The Eye of the Fish

Maximus
September 26, 2008

Icon get no satisfaction

It has been announced by the Wellington City Council, that following on from the demise of the proposal for a Hilton Hotel, there will be an ideas competition for the end of the Outer T on Queens Wharf: currently home to an old tin shed, as I’m sure you all know. The Hilton-to-be, as you will recall, was vanquished by the continued badgering of the combined forces of Waterfront Watch and the Civic Trust (go Grey Power!), and no one much seems to have mourned its passing (blogged by Philip back in March). The Hilton’s Auckland architects have left town with their tails between their legs, probably destined never to want to return. While details for the competition for the replacement building have not been clarified yet, there’s one thing for sure: there’s going to be a call for it to be Iconic.

icon-queenswharf.jpg

Do you reckon it might just be time to put an end to the use of the word Iconic ?  Once upon a time Icon was just a word meaning those painted portraits of Orthodox saints, then it became a symbol for a Mac application – and now they’re everywhere. Damn icons! Enough with that word already! Does that make me an iconoclast?

icon-pantocrator.jpg

Not everything needs to be an icon, or iconic, and don’t even get me started on ironic! There are some buildings and structures that definitely are Iconic – the Eiffel Tower for one, Taj Mahal for another, and Sydney Opera House for another. They’re all brilliant, one of a kind symbols that can stand as shorthand for an entire country just by their mere outline. Other buildings aren’t quite so special. Te Papa, for one, has fortunately not become an icon for Wellington, nor for New Zealand, and perhaps that’s just as well. Although their restaurant was called Icon too, if I recall, but even that didn’t save it from closing down.

icon-mac.jpg

I guess that to really be an icon, the silhouette needs to be simple to think of, and simple to draw. Eiffel Tower? Big swoopy-uppy legs, and a long baguette of wrought iron on top. Sydney Opera House? Sails, piles of orange peels, or turtles mating. Taj Mahal? Go on – draw it without googling an image first: that’s right, its a sort of pointy curvaceous breasty thing, and four giant pepper grinders.  Hard to describe it now, but easy to recognise it when you see it. But not everything and everyone needs to be an icon. Sometimes things just need to slip into the background and do a good job of holding the fort together.

icon-qwot.jpg

However, that’s bound not to be the case on the Outer T. Iconic it has been decreed, and Iconic it shall be, although Ironic is more likely, if calls by some for a winter-garden were to be taken on board. The point of standing in a glass box in the middle of the harbour, on a concrete platform, while looking at hothouse shrubs, seems such a no-starter and pointless activity to me, yet some of the Waterfront Watchers keep suggesting it, parrot-like, at regular intervals. There’s greenery in the hills all around Wellington, growing quite happily in our benign outdoors clime, and it seems a foolish notion to try and plant some more on the concrete deck of a Wellington Wharf.

Former mayoral hopeful Nick Wang has suggested that we need a museum out there shaped like a giant kiwi (bird presumably – fruit possibly – either way – no thank you!).

“We could have a Chinese dragon on the other side of the building, something relating to Maori legend, a Tibetan lion, an Indian cow, and a room dedicated to the gay community”.

Hmmmm. I think not. Let’s move on from tacky icon ideas and think of something else instead. What would you put there? And just how would you make it Iconic? Aaargh, there’s that word again!!

icon-taj.jpg

M-D
26 - 09 - 08

There seems to be an unstated assumption that there needs to be any sort of development there at all. What exactly is wrong with the status quo? Or is it that we simply need commercial development in order to have the wharf repaired so that it doesn’t fall into the sea…? I wonder whether it was this resaon that saw the Council promote that arrogant blandness that was the Hilton proposal…

I think it important that we retain some remnants of the former life of the area (beyond the selection of heavy imported timber for public space furniture) – so why not use the outer tee as a wharf – now there is an idea…

An upgrade of the current indoor sports facilities would be a great thing for the many CBD workers that currently enjoy the facility – it could be opened up to the general public considerably in the process (indoor-outdoor flow I think is the correct technical term). it might well be a commercial operation(?), but at least it promotes a fun and active lifestyle – beneficial to Wgtn, and appropriate to the Waterfront methinks…

But as for a large new building – I’m not against it per se, and could probably be convinced by the right project (which definitely wasn’t the Hilton), but I’d be happier to see the bigger buildings on the city side of the promenade – we are having some good examples of this, leaving the water’s edge free for recreation and picturesque goodness.

