The Eye of the Fish

October 8, 2009

South Coast Surfs Up

Further Update: Council meeting to discuss this issue, from 7.30 to 9.30 on 22 October, at St Catherine’s College Hall – 14 Upper Bourke Street, Kilbirnie….
Although not an overly frequent frequenter to the suburbs, there is a certain feeling about being by the beach that we quite like: if we weren’t an urban blog, we’d be a seaside blog. Lyall Bay, home of Wellington’s best surf break, and a special spot for windsurfing and kite boarding, is a virtual paradise right on the edge of the capital city. At the edge of the Cook Straight, at times civilised, at other times wild beyond redemption, Lyall Bay is a fantastic place to be in the ‘burbs. In short, the Fish liked to dine at the Maranui Cafe.

I liked their logo, I liked their snappy graphics, I liked the way you had to join up and become a member in a giant book, I loved their square stumpy yet oddly nicely proportioned building, I loved their eggs on Sunday morning, and most of all, I liked the rowdy atmosphere with the semi-tamed view of an un-tamable ocean.

But now it’s gone, burnt to a crisp, and the City Council won’t pay to have it repaired. Or is that really the case? There’s certainly a lot of squealing coming from the Cafe aficionados like me, who really really really want to sit beside the sea, have a cup of your favourite hot stuff, and shovel down some primo food of a weekend. But curiously the building is still standing, still looking pretty much like a totally salvageable situation. So what gives?

As usual, it seems to be a case of petty politics, squabbling neighbours, and a bad case of poxy PR by the Council. Have we learnt nothing from the saga of the Chocolate Fish Cafe, where the Council got tarred with the brush of “the bad guy” when it was not really that at all?

The neighbouring building just a short shrift away is the Lyall Bay Surf Club, who presumably must be mortal enemies of the Maranui Surf Club, seeing as they share the same stretch of beach, and who have not got nearly as tall, interesting, or, let’s face it, an ‘iconic’ building as does Maranui. (While we’re their, is it just me, or is the surf club name miss-spelt? Shouldn’t it be Maraenui with an E in the middle? But let’s not go down that Michael Laws route to nasty pettiness). The Lyalls currently live in this dullish looking building:
No – wait – that’s the Toilets and Changing Rooms – the Lyall’s building is even more crap and boring and embarrassing to be seen in:
No wonder they desparately want to upgrade it. They chose ArcHaus to propose a new building for them (just how DO those guys get all the work in town?) which looked like this:
The architects ArcHaus have said this:

The proposal for a new club house for Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club creates efficient and purposed built spaces to meet the future needs of the club. The new club house will replace the existing club house and contains storage areas, changing facilities, a patrol/first aid room and training/lounge areas on two levels. It enables the club to continue its important service to the public of providing surf life guarding to the Lyall Bay beach. The two main purposes of the club, patrolling/life saving on the beach and providing training and storage facilities for its members manifest in the proposed concept of the new club house.

The new building for Lyall Bay SLSC is made up of two main volumes, one for the storage area and one for the other club spaces such as changing facilities, training room and lounge. Each volume is distinctively different in materials and textures and reflects the spaces contained within. The storage area is facing west, extending the footprint of the current building towards the No. 2 building. The club volume sits to the east and rests partly on the storage area. The difference in width further distinguishes the two volumes and creates entrance points into the building.

A third volume sits between the two main parts, creating the centre and the heart of the new club house and providing the vertical circulation. This volume acts as a focal point in the design. It contains the generously glazed entrance lobby which opens up the club towards the promenade and the city to the north, allowing the public to see the activities of the club and engage with it. This volume cantilevers out towards the beach and forms the patrol and first aid room in a prime position. It offers an ideal and elevated vantage point for the surf guards and creates a strong visual element indicating to the public that this area of the beach is being monitored by the club.

