anyone has a recommendation for a good roofer in Whangerai. Mind you, there has been a spectacular amount of verbiage by Roger Hay (as always, it is essentially the same point, made louder and louder with more underlining), on the need to repeal the current Building Act. It is a pity that he didn’t succeed in his bid to become a Councillor for the NZIA, as he would have been a political force to be reckoned with, by the sounds of his online ranting.

In a similar manner, there has been an exchange of views down in Canterbury recently, with writer John McCrone writing a piece on architectural treasure Peter Beaven (not published on line, but available The Press, 27 March 2010), and then that prat from Demographia, a certain Mr Pavletich, totally dissing Beaven’s views. Beaven quite fairly pointed out that part of the reason for leaky buildings was the lack of care taken with building them, and that more money spent building apartments would probably lead to better quality apartments.

“As is the case with most architects, Mr Beavenís understanding of urban and development / construction economics is not impressive.”

Pavletich then quite nastily leaped in to attack Beaven, and got on his old hobby horse, arguing that the answer to Christchurch’s housing issues was to be able to build more cheap houses on cheap land at the edge of town. This is apparently OK because there is no such thing as sprawl, and they build houses cheaply in Houston, Texas. Quite how that works, I’m not sure, but I’ve been to Houston and its a horrible place, especially in the suburbs. Why anyone would want more of that is quite beyond me.

Still: it is good to see architects actually making their views heard, even if it is only 2 ancient old blokes doing this so far. What we need is more!

7 - 04 - 10

I agree with the main thrust of your rant, but see the NZ Architecture article as sidestepping the much more political issues that face architecture and its practice here in NZ – as you have referenced in your own post, and even more pressing issues such as the ongoing $11billion Leaky Building saga – which you posted on last week…

[incidentally, Bernard Hickey posts on the l-b issue – the comments are quite revealing of general right wing froth, but i think you might do well to check it out in order to gain some insight into how rabidly right-wing this current government certainly isn’t: ]

Still, if this is the start of things to come, then good on Walsh and crew – I might even start reading the mag…

PS – I wonder whether you might link your images to the source page from whence they are ‘borrowed’ – makes chasing down the associated ‘words’ that much more easier (eye-candy is good and all, but supporting info might help to contribute more meaningfully to our “visual re-education”)…

7 - 04 - 10

“the comments are quite revealing of general right wing froth, but i think you might do well to check it out in order to gain some insight into how rabidly right-wing this current government certainly isn’t”

More accurately, it’s called socialism for the top half and capitalism for the bottom half.

7 - 04 - 10

PS. I’ve put in my 2c worth on Bernard Hickey’s blog.

“The whole state of affairs sounds like a classic case of socialism for the rich. You know the rest. Personally I think if money must absolutely be spent, then fix just the apartments and leave the McMansions to rot.”

9 - 04 - 10

M-d the links are normally in the text rather than via the images – I like to source images that are more visually interesting than Mssrs Hickey et al. But I will try to heed your words in future.

I quite like the prospect of Walsh’s politicizing o the mag. Good prospects for the future.

9 - 04 - 10

Ah yes, but most often your images are only marginally related to the text – as is the case with the tetris flats above… No such in-text link…

12 - 04 - 10

m-d – yes, the tetris flats – you’re right, there is no link – and i got that image ages ago from some random website I visited – so, couldn’t link you to it.

DeepRed – curiously, your comment on Hickey’s blog appears to have stopped all discussion dead – there has been no further commentary on that subject since. Which is a pity really, as it was just getting interesting.

Seems to me that there needs to be a site where people can speak informatively about the issue, instead of all the rabid mad-dog foaming at the mouth stuff. I mean, take this comment for example:

# colin Says: April 6th, 2010 at 9:41 pm
“This whole problem is a product of greed and corruption,the developers were building with this cheap crap to make huge profits,councils were signing it off knowing it was crap and the suppliers fletchers and hardie etc new they were supplying crap.So I say all these people the politicians, mayors,inspectors,ceoĒs,directors,architecs,builders etc should have personel liability and all their assets should be seized and sold to pay for this disaster before touching 1c of tax payer money.But I know hell will freeze over before that happens,they will keep all their ill gotten gains and the tax payer will just have to bend over and touch their toes.”

Apart from the fact that most of what Colin says is potentially libelous, and he can’t spell or punctuate very well, lumping architects and mayors in with property developers and builders is just plain silly.