The Eye of the Fish

Leviathan
May 12, 2018

Embassy down the Basin

The prospect of a new Embassy for the People’s Republic of China has been a long time coming – and now, at last, it is here. Well, nearly. The site has been empty for years – so long, in fact, that I really can’t remember what was there before, except for the Swimming Pool of the Girls and Boys Institute ? Off in the far south west corner – quite well used – now no more. Once the site was going to be a supermarket, but that was always a fairly stupid proposal – possibly never really serious – as the traffic jams around the basin were just going to get more and more severe if you added another couple of thousand of angsty shoppers in hatchbacks buying vegetables and family meatpacks. Plus, the architecture of the supermarket proposal was fairly awful as well. Were there apartments on the site as well? I forget. We’ve probably written about it on more than one occasion – but it is so long ago that it is literally, lost in the depths of time.

China is like that too, allegedly, taking time slowly. Mao Tze Tung, when asked what he thought of the French Revolution (1795ish), apparently replied “Too soon to tell….” Might have been the same gentlemen, when asked what he thought about Western civilisation, allegedly replied “That would be a good idea.” Harrumph. Mao always had the best lines. Now, of course, Mao is probably not officially mentioned any more – just the new boy. The tall one. Good looking bloke. Xi Jinping. Enigmatic. All powerful. President for Life. Politics, huh? Quickly – let’s get back to the building. How to describe it? Hold on – let me find a photo.

china rugby

There, that’s it. So, what do you think?

So, presumably for the last several years, when China bought the site in 2014 for around $16 million, they’ve knocked down all the buildings (except Guardian House, curiously – maybe they don’t own that?) including the Boys and Girls Swimming Pool (how to really piss off all the neighbours from day one – good work China), put up a large fence, mowed the lawn once a year and largely ignored the locals. Which is largely what they plan to do with the new building, so it would seem.

china tasman

There must be an architect involved, but the Press release does not mention one. The illustrations, which are all quite blurry, are noted by the Dom-Post as being merely “supplied” which is that bland stupid phrase for: we know who the architect is, but we’re not going to tell you because they haven’t paid us for an advertisement. That’s so irritating. Eye of the Fish will happily post some clearer pictures if the architect wants to send us some. Usual address: contact @ eyeofthefish.org And we’ll happily post the architect’s name as well if you want. We have the pure advantage of not having any commercial interests. Comments welcome below, of course.

I am in two minds. On the one hand, from certain angles, including the most likely external viewpoint, it is awful. Looks like a bunker. Impregnable prison walls. No active edge visible – instead, massive security and not much else except roofs. Dull, boring (at least at ground level near the Basin), and walls ripe for graffiti.

On the other hand, not much traffic in or out. So, that’s nice, and a good change from a busy supermarket. And small scale village atmosphere with many interesting roofs. There is, I guess (having not been to China), some reference back to both Chinese historic residential architecture (mostly now demolished in Beijing etc) as well as to, at some level, the heritage suburban architecture of the surrounding Mt Cook / Newtown. We’ve not seen the plans and are unlikely to be able to do so, but I’m hoping that there are some courtyard housing style buildings hidden in the depths of the Embassy. As many people have remarked, it is a great pity it’s not the site for the Chinese Garden that no-one wants on the waterfront.

china west

Yes, yes yes, we understand that as a subject of distinctly lukewarm reciprocal feelings to America, China is obviously fairly security conscious these days. The current Chinese embassy in Glenmmore St over by the Rose Gardens, is literally bristling with super-large spy aerials, for transmitting those vital reports back home, about the laxness of us wicked kiwis. No sign of those aerials in this project, but have no doubt that these buildings will sprout some more aerials as well. But New Zealand is not America, Adern is not Trump, and we like China very much over here. We like to sell them milk formula, and they like to send us their millions of middle-class tourists. Occasionally, they’ll buy up large sections of the country, or most of the spare housing in Auckland, and then we generally don’t like them so much. But we are not the sort of nation that is likely to be attacking them in any way other than verbally, occasionally, and rather lackadaisically. So why the big walls?

china east

I get that the Embassy is recognised as a piece of another sovereign country, and therefore must be impregnable – but I’ve been to an Embassy or two in my time, and they’re rarely that oppressively impregnable. The US Embassy in Wellington is of course a security nightmare – don’t try and take a photo anywhere on public land nearby, even if you think you have a perfect right to, as the Yanks will come out with guns waving and make your life miserable. The Italian and British Embassies in Wellington on the other hand, are most genial. Our Embassies overseas are also fairly laid back – the American one for Kiwis in Washington is a superb Miles Warren design, and the Ambassador cooked me up a sausage on the barby. I kid you not. He’s like that. Thanks Mike.

china south

One last thing: why here? Why on earth do the Chinese want to leave the sanctity of Thorndon and the Rose Garden, to come and live and work in Newtown at the edge of the world’s largest and most traffic-bound roundabout? Is it just because it is already on the route to the airport in case they need to fly to Auckland to buy another villa in Remuera? Or is it a strategic siting, being just across the road from the Governor General? Status is important to the Chinese as we know, so they may be thinking that is a good reason. Or is it just that it will be virtually next door to the McDonald’s drive-through, so they can send out for imperialist running-dogs in a bun? With extra cheese? How would you like your Embassy – would you like fries with that?

Post-script: that was a lame ending to the review, completed late at night while I was falling asleep. Motto to self: go to sleep, don’t press Publish, until you’re sure you want to say that. Let’s just say… Covfefe….

I thought that it might be interesting to actually finish with a couple of pics, of what traditional Chinese architecture was like (well, the Hutong housing in Beijing, at least – not sure if all China was like that). There is a strong semblance of breaking down large monolithic architecture programs into smaller, more approachable, friendlier zones such as those shown in the following couple of pictures. Similarities with the design? Your thoughts?

HutongCourtyards

china trad housing

Alan
12 - 05 - 18

Another rude and insulting review by you Leviathan, you’ll have the entire Chinese embassy hunting you down for that.
Re the architect, I did a little sleuthing – not hard – and found this article from the Dompost a couple of years ago:
https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/87826839/birds-nest-stadium-architect-called-in-to-design-new-chinese-embassy-in-central-wellington

So: “[Nicola] Young said the plans were being designed by China Architect Design & Research Group vice-chief architect Li Xing Ang, who previously worked on the Bird’s Nest for the 2008 Olympic.

“I explained Mt Cook is one of Wellington’s older suburbs with a lot of heritage; that Mt Cook Mobilised is a very proactive residents’ association, and [residents] are looking forward to welcoming them to the neighbourhood,” Young said.

“The Edwardian terraced houses at 53 and 55 Rugby St will be retained and renovated, although there will be some modifications.”

Leviathan
12 - 05 - 18

Thanks Alan. I’m not that rude am I? Just thought I was being cheeky?

Leviathan
13 - 05 - 18

Pretty sure that there is no sign of the Edwardian terraced houses at 53 and 55 Rugby St in those renders….

victor
13 - 05 - 18

Guardian House was at one stage owned by Sir Robert Jones – not sure if this is still so.
Opportunity for some outstanding distinctive Chinese architecture lost.

Seamonkey Madness
14 - 05 - 18

Just a quick comment about what was there, alongside the Boys & Girls Institute.

DIVERS WORLD!

greenwelly
14 - 05 - 18

Guardian House on Rugby street is not owned by the Embassy,

starkive
14 - 05 - 18

I believe it was Gandhi who made the dry observation about Western civilisation.

starkive
14 - 05 - 18

A couple of interesting points raised by the renders. Is it really likely that locals will be permitted to lounge on a sunny seat directly attached to the building? Do the renderers know something that we don’t about Basin traffic plans as, according to the helpful “North” sign attached to a nearby power pole, it seems it will reverse direction at some point in the future… Widdershins?

Levi
14 - 05 - 18

Starkive – aaah, it’s time you came back to Wellington! The sign showing North is there currently and in the future – it is a way for you to get onto SH1 going North, when you come from the Tory St, so you go down a little bit of Rugby St, into the maelstrom of the Basin, and then are sucked in and under the Arras Tunnel. So, it is correct and remember the mnemonic: Tory Rugby Basin Sucked In. Re people sitting on the outside of the Embassy on a bench seat, this is probably akin to the infamous sketch of a woman sunbathing beneath the Flyover in the middle of the road (and No, I’m never going to let them forget it). However, should it come to pass that they do indeed build such seats, I shall make sure that I take my sandwiches every day and eat them while sitting on this seat.

starkive
14 - 05 - 18

Thanks for the re-orientation, Levi. Shame to waste a good word like widdershins. Closer inspection of the first image also reveals someone who is evidently making off with a Countdown shopping trolley. Perhaps running a nano-scale food truck operation for all the bench loungers?

luke
14 - 05 - 18

so whats to become of the old (current) embassy?

Levi
14 - 05 - 18

Luke – demolition? Repurposing as Apartments? Chinese Theme Park? Chinese Garden!

Starkive – I have checked my store of Gabndhi quotes and of Maoisms, and can’t find it anywhere. So instead, here is one from President Xi JinPing:
“I like sports, and swimming is my favorite. Doing physical exercises keeps one fit and healthy and helps one work more efficiently. I think we all need to strike a balance between work and relaxation. This can keep us energetic and help us do our job better.”
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/xi_jinping_487316

So, why did they demolish the Boys and Girls Pool? And (according to Seamonkey, who with a name like that, should know: DIVERS WORLD! )

Alan
14 - 05 - 18

I don’t think the Chinese Embassy did in fact demolish the Pool. As you say, the site has been empty for years, and it was cleared by the previous owners, the Supermarket chain. It was they wot killed the Pool, not the most glorious People’s republic.

starkive
14 - 05 - 18

Seems Gandhi might not have said quite few things:

https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2015/07/7-gandhi-quotes-that-are-totally-fake/

Lindsay Shelton
14 - 05 - 18

The facade of the old pool is still standing, and seems to be included in the drawings of the new buildings. However the council foolishly allowed the pool itself (used by hundreds of kids every day) to be closed and demolished nine years ago. Nine wasted years!

Betterbee
14 - 05 - 18

And they’re going to bring back the trolleybuses! (or at least the wires…)

Andy Foster
14 - 05 - 18

Wonderful the thread that these conversations take !
With respect to the BGI pool – I am not sure what people think Council could have done to keep it open given it was always privately owned.
The other important point to make is that Council has invested a bucket load (or should that be a pool load or three ?) in the intervening years in new pool space. This includes a new hydrotherapy pool at WRAC, learn to swim pool at Karori, extensive investment in new water space at Keith Spry, enhancement of Tawa, and a series of school pools including Wellington East, Berhampore, Khandallah, Rewarewa. Do you know what – in spite of investing tens of millions of dollars in new pool space, the number of people swimming has barely moved.