The club area is clad in glazed clay tiles in various colours creating a vibrant and innovative external envelope reflecting the active and energetic nature of the surf club. This will positively enhance the surrounding areas and create a new focal point on Lyall Bay beach.

Anyhow: it got the thumbs down from the Council in terms of funding, and now the Council are in a quandry. Some more images of the currently shelved ArcHaus project:
and a close-up with some great rock climby things – although do you really need it with the beach just there?
while mean time, there is this lovely but redundant old building, that looks like it should be public toilets, but I don’t think is, although people still pee there anyway. It’s all dreadfully confusing.

But meantime, the Cafe sits untended. The DomPost newspaper has noted that:

Operators of the fire-damaged Maranui Cafe have called for the building to be repaired as soon as possible but their request has been knocked back by Wellington City Council. The council has proposed replacing four buildings fronting the beach with one large building that could include a cafe.

Representatives from Maranui Surf Life Saving Club met council officers yesterday to discuss options for the building, which has been closed since it was badly damaged by fire in August. Club chairman Peter Clark said the proposed building was a long-term vision that was separate from the damaged building – home to the cafe and surf club.

“The council needs to step up and fix the building. We need to have our building back up and running as soon as possible.”

But the Council isn’t really being the bad boy here. They know that the Cafe is a mega drawcard for the beach. They’re desperate to get it back open again. It brings locals to the beach, it attracts tourists to the city, it almost replaces the Chocolate Fish in it’s by-the-beach coolness (but not quite: nothing really can). There is all sorts of nasty creepy insurance bullshit going on – apparently a half mill worth of damage to restore it, but honestly, half of Wellington would join in with a weekend working bee if we could get it back open by Christmas. Just do it. There’s no point to the Council messing around with petty politics now, there needs to be some snappy decisions made now. Right now. Before this bad situation gets even worse. And if I was in charge, I’d do this:
1. Get the insurers to pay up and restore the Maranui building immediately, and this time put a sprinkler system in.
2. Get an architect to design another building, to cope with bus shelters and public toilets, and if they want to be kind, the Lyalls as well.
3. There is no 3. That’s really the only thing to do, isn’t it? So why are we waiting?

Oh – and just one more thing: to whomsoever might design the new buildings: take a word from Baywatch on the design of a surf club.
Rule number 1: don’t spoil the view of the beach. Get it up on legs. Really.

Post script. As always, Tom Scott has the best lines – and today his is very apt:

Beached as
8 - 10 - 09

Maranui = “big beach” = the original Maori name for Lyall Bay.

8 - 10 - 09


8 - 10 - 09

Manifests itself in the design, I presume they mean.

And my bad re the spelling. Mara Nui makes a lot of sense as big beach, while I was thinking more of big village

so what do you think of the building?

8 - 10 - 09

None of the buildings are great works of ‘heritage’ in any respect really, just run down bits of architectural detritus washed up on the foreshore. Demo them all including the Maranui and start again.

8 - 10 - 09

I could see what they were trying to say – I thought their use of ‘manifest’ was poor; yet another example of architects abusing the English language for their own ends. The design of this building is suburban abuse. It’s simply appalling and shouldn’t be built at any cost (or subsidy). The four existing buildings, while not the same, are similar and provide an excellent precedent for any future building. This multi-coloured over-tiled toilet block is an abomination and would be on any landscape, let alone this prime piece of coast.

My understanding of the quandary the council finds itself in is that having declined $500,000 to the Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club they can’t easily stump up with the same amount for the insurance excess for Maranui. I expect the massive excess is due to the fact that the council probably does not insure (or self-insures) its own buildings and pays for any claims out of its (our) coffers.

The idea of replacing all four buildings with one is ludicrous. The charm these buildings have is in their singularity and the relationship they form with each other. A single building would wipe that out and be a blight on the beachscape. Lyall Bay Parade is an excellent promenade and we should be hesitant about building anew here at all. Even without the disputed effects of climate change, this part of the south coast is vulnerable to extreme weather and is hardly conducive to building.

