Category | Architecture

The Christchurch Orphans

I want to write about the orphans of Christchurch architecture that I documented in January this year, just weeks prior to the February earthquake. By orphans I’m referring to heritage buildings that individually don’t deserve attention, but that in unison create `character’ in the area. These buildings are often given a Category 3 or 4 classification if they are registered with the Historic Places Trust. What this means is that they create a “sense of place’, (a planning term) and a connection with the city’s Victorian past. However as a result of the earthquake, the damaged survivors of this group might quietly disappear altogether.

One of the good things about being freelance is that when you get called to crew on a sailing ship, sometimes you can say yes. On January 20th I jumped aboard Mattijs’ boat Tardis III and made my way down to Christchurch the old-fashioned way; by wind and by a motor that leaked gas into the cabin where I spent most of the trip horizontal. I never quite recovered from the gale that blew us through the straight. But the arms of the harbour welcomed us early Saturday morning, and a few Lyttelton lights twinkled.
I was relieved to moor at Diamond Harbour, Banks Peninsula for engine repairs, (and the hospitality of Anne and Jim Thornton, grandparents of one of the crew.) I stayed a night at their idyllic house on the bluff, with a view back to Tardis III and the port beyond. Anne discovered my interest in heritage architecture and kindly handed me phone numbers, books, maps, bus timetables and newspaper clippings.

The next day I said goodbye to the crew, and caught the ferry to Lyttelton. I saw how the historic port village had weathered the earthquake in September and took coffee in a cafe on Oxford Street. Inside was a blend of blackened weatherboards, old photographs, designer chairs and the posters of vanished Wellington bands. Lyttelton is enriched by living close to its past and it’s not precious about it. Weeks later a 6.3 earthquake was centred under the town, and the same cafe featured in a photograph taken by Jason South for the Sydney Morning Herald. (on the right, above). Other causalities included the Time Ball Station, the Lyttelton Lounge building, the old library and post office, the museum, the Lyttelton Times building, the Canterbury Hotel, the Forbes building, the Royal Hotel and the Harbour Light Theatre.
In 1850, the settlers from the First Four Ships climbed over the notoriously steep Bridle Path to found the city of Christchurch on the plains. My arrival was also painfully slow via the number 28 bus. I alighted as soon as I saw a landslide of brick on a corner of Manchester Street. Without strengthening many brick buildings had gaping holes, but as well as the earthquake damage their condition spoke of aimless years of seedy adult shops and antique dealers. They had been neglected, then vacated and fenced off after the first quake, and now these orphaned Victorian streetscapes are in ruins, as photographed by Martin Hunter, Getty images (on the right, below).

It was difficult to find any professional opinions on the fate of these less important buildings. I visited a disheartened Robin Gibbs at the historic places trust; the Boxing Day aftershock had resulted in more demolition consents for her to process. She gave me a street map marking the worst affected areas, which I used as a guide. Architect and heritage advocate Peter Beavan wasn’t in his attic office in the Provincial Chambers, but in the article titled `Beavan’s bold view for a city,’ The Press, January 26th, were his opinions about restoring Victorian streetscapes for mixed-use development.
I was expecting wide, empty shopping streets and a lonely crossing of the square, but as I walked into the central city, I joined a stream of tourists and sporty looking people in wheelchairs. The Buskers festival and the Special Olympics were on in the same week. I was never lonely. When I got tired of photographing one injured building after another, I would flop down in the sun with everyone else to be entertained. The international performers got the tentative crowds enjoying their public spaces again and laughing at themselves (and also at middle aged white men who couldn’t dance).
I wandered. Across the road from the supermarket zone I saw yet another corner hotel in a green shroud, but this one had a For Lease sign. In the darkness I saw steel strengthening on the inside walls. Ian the builder explained that this was in fact put in after the quake, but because the building was sitting in a dug out trench it had been able to flex. The upstairs was open and light and contained Merve Cooper, the owner, a retired builder who had the grit to work through two major earthquakes.

