The Eye of the Fish

Maximus
November 21, 2011

Cuba Cuticle

On a day like today, with the wind blowing to the Max, it seems that the best answer has won: Wellywood has been blown away, by, well, Wellington – Blown Away. While I had a personal liking for the idea of the Eye of the Taniwha, seeing as Braddock is drawing off a similar theme to our little website, if there is one thing people know about Wellington is that it is windy. Scant comfort to those landing in a 737 in a strong southerly, but at least you’ll be able to look out the window and see exactly where you are.

We’ve also got an election coming up, but no one seems to be talking about that, all the media wants to discuss is two Johns tea-bagging each other in a public dunny. Or some such bullshit. No, Lindsay, you’re not going to get a visual illustration of that. Yes, Robyn, you’re right – I didn’t want that visual either, but like a Kate Perry earworm, once it gets into your head, you can’t get it out without some solid scrubbing. So: let’s talk about buildings instead. After all, that’s what we’re really here for.

Recently, while we were talking about the curious case of the Demolition Order placed on the little green Dry Cleaners in Cuba St, I took a visit up to Cuba (St) to take a photo and found something rather odd.

Here’s the 55 ‘Min’ dryclean parlour, abandoned to its fate. White knight unlikely to be coming to the rescue, I would have thought. This is one piece of urban architecture certainly not worth saving. Ironically, it looks like it may be the only piece in the neighbourhood to survive a quake, seeing as its green colour scheme is so powerful, and all the neighbours look like they are made from antique cardboard. Musing on that, I sat down at Fidel’s and had a plate of eggs: ordering politely, not Jake Heke style. We’ve all been to Fidel’s Cafe in Cuba St. It’s the secret place that everyone knows about, with the hideaway area “outdoor” area disguised as a Cuban duck-shooting maimai, and the more in-you-face outdoor area out the front – unfortunately full of the last of the dying breed of smokers. Cough cough, hack hack, you’re polluting my lungs. I love the fact that ever since the Super-Cuts barbershop disappeared and hung up its scissors some, oooh, 5 or so years ago, and Fidel’s moved in, that the signage of Super Cuts just stayed the same – the Fidel’s sign is small and discrete by comparison. Every possible imagery of the world’s (almost) last Communist dictator smile down upon diners, cigar gleaming and khakis crinkling as we dream of a Havana perpetually bathed in sunshine.

Coupled with the lovable buxom and heavily tattooed waiting staff, its no wonder that there is always a queue of people waiting for food and drink at the tiny opening that serves as a counter, in between straining mountains of humungous muffins, and the great racks on display (of pasta salads and hearty filled rolls) make me salivate every time in perfectly timed Pavlovian response. On paper, this is the sort of design that just shouldn’t work, with that narrow corridor full of people, and wait staff squeezing past with plates full of wobbly eggs and boiling hot coffee, complete with inappropriately placed steps for extra trip potential – but somehow, in that squeezed-in, grungy, pseudo-revolutionary place, Fidel’s manage to pump out consistently good fine food and cheerful service. Fidel’s then is the epitome of everything that Cuba St has come to be: counter-culture, slightly downmarket, and yet at the same time beguilingly inviting, curiously quizzical and yet highly sophisticated in a grungey kind of way. Fidel’s is, of course, Uber-cool in a way that only Cuba St can do.

The curious thing about the green building next door therefore, apart from the mere existence of such curious greenness, is that it now houses a Nail salon called Bella. Yes indeed, Nails: Not Brads, or Clout-heads, or even Bright, but just some colouring stuff for those boring bits of growth at the ends of our fingers.
..
To me, a nail salon is an exceptionally uncool business, performing unnecessary pedicuring on image-obsessed women with fake tans and artificially blonded hair extensions. A nail salon surely belongs in the outermost depths of the suburbs, along with the mindset of the people that live there. I dunno about you, but nail salons just seem so much a complete waste of time. Like macaque monkeys grooming for nits, hair salons and nail salons seem to cater for those with the most vapid time to spare, and such an unlikely addition to Cuba Street’s carefully cultivated bohemian background.

Imagine my surprise then, when I discovered that Fidel’s had sprouted not just one, but two nearby Nail boutiques. The second one, classily named Classiquo, is even more of an abomination, not only housing a banal business but also being housed in quite perhaps the most ugly and uninspiring building in Cuba St. There have been a number of portacabins parked in the corner of the Fish Market trawling site for a number of months/years now, but this latest addition has suddenly turned into a retail outlet, offering services to bored socialites with cuticle calamities. The building is so banal and so ugly that I can only presume that it is a temporary production, because surely our Urban Design crew at the Council would never have let such a monstrosity be permitted – or is this just a foretaste of things to come?

Is the fact that our buildings are getting red-stickered in anticipation of things to come? Will we pull down the heritage of Cuba St to be safe, and allow us to rival Christchurch for architectural blandness, whilst simultaneously building rubbish boring banality such as this?

starkive
21 - 11 - 11

I’m slightly afraid of coming across as a devotee to the green, when in fact it is quite another colour that usually catches my eye. And i concede that the little drycleaner that couldn’t is hardly an at-risk building worth lying down in front of a bulldozer for. But I must ask again, why? Maximus had a plausible theory about unreinforced masonry boundary walls, but closer inspection reveals this is not the case. So why have Roger Gurnsey and his minions chosen this little shed for one of only three red/orange stickers that I have seen anywhere in the neighbourhood?