Anyway – the decision to build there should be based on the benefit to the waterfront as a popular civic asset, and thus to the citizenry of Wellington – not to commercial interests of private developers (unless they cater primarily to the above remit – which is no doubt a very long shot indeed) or for short-sighted financial gain…

M-D
26 - 09 - 08

PS – you forgot the iconic dog’s testicles destined for the Wellington Airport…

Matthew Bartlett
26 - 09 - 08

That Jesus icon is lovely. Where’s it from?

Nathan
26 - 09 - 08

Have you got a link for the ideas competition?

Maximus
26 - 09 - 08

If you click on the link “that word” in the article above, it’ll take you to http://www.saintbarbara.org/about/icons/

It’s from the Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox church in New Haven, Connecticut.
They’ve been there since 1924, but the church building itself is a bit older.

The full picture is delightful.

Maximus
26 - 09 - 08

No link to the Council competition yet – it hasn’t been formally announced yet. Time to get your thinking caps on !

Maximus
26 - 09 - 08

M-D : distasteful. Not worthy of comment….

Robyn
26 - 09 - 08

My first thought about a wintergarden box – every time there was a bit of wind, the box would get encrusted with salt. The glass would quickly become opaque.

Wellington has a brilliant greenhouse at the Botanical Gardens. It doesn’t need another one by the harbourside.

rondo
26 - 09 - 08

Personally? a bar. I like to drink in the sun. Just a thin flat roof so as not to disturb the view, some underground toilets so they don’t block the transparency, and glass walls with a deep overhang from the roof, and lots of backlit drinkers and a sparkling wall of spirits….

its the best afternoon location in the whole of Wellington. Only place after 5pm that gets the sun. Looks both ways – out to sea and back to the city. Can’t fail. I’ll run it if you want….

M-D
26 - 09 - 08

By distasteful do you mean the buildings, or the phraseology?

I concur on the former, but the latter I borrowed from your own post here: http://eyeofthefish.org/oriental-rooflines/

…and in a nod to the more subtle reference within Head of the VUW School of Architecture Gordon Holden’s complaint: “Did there have to be two of them of approximately equal size?” – made about the Airport design: http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominionpost/4407367a23918.html

Jan
26 - 09 - 08

Personally, I’m glad.

I agree ith Rondo; it’s a great spot in the afternoon – and in the morning before daring the CBD. Can’t anyone see that this is just another sequestration of the view by vagrants? What about the people that live and work in Wellington and the greater area? Do THEY want to be reminded that Rich people hHave them in their Line of Sight? Have got one over on them AGAIN? Why DOES architecture have to be Iconic?

KLK
26 - 09 - 08

I like the idea of a bar….but then I always do.

Either way, just bowl the shed now – its hideous and detracts from the other places around it.

Replace with a combination of decking, grass, removable communal tables and some art or a sculpture or two. Let it fill with people and sounds – tai chi groups and fitness bootcamp participants at dawn, office workers at lunch, buskers, tourists and everybody else mingling about in afternoon sun, eating their fish and chips, sipping their coffee, wtaching the ferries pass by….

Temporary structures can be bought in on occasions for events – imagine a big f&b marquee during RWC or the 7s, a temporary seafood market/event for a week in summer. The possibilities are endless if it remains largely undeveloped (but tidied up)

Not every spare space of concrete needs to be built on – especially around the waterfront. The above would allow it to be used for diferent purposes and different events as they come along, while the rest of the time used by the people.

Philip
27 - 09 - 08

Hmmm, perhaps the Pumpkins are ironicons?

The current state of the T is definitely a massive waste…I think what we should be looking for above all is something that will regularly draw people – an attribute that the Hilton definitely possessed, although obviously mediocre in the design department.

I like the idea of having a small low/medium rise building in the center of the T, flanked by two open/flexible/public/view-preserving spaces. Its just what to do with them that is the problem; can anyone think of a commercial use that would attract visitors throughout the entire day – besides a bar/restaurant/hotel? That $3million upfront is looking like a pretty major obstacle to creating any purely public programme.

Also that Helen Ritchie site is pretty hilarious.