Didn’t the citizens get up in arms about building a marine centre on the seaward side of the road? One wonders how many of them were patrons of Maranui and are now batting for the other side.

With regard to your idea of a working bee – perhaps it is time for those working souls who enjoyed the Tradesman’s breakfast at such a cheap price to make an entrance…

8 - 10 - 09

To be fair to Tom Scotts cartoon, the old maranui building was featureless and generic: the only ‘unique’ feature was that it just happened to be there for ages.

The background of this story is a seemingly massive mix of complex relationships between the council, the cafe and the insurers. As I understand:

the council owns the surf lifesaving club building
the council insured it, with a 0.5million excess
the council rented the building to the lifesaving club (before it had an established cafe) for low rents, based on it being a non-profit club
the cafe developed, became popular, rents stayed the same
building burnt down.

In my mind, its not the councils responsibility to get the building back up and running quickly. Moreover, if the above facts are true, its outrageous for the club/cafe to suggest so. I dont think $500,000 worth of rates should be given to bailout a popular cafe and its now ancillary club function. The cafe should have fronted for its own insurance, like any other business. The WCC is well within its rights to delay action in order to consider an option that would provide outcomes that would appease all involved, rather than pander to a cafe that profited off the council’s goodwill.

Create a new building the incorporates cafe space, club space and the other needed amenities. Design it be sympathetic to the site and the heritage. Offer the space back to the cafe at realistic rents. If they dont take up the offer, someone else will.

Beached as
8 - 10 - 09

I actually rather like the Archaus proposal, though I understand that as it progressed the colour scheme got toned down a little. It strikes a balance between pure modernist form and playfulness, and I thought that was quite appropriate for the site and use. C’mon, Honeywood, live a little!

8 - 10 - 09

“Design it be sympathetic to the site and the heritage” – best candidate for a Tui billboard in the thread thus far…

As a resident of LBay until quite recently, I can say that Maranui, within a few weeks of opening, quickly became filled with the same suburban set of quasi-urbanites that ruin most inner city cafes (I mean really, do the women really need to wear that amount of make-up when ‘brunching’, and do their male partners really have to wear such ‘fitting’ t-shirts when they are so obviously past their prime…). That’s fine and all that, I don’t mean to be a protectionist of local ‘resources’ (actually, I probably do), but it did mean with all that inter-suburban travel, that vehicular traffic along the ‘promenade’ was more than slightly overbearing, and the rows of cars waiting to snaffle the next car park just plain tedious. So, if I was still a resident, the fact that it burnt down would be relatively meaningless – as I never bothered to go there – in fact, I might even celebrate its demise (the building is another thing entirely).

“The idea of replacing all four buildings with one is ludicrous. The charm these buildings have is in their singularity and the relationship they form with each other. A single building would wipe that out and be a blight on the beachscape. Lyall Bay Parade is an excellent promenade and we should be hesitant about building anew here at all. ” — couldn’t agree more…

8 - 10 - 09

Don’t worry, I live, a lot… But this is a bad building. Why? Let’s see…
1 Its disrespectful. It pays no heed to its context, a worn, salty stretch of coast, beaten into submission by a violent ocean. The existing weatherboard buildings (and houses across the road) stand up to this kind of treatment, accepting the temporal nature of the location. This building ignores 9at its peril0 all this.
2 It thinks blue is good because it is trying to be the colour of the sea and the sky. Except the sea and sky around here is grey and washed out. Look at all the houses across the road (the architects clearly didn’t – one wonders if they even visited the site) and you will see muted colours that understand and reflect the environment.
3 It thinks it is an apartment building in Ghuznee Street. It is absurd that Archaus should take an inner city form, drop it by the ocean and expect it t work. It doesn’t.
None of my observations have anything to do with how well (or if) I live. I calls it like I sees it.