Maximus
21 - 11 - 11

Starkive – you’re back ! But I thought you would have commented on the last post, not this one?

davidp
21 - 11 - 11

So they’re red stickered. Now what? Word on the street is that all the geo-engineers and strengthening-engineers are flat out in Christchurch and will be for the next few years. So the only option is demolition and replacement with something higher rise.

Christchurch has shown us that tall modern buildings might not kill anyone in an earthquake, but there is a good chance that they’ll be knackered and will need demolition and replacement. If we tear down low rise areas of the city now and replace them with tall buildings, then are we ultimately increasing our exposure to an earthquake?

Alan
22 - 11 - 11

Wellington is not the same as ChCh. Ground conditions very different – they have up to 500m deep shingle, ours more like 10-20m deep in Te Aro. So, taller buildings possible, although certainly not likely on this particular site. While it wouldn’t take much to knock it down, it is so small that it couldn’t take much to keep it up either, surely?
The other option is the current favorite, already apparent on the 2 corners opposite: tear it down for a car park. However, in this case it is so small that you’d be lucky to get room for 2 cars in here.

davidp
22 - 11 - 11

There seem to be a number of modern(ish) buildings in Christchurch that have swayed in the earthquake. They haven’t collapsed and no lives have been lost, but the flexing has buggered the joints where the horizontal and vertical structural members join. You see photos of them and they look fine, until you look closer and see all the concrete has crumbled around the joints and it is obvious they’re going to be knocked down.

Are you saying that can’t happen in Wellington because our tall buildings have proper foundations? I would have thought any tall building intended to soak up the earthquake energy by swaying, but I’m not an engineer.

I’m still not convinced we gain much by a wholesale demolition and replacement of central Wellington. Say the chance of a devasting earthquake are 1 in 150 years, and the expected death toll is a Christchurch-like 300. That is 2 people a year, about the same as die in pedestrian vs bus accidents, or who die falling from the tops of wind turbines. Is that a risk that is worth tens of billions of dollars in building replacement? Is it worth putting a dry cleaners out of business and making their building an almost total economic loss?

This is a problem that will fix itself over time with gradual building renewal. In the mean time, the largest death toll in an earthquake is likely to be if a tsunami sweeps over Lyall Bay and Kilbirnie in to the harbour, like it did last time. But I don’t see anyone planning a giant tsunami dike across Lyall Bay, even tho we could build one for a couple of billion.

Basil
22 - 11 - 11

What is the history of this little green building? It might just have an ugly modern parapet covering an old facade… does anyone know how old it actually is?

Alan
22 - 11 - 11

davidp – yes and no. Yes, we will have the same issues of buildings getting munted – the building code’s aim is for buildings to be safe enough for people to get out and not die – the safety of the actual building is another thing altogether, and yes, frequently the buildings will have to be demolished after. The only exceptions to this really are things like Hospitals and Museums, where the safe survival of the building and its contents are also equally high.

The issue with the shingle is a different matter altogether. While a low building can survive happily on a raft foundation over the top of all that shingle, in most cases a tall building is going to want to be on piles down to bedrock, rather than a raft. Obviously, in Wellington we can dig down and hit that bedrock – and equally, in Christchurch the piles will never hit rock, no matter how far they dig. In ChCh, they will have piled using friction piling, which is where you push the pile down until it can go no further because of all the friction of the surrounding earth pushing sideways. This works fine, all day long…. until you have a massive quake that turns that ground into watery jelly, and then, like the tall buildings in Chch, you risk the whole building tilting to one side or the other.

That’s one of the prime reasons that replacement buildings in Chch are going to be max 7 stories tall for the foreseeable future – the other reason, of course, being that no one in Chch ever wants to be high in a tall building again, and so no one would rent those upper floors.

Maximus
22 - 11 - 11

Umm, yeah, what he said. Sounds good enough to me! Your question about the little green dry cleaner though – the building owner may be different to the drycleaning business owner. In which case, the drycleaner moves to a new site, with a better safer building, and the building owner pulls his old shack down and (hopefully) rebuilds a new, safe, masterpiece of architectural design, which he / she can then rent out for much more.
Basil – sorry, haven’t a clue. But let’s face it, either way, it’s history !

starkive
22 - 11 - 11

My understanding is that the building (and its similarly-hued neighbour) are owned by a prominent Upper Te Aro identity who is often in conflict with the forces of authority – last I heard he was growing a beard to protest against liquor licensing issues. The dry cleaners, who were grumpy enough to have carried a whole Seinfeld episode, were long-term tenants who have now given the game away entirely. My question is actually a bit serious. Doesn’t it seem a bizarre outcome of a safety exercise that one small wooden building without chimneys, sconces or gargoyles should be the only one to be shut down?

DeepRed
22 - 11 - 11

The 7-storey limit seems artificial for a city of ChCh’s size, given that earthquake risks haven’t stopped Japan and San Francisco from building upwards.

On the other hand, those 2 places don’t seem to have liquefaction risks like ChCh.

Alan
23 - 11 - 11

deepred – i don’t think that the 7 storey thing is an official limit, just what people there are talking about. But plus, no one there has a job any more, so there is not much call for office space… harsh, but mostly true. Re Japan and San Fran – different ground conditions over there i suspect, as well as substantially more wealthy economies. In Haiti, after their massive quake there 2 years ago, killing 200,000 people, from what i understand virtually nothing has been rebuilt, including their government buildings. No money in the economy.