The Eye of the Fish

Maximus
October 24, 2011

Whither Cuba?

Gosh – that was a surprise! Our venerated local broadsheet, el Domino Postale, appears to have gone and written an excellent, thoughtful article on what we need to do with Cuba St. Have they got a new reporter perhaps, one who is actually interested in matters more important than cute doggies or cats stuck up trees? There is hope, at least – keep an eye out on Nikki McDonald. The article raises some serious points, which I think that we have also raised before – what to do with a street whose charm lies in it’s eclectic collection of semi derelict buildings?

Christchurch, as the article points out, is our wake up call. Yes yes, Cashel St did all fall down and now is no more, but the argument that therefore Cuba Street’s oldest buildings are all death traps does not necessarily hold the most water. Yes, some 24 people died in Cashel, but need anyone be reminded that most of Christchurch’s dead were killed in the most modern, CNC building? Tacky, distasteful, yes, to even have to state this, but the modern era, eccentric core buildings that killed so savagely in Canterbury are just as prevalent up here in Wellville. It will still be some time before our esteemed band of structural Engineers finish up their conclusions to their Royal Commission report, but we all know already that they are going to find that it was the soft storey on the ground floor, or the feeble cracked perimeter columns on the CNC that finished that building off.

Do we have any such nasty buildings here in Wellington? Surely not, I hear you say? But yes, we do, and while they may not be so feeble, they could still collapse in a Big One. So: let’s not be so squeamish about talking about death: it’s going to bite us all one day. Civil Defence estimates that the death toll from an 8.0ish quake in Wellington could take 500-600 lives.

Inevitably, some of Wellington’s more small minded citizens just want to demolish everything old – “The heritage is nice when it’s not trying to land on your head. Most of these “heritage” buildings are deathtraps waiting for a moderately strong earthquake to happen. Most buildings in Cashel mall that collapsed weren’t even nice to look at, and may of Cuba street buildings at risk are the same. Bowl down the old shaddy crap and put in proper new buildings. Safety and functionality are surely more important. New can be cool and funky too if build properly.” remarks The Riddler in the online Stuff comments on the article above, but I’m afraid I disagree – you just can’t replace the old stuff. Buildings like Ernestos, the Bristol, the Albemarle, the Workingmens Club – you really just can’t ever replace that. We are likely to be just left with a mountain of ugly crappy buildings, if the Riddler was to be followed, like this hunk of ugliness:

It really is true – we just can’t build them like that any more.
But one thing is for certain – it is a lot easier to strengthen them while they are still standing up, than when they are horizontal and turned to dust, as Cantabrians have discovered. We really do need to find a method for saving our existing built heritage fabric while we can – we need to do strengthen them now, rather than wait for the quake to make it all too late. I suspect that therefore what we really need right now is discussion between building owners and the Council, on how we are going to do it. Whether it is tax relief, or rates rebates, or zero GST on heritage, or public private partnerships, or offering heritage development incentives, or offsetting development levy contributions, or incentivizing inner city redevelopments that retain heritage and destroy ugly modern monsters – there are hundreds of ways to keep those old buildings in play. But the time to start is now.

Brenda
24 - 10 - 11

It’s been done before – see this video “Hometown Boomtown” for an astonishing insight into the demolition of so many Wellington buildings in the 70s and 80s. http://www.nzonscreen.com/title/hometown-boomtown-1983-342

Maximus
25 - 10 - 11

Brenda – yes it has, but my point is that we need to work out ways to stop it happening again, on a massive, destructive scale. Cuba St owes it’s special charm not just to it’s special people, it’s lack of cars, it’s sunny lunchtime nature, but also to it’s architecture. And it is the architecture, ramshackle and run down as it is, that gives rise to the cheap rents that allow the offbeat shops that encourage the punters…. Lose the buildings and you lose the businesses and you lose the people and you lose the place. It’s all in this together….

davidp
25 - 10 - 11

My prediction of a modern-ish building most likely to fall over in an earthquake: The building with Access Radio in it on the corner of Marion and Vivian Sts. It just doesn’t look right. I’ll also be amazed if the raised section of motorway doesn’t crush everything below it.