Maximus
27 - 09 - 08

M-D: touche. You got me there…

Yes, the Helene Ritchie website is amazing – not sure how many people saw it at the time, but in retrospect, it makes her look somewhat psychotic, romping round the waterfront, gurning at the site signs saying “Keep Out, Construction Site” as if this was going to be a permanent state of affairs for Wellington’s waterfront promenades.
http://www.heleneritchie.org.nz/essay/index.php?img=3
Well, the barriers are all gone now, and it is safe to go back there Helene.

“The Ritchie Waterfront Moratorium on New Buildings.
It is your last chance to choose wisely. In three years time it will be too late. The waterfront will be a construction site with buildings on open space.
I am therefore proposing a Waterfront Moratorium on all new buildings on the Waterfront for the next three years ( except where there is an existing legal agreement).
You thought Variation 17 was bad enough. This is much worse – a construction site for many years, and then a wall of buildings.”

Thank goodness she didn’t become Mayor. She should, if she ever reads this, make an apology to Wellington Waterfront and publicly admit that she got it wrong, and that its actually quite nice down there now. It certainly seems to be popular with the public.

arthur
27 - 09 - 08

what about…… :

http://www.designboom.com/eng/funclub/dillerscofidio.html

impractical in Wellington’s weather i know, but still magnificent and surreal!

Not iconic though…

Philip
27 - 09 - 08

Arthur – maybe we should just built the Water Whirler again, but ten times larger. It would probably have a similar effect…

60 MPa
28 - 09 - 08

Perhaps a low-rise amphitheatre facing out to sea with a small flat stage – something sheltering from the everpresent wind where the office workers can eat their lunch and events can be staged with marquees overhead in case of bad weather?

Helene Ritchie is a complete nutter

DeepRed
28 - 09 - 08

Something multi-purpose/mixed use would be ideal for the Outer T.

As for Cr Ritchie, she comes across as one of those suburbanists who think they’re environmentalists.

Dylan Packman
28 - 09 - 08

I was in Barcelona recently and was amused to see they have an aquarium on their waterfront.

Barcelona has a great waterfront area, I reckon look to it for inspiration.

http://maps.google.co.nz/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=barcelona+aquarium&ie=UTF8&ll=41.371044,2.184691&spn=0.013494,0.027637&t=h&z=15

Nathan
28 - 09 - 08

60 MPa,

I thought we already had one of those on the southern side of the TSB Arena?

;-)

60 MPa
28 - 09 - 08

I was thinking more something to replace the soon-to-be-redesigned area in Frank Kitts park where they hold gigs – sheltered, low-rise with good natural acoustics but also involving the water so that boaties can be part of the audience too.
Those steps at the end of the TSB box remind me of the terraces at Nairnville park – fine for one occasion (rugby) and taking up a snotload of space the rest of the time. If we had a space that people were drawn to use in the centre then radiating out concentrically -including the seawater as part of its space – then wouldn’t more people get more use out of more area more of the time? At risk of engaging in architectural headwank talk, it would resemble the space left after a droplet falls.
Oh shit, I just described a skateboard bowl..

i-HATE-nimby’s
29 - 09 - 08

Suggest “big” and New Zealand subjected to convulsions of shock and horror therefore it will be more fitting to grace the waterfront with little treasures of architecture that are both contemporary and “quaint. Let’s forget about the term iconic – the true meaning of the word hasn’t reached these shores yet and NZ is not ready for something that bold and adventurous. I spotted these little gems in marvelous Melbourne and I think that they were made for Wellington’s T Wharf … links: http://www.pbase.com/enigma35/image/97746191 and http://www.pbase.com/enigma35/image/97834263

Maximus
29 - 09 - 08

Those concrete steps on the south side of the TSB – the ‘arena’ – facing south – to be honest, i have never understood what they are meant to be for. Certainly not for any lunch time sitting, as its always cold and windy there. But there isn’t even any stage sort of place in front of it – faces out to the narrowest point of the waterfront promenade – seems pointless – am i missing something? Was there meant to be a floating pontoon or something there? Currently its the complete opposite of what 60MPa is describing….

electric
29 - 09 - 08

My 2c:

By the time anything happens on this, we will be in the “oh sh!t” part of the recession, with huge unemployment and a council facing decreasing revenue and ramping social costs; I really doubt anyone will be too worried about iconic projects.

I also hope the council doesn’t spend a cool $20 million bulldozing Frank Kitts Park into a windswept empty paddock. It’s only 20 years old! They should pay down this city’s massive unsustainable debt first.

