We’re not huge fans of suburban living here at the Fish: something to do with the endless parades of naff housing, behoodied lowlife at the suburban shops, sullen teenage mothers pushing prams full of squealing brats, the sound of Masports mowing like a thousand angry crickets, and lastly but not least the lack of decent suburban facilities. If you want something more elaborate than an out of date carton of milk, or a 6 pack of cans of bourbon and coke: you’re pretty much stiff out of luck.


NaeNae gets trotted out at regular intervals as an example of Mr Plishke getting his suburban centre groove on in the Hutt: when the truth is that it is a woefully neglected retail disaster zone with zero interest for anything other than the local tagging crews. No wonder that the locals get in their big-bore Subarus and travel into central Welly, to entertain us inner city livers with their musical accompaniment of exhaust tones and melodious wheelspins: while we attempt to entertain our livers with genial concoctions of the red grape of merlot.

Newlands suburban shopping centre is even worse than NaeNae by many standards: tantalising close to Wellington, the shopping centre (shown above) is worse than virtually anywhere else in the region: about 6 shops (Fush and Chups, Dairy, Emergency condom supplies, and off-license), some more closed down, with a large tarmac spin-out pad parking lot, and an architectural value quotient of precisely zero. I’m sure that there are many happy Newlanites / Newlandiers that love it precisely for its unpretensionness: however to me it is hell on earth (but with a nice view from some parts). However: all that has recently changed.


Although there is really not much hope for the Suburban Centre itself, other than to bulldoze it into well-deserved oblivion, just around a corner from the shops is a brand new building by CCM architects – brought to our attention by Ben Pujji – who describes himself as a ‘big fan and follower’ of the Eye of the Fish. We’re not sure if he lives in Newlands or works for CCM – but regardless, thanks for bringing it to our attention. It stands out in Newlands like a beacon of hope, not the least because of the giant ‘shocking pink’ inner walls of the upper floor, but also because it appears as though someone has taken care and attention to details – not something that has ever been leveled at this suburban centre before.


It is, to coin a vastly over-worked phrase, an almost iconic structure – in fact, I’m sure our Mayor Kerry would have loved to use that word when she opened the centre a few short months ago. The monstrously pinked-up upper floor and its massively over-sized labial papal verandah are a curious fixture, rearing up like a platform from which to declare matters of civic importance to the good burghers of Newlands: but it sadly faces away from the not-so-good burger shops and instead addresses what I can only presume to be pensioner housing.


This building is the right way round for the street, but it’s such a minor street that it really is the wrong way round for the greater good of Newlands (if there is such a thing). The pinkness that is the balcony draws you in to see what is on the balcony – it shouts out its self-importance in a feat of architectural naughtiness – while the truth seems to be that there is nothing there to shout at: no-one there to shout to. And while I love it as a massive gesture, a shout-out to the locals and a stake in the ground for the locals to react to, I hope there is more going on behind the scenes.


And no, before you ask: I can’t read the labels either. The plans are from the Arch Daily website, where CCM have posted a lot of information, including the individual architects involved: well done to Richard Almand, Guy Cleverley, Dongsei Kim, and Thanh Ngyuen.


There was a wedding or birthday party of sorts going on inside when I passed by in the weekend, and so I could not swim inside for a peek behind the glazed entry. It’s a large box from the outside, so I went to the interwebz to find out what is behind the walls. The Council website notes that :

“Council designers worked with the Newlands Community Reference Group to come up with the ideal concept for the facility. It will include a toy library, cyber library, meeting rooms, performance space, an outdoor half-court and facilities for young people. The designers also planned ahead to ensure the centre can be modified in future for any unanticipated technological trends or other needs that the community may require…. ….The multi-purpose centre on Batchelor Street has been open to the public since November. It is regularly used by up to 20 community groups, including ESOL, sewing and fitness classes, toastmasters and a play group.”


So, overall, it’s a damn good thing to have – pumping life into a somewhat moribund community shopping centre, and giving room for a number of worthy neighbourhood activities. It’s well-built and rather rugged – although there seems to be no logical purpose to the massive verandah (who do you wave to from the verandah? There is nowhere for huge crowds of adoring well-wishers to congregate outside, if that was the purpose). There is an anchor from the Wahine bizarrely stranded outside next to a lone cabbage tree – my knowledge of outer residential Wellington is pretty shaky but I’m reasonably certain that the ship didn’t wash up near here.

My only real criticism: why only a half-court? It always seems such a disappointment to me when landscape designers only put in one hoop – thereby always stopping the chance of an actual game of ball. And the picnic tables are asphalted into place, awash in a sea of un-picnic-like black tar, and thereby unable to be moved to gain a full court. Is this some anti-competitive thing? Seems to me that it would stifle any real ability at b-ball to be unleashed. But apart from that, it has to be said: Newlands has at last taken a step towards being a place to be: at last it has a chance to be a New Land.

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