The Eye of the Fish

Philip
February 4, 2008

A State of Shock?

Something of a minor incident was caused recently, when acclaimed English author Duncan Fallowell brazenly attacked many aspects of New Zealand culture in his new travel book. Going As Far As I Can is the result of Duncan’s 3 month sojourn to Aotearoa, a trip that was evidently not very agreeable.

“I’m in a state of shock. Where to begin? . . . Wellington has been even more catastrophically demolished than Auckland. This is the capital city, so one was looking for style . . . who the hell is running this place?”

From the limited quotes that are released it seems that most of his architectural criticisms relate to the removal of historic buildings from city centres. Wellington in particular gets a harsh review, considered ruinous and messy – apparently Cuba St is the last bastion of our heritage (being confused but lively). Auckland gets off with a “not my idea of a town,” while Christchurch’s cathedral square is apparently a “visual disaster zone.”

The book also extensively covers the wider kiwi culture, remarking upon our women (slow-high spirits), tattoos (ornament is a crime?), rugby (emotional autism?) and many other subjects.

I’m slightly sceptical as to what exactly Fallowell considers to be our destroyed heritage – hopefully the book will have more supporting analysis. However it is nice to see some critique of New Zealand urbanism being covered on the front pages.

Aron
4 - 02 - 08

Knowing nothing about this person before the current hullabaloo, I’m left with the distinct impression that sincere and reasoned analysis is not his foremost goal.

Maximus
4 - 02 - 08

Although, in a letter in the Sunday Star-Times yesterday, he virtually denied the whole lot of comments – apparently he only used the word philistines once in the whole book – I think he’s taking the wrong tactic. He’s absolutely right about most of his comments, as far as i can see – Auckland IS a mess architecturally, Wellington’s architecture does have a bizarre hodge podge of styles (although we are saved by a gorgeous setting), and many of our citizens are hugely overweight and slovenly.

Of course we could get all huffy and say “What about you Poms, you’re not that pretty either” and “What about Slough then?” but that’d be playing right into his hand. Better to just say, “Yep, you’re right” and then set to work to better our cities and ourselves?

boris
4 - 02 - 08

He does seem to think that the Edwardian period was the pinnacle of architectural elegance, so he seems very much to be playing the fogey card. Wellington’s messiness and eclecticism is part of what I like about it, though it’s certainly hard to argue that there’s much recent commercial architecture that aspires beyond mediocrity.

On the other hand, it’s hard not to agree with him about the general lack of flair and elegance of New Zealanders’ dress sense. It’s 45% streetwear slobs and 45% Hallensteins suits, with 5% property shark bling and the last 5% made of hipsters and freaks. Come to think of it, that might apply to our architecture as well.

Maximus
4 - 02 - 08

Duncan Fallowell himself notes in a UK blog madamearcati.blogspot.com:
“This is weird, Madame A. My book, as you point out, is not published here until late February, and is not published in New Zealand until March. These people will not have read it.
Best wishes, Duncan F”

to which an ingrate replies:

“Anonymous said…
All I Can Say Is Duncan, Your No Oil Painting Yourself. As For New Zealand, Its The Most Beautiful Place In The World With The Most Friendliest People I Have Ever Met. New Zealand Is Heaven On Earth And Britain Is Where Ugly People Like Yourself Live. You Are A Vile Jealous Man, Get Over Yourself!!”

Oh dear. That’s hardly doing our reputation as a sophisticated race much good…. but really: if the man wanted to have a good gay time, is hanging out in NewZild really the place to be?

ben
4 - 02 - 08

Full credit to his publicist.

Philip
5 - 02 - 08

From around the blogosphere:

“Now what is all this nonsense? I’ve been away. In Malaya the New Zealand soldiers were always solid as a rock – but they hated having attention drawn to themselves. Could that be Mr Fallowell’s mistake? He’s noticed them.”

“Lordy, these colonials are so touchy !”

However, like I said, my point of interest in the article is not the criticisms. Although his points may be true to a certain extent, they certainly aren’t fresh to our ears.

Generating public notice, even if it is based on provocative polemics is fine by me. A small push on the wheel of change?

boris
4 - 01 - 10

He does seem to think that the Edwardian period was the pinnacle of architectural elegance, so he seems very much to be playing the fogey card. Wellington's messiness and eclecticism is part of what I like about it, though it's certainly hard to argue that there's much recent commercial architecture that aspires beyond mediocrity.

On the other hand, it's hard not to agree with him about the general lack of flair and elegance of New Zealanders' dress sense. It's 45% streetwear slobs and 45% Hallensteins suits, with 5% property shark bling and the last 5% made of hipsters and freaks. Come to think of it, that might apply to our architecture as well.