8 - 10 - 09

Some well spoken words amongst you lot, that seem to understand the clear divisions here that the public and the mainstream media cannot. You are right to clearly separate the functions of Cafe and Club. And equally correct when you say we need to be careful what gets built here at all.

As a rough summary, the only buildings that absolutely have to be on the beach side are the 2 life saving clubs. Can’t have them waiting to cross the road while someone drowns. Things like Cafes and WCs can be and arguably should be situated on the other side of the road.

8 - 10 - 09

Toilets on the other side of the road too? And Changing rooms? That won’t work. Some nice discrete changing sheds set down like the Arch Workshop ones at Oriental Bay would do well just over the sea wall here.

Re the Cafe, there are definitively some people in the press confusing the quality of the building with the quality of food and coffee. Different issues people! See the Wellingtonian today for a classic.

8 - 10 - 09

Greetings – rather than the Council wading in to rescue its own reputation and honour re this debate, I think it’s apt to say that the above thread pretty much encapsulates the complexities of the debate relating to the fire, the Maranui building, the heritage listing, the cafe, the two surf clubs, the three other neighbouring buildings and the future of the beach in general.
We have to say that Tom Scott has knocked out yet another pithy and memorable cartoon – but has opted for the cheap shot rather than pausing to try to digest all the issues. And I’m sure the Council’s groovy town planners are not well-pleased to be portrayed enmasse as some sort of snake-oil salesman with a hospital orderly’s jacket, geek glasses and a US military buzzcut. Hmmm.
Anyway – anyone interested should pencil in 22 October for a public meeting. Time and venue to be confirmed – but the venue will most certainly not be one of the three unburnt buildings on the beach because they’re all way too small…
Richard MacLean – WCC Communications

8 - 10 - 09

Lovely image there Richard of the Council as some sort of delicate maiden whose honour and virtue is at stake

8 - 10 - 09

the maranui building is a wonderful piece of our art deco surfside heritage.. those of you who have visited this country’s small towns will feel great warmth for this unique art deco/modernist sub plot. it would be a shame to loose it to yet another arc haus urban box (woo hoo, it’s blue… there’s a change). yes tom scott is firing a cheap shot at the council.. but it’s a shot that needs to be taken.

i have only been to the cafe perhaps twice, i have no great love for it. but the building is a work of art.

the other two on the other hand.. if only they had burned to the ground… sigh

Mr Spanky
9 - 10 - 09

Art Deco ? No. Three square forms and a flowing script, all done out of weatherboard, does not a Deco make. Modernist box sub-plot maybe, but really, there’s no real heritage in those bones. Certainly more cutely proportioned than the others, I’ll give you that, but to be brutally honest, the only aspect of heritage was in the photos of old surf clubs inside.

I don’t for a minute belive that it would cost 3/4 of a mill to repair, but if it does: pull it down and start again.

9 - 10 - 09

…it doesn’t have to be good architecture, or even a good representative of it’s ‘style’ in order qualify heritage listing…

9 - 10 - 09

Missing out a few little words doesn’t really help in the making sense stakes does it…

…it doesn’t have to be good architecture, or even a good representative of it’s ’style’ in order for it to qualify for heritage listing…

That is to say, it can have heritage significance for other reasons, including community significance and other such woolly concepts…

9 - 10 - 09

But then again there is that whole Japanese Temple thing, where the whole temple gets rebuilt every 20 years, and yet overall the temple is 400 years old.

In a building like the Maranui, the significant cost in rebuilding will be because of the difficulty in cutting out burnt material like studs etc. Better to just “pull it down and start again”? – Mr Spanky, you may be right

12 - 10 - 09

Maximus – just to confirm: the public meeting is booked for 22 October; 7.30pm – 9.30pm at St Catherine’s College Hall – 14 Upper Bourke Street, Kilbirnie.
Richard MacLean – WCC Ext Comms

22 - 10 - 09

Discussion now continued (hopefully) on the new posting: