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.


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?


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.


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.


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!!