The Eye of the Fish

May 14, 2014


As the Basin Bridge Board of Inquiry has been debating the merits and issues about Heritage, and in particular the heritage aspects of the Crèche of Compassion, over the last week, it seems an appropriate time to discuss the crèche. It is, of course, about to embark on a journey, or two, or in fact three! Firstly, it is going to be jacked up, then moved back, then reallllly jacked up, then moved sideways. It is quite a lengthy, and evidently rather expensive process.

Is it worth it? And why are they even doing it? It has emerged this week that in fact, there is no reason why it is being done now, as part of the War Memorial Park Underpass works, as it is not necessary for that project. It’s not in the way of the underpass, it is more that it is just in the way of the future flyover (or should I say, the flyover of the future!), which is of course a project that does not yet have any Resource Consent. In fact, the longer this Board of Inquiry goes on, the less likely looking it is that the flyover will actually go ahead, if you believe some people.

But yes, the move of the Crèche has been allowed to go ahead under the Pukeahu (Memorial Park) enabling legislation, which means of course that it has happened without input from the Historic Places Trust (or Heritage New Zealand, as they are known now). HPT might have, for instance, had something to say about the construction of the plinth upon which the Crèche will sit, being composed of big tantalized timber piles, and looking wholly unsuitable really for a building of age to be sitting comfortably on. It is always going to be looking like it is a moved, temporary thing, on it’s timber pile, rather than integrated into the landscaping in a more cohesive manner as you might expect. That’s a typical – and not unexpected – solution from NZTA, who deal with roads, and don’t know really how to deal with buildings, other than to knock them down. I certainly hold fears for any buildings that NZTA is involved with ever looking good, or coherently designed, or integrated into the fabric – its just not a thing that the reading agency can do. No doubt they’ll plant some ivy to cover up their sins. And sins there were aplenty this week, with the rather venerated senior statesman of the New Zealand heritage scene, the very reverend Jeremy Salmond, eventually admitting that the whole Flyover was in fact a sin, and ugly, dominant, overbrooding, and ultimately un-mitigationable to boot. Did he really say that, or was it just my imagination? Its certainly what it seemed like he ended up saying to me… Rather nice for one of the NZTA’s paid hounds to be admitting that in public, however reluctantly.

There is an extraordinary amount of so-called Heritage in the vicinity of the Basin Reserve, according to the NZTA reports. I would count the Old Museum Stand as one, and the little noddy-like memorial on the other side of the reserve as another, with the Crèche as a third, even if it is outside the Reserve itself. Arguably, if you were feeling generous, you’d say that the old groundskeepers cottage is a bit heritagey-looking, but then so as well is the Vance Stand, which may be the only thing standing at the Reserve after the big one hits. The Old Museum Stand is history already, closed and rotting and semi-collapsing, and a total earthquake risk. To be honest, the Vance Stand is not that much better, shedding several panes of glass in the Seddon quakes last year. But what else is listed as heritage? Apparently, those two ugly little brown gateways letting you in and out are also heritage (the Reid Gate and the Dempster Gate) and also some neighbouring concrete fence-posts, although not the actual timber fence itself. Even the pathetically badly designed concrete public toilet block, all covered with ivy and not a thing of good design or beauty at all, is mentioned on a heritage register somewhere. There are, apparently, 27 separate pieces of heritage in the vicinity. Count them, if you can. Of these, the Crèche is just one – but arguably the most important.

So, with the Crèche about to be moved, within days, and for it to remain sitting forelornly alone in the whole Pukeahu Park, standing out awkwardly alone like a wallflower at a school ball, what is the Crèche and why should we care? There is a photo in the War Memorial Park viewing booth that shows the situation a hundred years ago, which explains it much better than I can. It didn’t use to be alone. It used to be surrounded by Catholics – a Catholic church (St Joseph’s), a Catholic school (St Patrick’s), and all sorts of other Catholic paraphernalia. Probably a shop selling rosaries, or buying paintings of your favourite saint perhaps. Whatever it is that Catholics do. Actually, what they really did here, was a centre for the hopeless. A home for the incurables (perhaps now we would call that a hospice). The Crèche of Compassion was only a small part of that – and somehow, all the rest of that has gone. St Pats has somehow moved to the other side of the mountain, and St Jo’s has moved to the other side of the valley. The Home for Incurables has been demolished, some time ago, along with the old schools and church buildings. But what will the new use for the Crèche of Compassion be? Will it revert back to the descendants of Madame Aubert, who doled out soup from its doorstep? Will it be a home for local waifs and strays? Or will NZTA just keep it vacant as they do with so many of their properties?

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The Creche has already lost meaningful connection to its context over the years – it’s been divorced from this for as long as I can remember (and yes, it is the transport people, in their various guises over the years, who are responsible for this). Whether it moves here or there doesn’t really pose an issue to me, as the only heritage value it retains seems to be in the ordered heap of materials that constitute the actual built object – not its environs or its relationship to it (apart from the fact that sitting it on poles, as you point out, is wholly inappropriate).

But what we if we step back from the narrow view of heritage being about this or that building or site, and consider the heritage of the built environment at a broader scale. I believe that the remnants of the original Mein Smith town plan for Wellington is worthy of consideration (nice big image available at the link I’ll post at the end of this reply – sorry for the long URL!).