Maximus
25 - 10 - 11

Davidp – you’re damn right about that one – Rostrevor House. As prone to a good bellyflop as, as, as a very fat man in a pair of budgie smugglers. I believe they (inhabitants) have been warned, and in return they launched a lawsuit saying it wasn’t. Who do you want to pay money to – Engineers who know what they are talking about, and who will save your ass in the case of a quake; or a bunch of legal beagles who haven’t a clue, and may / may not have a point.?

The one in question in the Cuba St article however, is Ernestos – the old HB building on corner of Ghuznee and Cuba. It’s been almost condemned, yet seems to have a good strong concrete frame, almost everywhere, except, as it turns out, right in the corner of the street. Almost like someone cut out a column in days gone by….

starkive
27 - 10 - 11

The one that baffles me is the 60-Minute Dry Cleaner further up Cuba – you know, the lime green one with the fantastically grumpy proprietors. It’s one story high, appears to be timber framed with some stucco icing over it and has been red stickered. With all the three-storey brick facades up and down the street, I can’t imagine why this one has been singled out for particular attention. Something to do with its landlord’s combative relationship with the world?

Maximus
27 - 10 - 11

Starkive – yes, it is a little odd, but my guess: probably an unreinforced brick boundary wall between it and the next building at the very least. But really, that building is on borrowed time. It’s old, tired, has no visible good points, and should just have a dozer put through it at a moments notice. Of course, I don’t want that attitude to prevail to ALL of Cuba St. But it is not the worlds biggest loss if it should go…
Now, have you heard about the building on the other side of the road yet? I wonder if I can leak that yet?

Seamonkey Madness
28 - 10 - 11

Ooh, I love a good bit of ambergris!

Maximus
29 - 10 - 11

Really? By which you mean the smelly secretion from the head of a sperm whale, used in the manufacture of exotic perfumes last century, or do you refer to something else?

Seamonkey Madness
31 - 10 - 11

Hey, us Seamonkeys can’t be choosy. We take whatever the fish spews forth, smelly or nay.

starkive
3 - 11 - 11

Well… where’s the leak, chum?

Julian
3 - 11 - 11

The CTV building (not sure where you came up with CNC) was designed in the 1970s and built in 1986. The other major building to collapse, the PGC building, was built in the early 1960s for the Drainage Board and sits right on the banks of the Avon. Neither were that new and weren’t designed to stay up in an earthquake. There are a lot of buildings in Wellington in the same situation. If you have a look at the WCC’s list, I think you’ll be surprised. I think I saw BP House on the list. It’s not just a Cuba Street issue, although the lack of investment there over a long period of time might explain the long list of hazardous dumps along there.

Maximus
4 - 11 - 11

Julian, you’re right – sorry, I meant CTV, not CNC (Christian News Channel, which may not have anything to do with it). Yes, there are a lot of Wellington buildings on that list – but predominately in two main areas – Cuba St and Courtenay Place. I’ve been meaning to do something on this for ages, but you know how it is, the little fishes need feeding…

Starkive, You know that “chum” is an expression used in Jaws to describe a mixture of chopped up Fish to attract the sharks… …don’t you? Anyway, its on its way, eventually. Don’t get too excited – or hold your breath – tis only a small snippet. I have bigger fish to fry….

davidp
4 - 11 - 11

This isn’t relevant to the topic being discussed. Altho if I really tried I could probably work it in to a “catastrophic failure” theme. But…

Has anyone else seen the wooden wharf buffer that runs between the Hikitia and the Leaning Bloke? It’s normally pretty flush against the concrete wharf deck, but now it is on a lean with sections standing out up to a meter from the deck. It is moving backward and forward about 30cm with waves sort of running along the entire length like a giant slinky spring.

I’d put money on it not being there tomorrow morning if we have a stormy night.

Maximus
4 - 11 - 11

I’ll take your money honey…. i reckon it is designed that way, and will still be there for years to come…

starkive
6 - 11 - 11

I am familiar with the meaning of “chum” you cite, but still wondering if this is just a case of bait-and-switch.

Eye of the Fish | A wide-angle view of architecture, urban design and life in Wellington
21 - 11 - 11

[…] while we were talking about the curious case of the Demolition Order placed on the little green Dry Cleaners in Cuba St, I took […]