Alex
30 - 09 - 08

“Those concrete steps on the south side of the TSB”

Perhaps included in the ‘design’ of the Events Centre as an outspill that could double up as a mini grandstand for the Street race that still occurred at the time of construction.

erentz
30 - 09 - 08

Are they used during the dragon boating and other such things?

mobsta
30 - 09 - 08

“Those concrete steps on the south side of the TSB”

Designed specifically for the Dragon Boating.
Chock-a-block when the Dragon Boating is on.
A wasteland the other 362 days a year. Not very inviting at all…..

“By the time anything happens on this, we will be in the “oh sh!t” part of the recession, with huge unemployment and a council facing decreasing revenue and ramping social costs; I really doubt anyone will be too worried about iconic projects….”

My, my, electric – we are a glass half empty type person aren’t we…?
The other side of the coin is that we are on the way out now (glass half full….)

rondo
30 - 09 - 08

glass half full ? oh my my, mobsta, you’re soooo way off you’re dreaming. The world’s economy is standing right on the edge of a very large hole. Don’t look down – It’s not a glass of beer….

mobsta
30 - 09 - 08

This isn’t (and won’t be) anywhere near as disastrous as 1929. The pessimists all yelled about the end of the world then also….

That’s OK.
While the rest of you are crying into your beers, I will be looking for opportunities.

rondo
30 - 09 - 08

going to put money on that ? i wasn’t around in 1929, but i understand that it was more than just a minor inconvenience at the time, only 5 years of financial ruination…. which would tend to stop all these developer-driven schemes we see if they can’t get finance. No Aussie banks have gone bust (….yet).

Shall we meet up on this blog in a year’s time and see what the situation is like then?

mobsta
30 - 09 - 08

Absolutely.
That was my point.
1929 was major – 30% unemployment, food rationing, food stamps etc etc.
New Zealand (and most developed countries) will never, ever get anywhere that bad.
Not even in the lastest “crisis”.

I am happy to meet here in a year and compare notes.
If it is worse than it is now, I will happily meet up, bow to your greater foresight, and buy you an Emerson’s somewhere (that’s if there are any businesses left selling beer – a glass of beer might be a week’s wages…)

It is in my diary.

Maximus
1 - 10 - 08

Mobsta – don’t know how old you were in 1929 either, but my guess is : probably not alive by then, and certainly not dealing shares then. However: thing to remember is that back then (from what i understand), there were some US banks that were nation-wide. When the crash happened in Wall St, it affected not just New York, but all the banks across the USA in a series of related collapses.

Eventually, some time after the crash, America passed laws banning banks from having branches throughout the states. Therefore, in theory, nothing like that could happen again….. however, of course, these restrictive laws were “relaxed” in the 1980s and 90s, and banks were once again allowed to hold shares in other banks across the nation. And of course, banks in other countries can own shares across the boundaries as well. So the whole shemozzle is a lot more mixed up than before. For instance – Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group owns 220 Billion Yen worth of Federal National Mortgage Association stock – well, at last it did. Now it’s worth next to nothing. They were the 3rd largest bank in Japan, and the 8th largest bank in the world. Now? 220 billion yen is still a lot of dollars gone south…. about US $2 billion worth. Chicken feed to them i’m sure, but it’ll still come back to roost some time.

Banks are currently going bust, today, as we speak – in Europe and America. Asia, probably next. New Zealand will inevitably get caught up too – well we have already, as the developers go down like a lucky Strike at the Lanes.

Anyway, Mobsta – glad to hear you have dosh available to look for opportunities. Maybe take it out of the bank and keep it under the mattress in the meantime?

Ron
1 - 10 - 08

The banking system is definitely intermeshed; however at this stage at least, its easy to lose sight of the fact that all this bad debt is still largely tied to certain sectors of the US housing market, and to certain corresponding sectors of US banking. While significant, I dont think these are anywhere near to what prompted 1930’s conditions. The US currency, as is, is still doing largely ok – something that I would have significant doubts about if massive bailout plans were underway.

Even to put todays “plummet” in perspective – if you look across Wall St history, it isnt even in the top ten if you measure based on % values.

Anyway, while things are vaguely on this topic, perhaps this may be interesting, although somewhat slanted

http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2008/09/22/blame-urban-planning/

Maximus
1 - 10 - 08

interesting link, but i would argue – hopelessly wrong. Unfettering developers to give them free reign on building houses? that will solve the problems? that will stop housing from crashing? Cato, whoever / whatever it is, has got it totally about face. Slanted indeed.

There’s a massive unfettered development in Albany that is just going under – and another unfettered development in Queenstown that has gone the same way. The problem on both of them is not that there is not enough land to build on, or too many controls over developing on empty grassland. The problem is that the banks won’t loan them any more money, as they don’t have it to lend out.

rondo
1 - 10 - 08

As noted in Stuff today: Tyndall Investment Management joint equities manager Rickey Ward said.
….
“The stability of the markets has gone and you need to create some stability to get credit markets to grow and operate again.”

While a lot of talk has centred on New Zealand being relatively insulated from the turmoil, Ward doesn’t really see that – pointing to the need of our banks to raise money offshore. The volatility is meaning banks are having to borrow money at high rates and then on-lend it to New Zealand businesses at high rates.

“I don’t think we are insulated at all. I spoke to a number of corporates at the weekend who said that their biggest issue was the terms of borrowing that they now have with the banks.
……
Global market observers are now likening the current crisis to the events of 1929 that led to the Great Depression. Ward said he couldn’t recall another time of such turbulence and uncertainty.

“For me, I’ve seen short sharp shocks, but not this prolonged period of unease and uncertainty. Even 9/11 and those sorts of issues got resolved reasonably fast. This thing’s been going on for well over a year now and we are still no closer to the conclusion than we were from when we first heard about it in August last year.

“And there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight…”

Maximus
1 - 10 - 08

or, from the front page of the Dom today:
“Its not going to be like the 80s… the 89s are a mere shadow of what is unfolding now. Households are really hurting. This is going to get really ugly…. I’m talking a 1930s Great Depression-style mess rather than a 1980s-style mess.”

(from NZ shareholders association chairman Bruce Sheppard, whose glass is clearly not just less than half full, but well on its way to empty. Perhaps he had too many shares in US companies this morning?

Anyway: back to icons: this just in from Paris:
http://www.worldarchitecturenews.com/index.php?fuseaction=wanappln.projectview&upload_id=10397

“A historic shift in the French capital’s strict planning rules this summer has opened the way for the first of a series of dramatic new towers. For over thirty years Paris has laid low in the building stakes with a ban on buildings over 37 m in height brought in under Jacques Chirac’s rule when he was Mayor of Paris in 1977. But on Thursday the first tower to be built in the French capital’s inner city, following the lifting of the ban in July, was revealed.

Officials in Paris voted to lift a ban on high rise buildings in the French capital in a bid to combat the city’s housing shortage and invigorate the city’s economic status. This decision has left the path clear for 20 high-rise designs, first flaunted by the current Mayor Bertrand Delanoe in November last year and following the inauguration of President Sarkozy, to be approved.”

So, a giant 200m high pyramidical structure is proposed for Paris, and although about twice as high as the Eiffel tower – its not described as an icon. yet……

Alex
2 - 10 - 08

bummer about Paris.

Maximus
5 - 10 - 08

reasonably grim video on American house foreclosure here:
http://kcet.org/socal/2008/09/foreclosure-alley.html
In the area of Southern California the reporter is discussing, 1 out of every 2 house sales are mortgagee sales. Thank goodness we’re not over there….

Robyn
11 - 10 - 08

From the episode “On The Brandwagon“, from Jonathan Meades’ (brilliant) 2006 series “Abroad Again”.

There can be no doubt about what type of building will come to be regarded as almost pirodically representative of this age – a new type of structure characterised by its hollow vacuity, by its sculptural sensationalism, by its happy quasi-modernism and by its lack of actual utility.

And yet it possesses two definite purposes – to be instantly and arrestingly memorable; to be extraordinarily camera friendly.

He has a nice dig at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao – it succeeds as a massive sculpture on the outside, but has no relation to what’s on the inside. It could house anything – a call centre, an abattoir, a museum.

Te Papa seems to be of this era – build a massive iconic building and tourists will come! It’ll put Wellington on the map!!!

And perhaps it’s important to keep in mind that the Sydney Opera House was commissioned not as a city icon but as a much needed performance facility. The whole icon thing was a happy side-effect. That’s where the focus needs to be with the outer T space.

Let form follow function.

M-D
18 - 11 - 08

I never think of myself as an icon. What is in other people’s minds is not in my mind. I just do my thing.

Audrey Hepburn