In particular, the Cambridge and Kent Terraces/Basin Reserve relationship is a key ordering device of the original plan, with the Basin itself being the fulcrum around which the Te Aro grids and the collision of Newtown grids (skewed to fit within some challenging topography), hinge. This grid/fulcrum is largely still intact, with the Ellice Street precinct being a nice example of one part of its historic character. The Ellice Street precinct and grid is of course munted by the NZTA scheme.

We can see what happens when the curves with vehicle accommodating radii are inserted into the grid – and ‘heritage’ buildings shunted around to fit this alien pattern of organisation – it just looks stupid and weird, and creates unpalatable urban environments from the pedestrian’s point of view.
Karo Drive is inappropriate even without a flyover. Option X also screws with the heritage of the grid. The views looking down the flyover from Buckle Street in the early NZTA drawings really highlighted this fact.

I’m not saying that the grid must be ‘saved’, just raising an issue of heritage that I think carries more weight than that of individual buildings (most of which are actually of dubious design and cultural merit on their own), but seems to have been not given much weight at all by any of the parties in this ongoing saga (except the immediate grounds of the Basin Reserve itself).

Just more food for thought, grist to the mill, etc…
Here’s the promised link (click on the image, and then again on upper right of the bigger image to get glorious detail!): Map 3761%22

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oops – not making much sense in the 4th paragraph – let me rearrange it a little:

We can see at Karo Drive, what happens when the curves with vehicle accommodating radii are inserted into the grid – and ‘heritage’ buildings shunted around to fit this alien pattern of organisation – it just looks stupid and weird, and creates unpalatable urban environments from the pedestrian’s point of view. Karo Drive is inappropriate even without a flyover.

The early NZTA drawings of the proposed Basin flyover really highlight how messed up this is set to become once the Basin and Mt Vic schemes are completed:

Option X also screws with the heritage of the grid.

And finally, I’ve just realised, when searching for the image, that I’ve already touched on some of these issues over at the Architectural Centre blog, when throwing around the idea of Sense of Place:

Seamonkey Madness
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Max, you’re forgetting the oldest piece of heritage in the area – the William Wakefield Memorial, erected in 1882.

This too has been the victim of moving here & there, forgetfulness from it’s minders and also ne’er-do-wells etching and spraying goodness knows what on it.
Thankfully it was restored recently and sits prominently overlooking the Basin.

Engenerate (IPENZ Young Engineers branch) are doing a site visit on the relocation of the CoC. Run by Dunning Thornton Consultants – who did the seismic strenghthening and the move – it’s on the 16th of May @ 2:50pm, outside the Crèche.
It is supposed to be Engenerate members only, but I’m sure they wouldn’t mind interested people (who has PPE gear handy) tagging along. It would certainly be very informative in the least.

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Seamonkey – aaah, so the thing I called “the little noddy-like memorial on the other side of the reserve” is actually the “William Wakefield Memorial” then? Thanks for that. Looks like a good place for a beer on a sunny Sunday afternoon…

And excellent news about the Creche visit, I may try and gatecrash (keep an eye out for a fish…)

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m-d – Screwing with the grid? I know a lot of things about… a lot of things, but screwing with the grid is not one which is in my repertoire. Why is not screwing with the grid such a goddam important thing? Some of the best places in the world come about from screwing with the grid. Broadway, in New York, totally cuts across and screws with the grid – it is the only diagonal road for most of Manhatten, and yet on every point it touches the grid, it enlivens it. Grid-screwing can be advantageous….

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@SeaMonkey, one of the reasons it has been moved so oftern is the regular remodelling of the basin,

Check out p27 of this Document

The 1970s “basin” in the background has little resemblence to the one today

It was basically a flat square ground, The embankment was not created until the 80s, and there was basically no seating on the mt Victoria side of the ground. What we have today is a hugely better asset

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Maximus – I’m not saying we/they shouldn’t – just that it is part of the heritage of the area, and I’d argue more important to the sense of place than most of the structures under discussion.

And I’m not talking about the value of a generic town grid, but the grids that make up the original Wellington Town Plan. Sure, it is a grid (or series of grids) in this case, but that alone isn’t their inherent value – it is simply that these particular grids are a structural part of our built heritage.

My point is simply that if a heritage discussion must be had at all, then then the ‘grids’ should be a part of it. Personally, as you should already know by now, I am rather ambivalent when the heritage word begins to be tossed around.

John H
15 - 05 - 14

One heritage value of the creche not greatly commented on so far in this discussion is its religious value. Susan Aubert is on track to become New Zealand’s first Saint. I’m not Catholic (practicing or otherwise) but for a fair proportion of NZ’s population, the strong possibility of this happening is really big stuff. As such, if / when she is canonized, I expect the creche building could well become of much greater interest to many and quite possibly a place of pilgrimage (which is what happened to sites associated with Mary McKillop in Australia after she became their first saint)

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John H – you’re right, good point. Opus Dei will be on our tails, branding us with crucifixes or some other Dan Brown style punishments. The holy ground has been disturbed already by the NZTA heathen workforce – muddy boots disturbing the holy mother’s consecrated ground.

But: at least the building will have a good use then – it’s pretty forlorn at present. A drive-by pilgrimage every day on your trip back from the airport! Maybe they could sell candles to people waiting in the traffic jam…

Actually, all joking aside, I think the shit will hit the fan at some stage when this most venerated of holy buildings is seen to have a base composed of concrete block and tanalized fenceposts. Somehow it just seems sooooo wrong to me. Quick! Call Megan! Plant ivy!