I got the whole story, so I guess there are benefits to being a skirt on a building site. The Grosvenor Hotel was built in 1870 and was previously owned but neglected by the neighbouring polytechnic. Sometime in the 1970’s it gained a `sweatband’ of concrete that wrapped around the original moulded cornice. This was ugly, but held the building together during the earthquake. The building had a category 3 rating, which allowed Merve to remodel, rather than restore. He gutted the interior partition walls and stairwells to create an open plan multi-use space. He then inserted a masonry core stairwell, plywood floor & ceiling diaphragms, poured a polished concrete ground floor and applied a waterproof plaster layer over original exterior brickwork. And all done to budget.
Owners like Merve develop for the love of it. They also have strength of character. This bridges the gap between the cost of the reconstruction and the value of the completed building. There is no incentive for restoration available from the Government in New Zealand, and our Historic Places Trust is just a regulatory body, and so offers no financial assistance. The current restrictive council requirements for quake-strengthening, combined with heritage preservation standards, pose a risk to character buildings. And if they’re not registered with the trust, they can be easily demolished for their speculative land value.
After the site visit, Merve whisked me away by car for an overview of heritage buildings in what was, in his words “the best city in New Zealand”. They were damaged, but he was optimistic that they would be repaired. We then had a cup of tea in the boardroom of his family’s new mall, and I pored through the original photographs and drawings of the hotel.
After the February earthquake I searched online for the iconic buildings of Merve’s tour. Among the fallen were the former University buildings, the Knox Church, Christchurch Girls High School, the Oxford Street Baptist Church, and the Provincial hotel.. I later spoke to Merve as he was waiting for his heritage approved paint to dry. His pragmatic approach had guaranteed the standing of the hotel for at least another 50 years.

I returned to Wellington from Christchurch by train. In the travel section of the Wellington library images of `English Christchurch’ and Merve’s hotel could be seen in `A Picture Book of Old Canterbury,’ Ken Coates, Halina Ogonowska-Coates.’ The city was rapidly planned in a new world modified grid pattern, financed by the coal and wool boom of the 1860’s and 70’s. Eric Pawson wrote of the colonial habit of calling the swamps `wasteland’ in his article `Confronting Nature’, included in the book `Southern Capital Christchurch.’. It explained how Edward Gibbon Wakefield and the founders of the Canterbury settlement, who included Anglican ministers, worked on a bias between the `barbarism’ of the `wastelands’ and the `civilisation’ of a chief town.
I was intrigued by a map of these natural wetlands that had been drained to create significant flatlands. This made me think of liquefaction problems even at the time.

I was contemplating going back down to Christchurch for a second visit around the time of the February earthquake. Then I got involved in set-dressing a shipping container for the Performance Arcade, a public art event on the waterfront, curated by Sam Trubridge of the playground Collective. The evening of the earthquake, the bicycle powered chandelier of Marcus McShane’s work `Nag’ looked so homely against the sky and the city that it drew in a group of Christchurch refugees who asked if they could stay the night. That weekend I had the opportunity to show slides of my visit at the Pecha Kucha evening held in the arcade, and so perhaps bring the Wellington audience closer to the event.
It’s reported that about 800, or roughly half of Christchurch’s heritage buildings, have been red stickered, many of which I managed to capture during my visit. Some were strengthened, but then got red stickered because neighbouring buildings were badly damaged. Owners who had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars are holding vigil against the clean-up. They face Gerry Brownlee’s comments to “pull the old dungas down,” and some are not informed of demolition until it is too late.

The ruined brick buildings of Christchurch reminded me of the images of the Napier ’31 earthquake I had seen on class trips to the museum there. Students from the University of Auckland were among the architects called in to help re-build the city, and they championed the Art Deco style. It was strange and modern, but must have been convincing as a cost-effective solution whose smooth surfaces were free of deadly decoration. Back then a moratorium was placed on the rebuilding of any business premises until further notice, in order to allow time for the rational planning of a new CBD for Napier, written about in an article by R. McGregor, 1998.
Global cities gain their culture through a process of natural growth and adaptation. Perhaps it would be rational before wildly red-stickering, to find out if there are any heritage streets that remain mostly intact. It may be the case that on some streets in central Christchurch only one or two buildings in a row need the attention of reconstruction. Reconstruction provides skilled craftsmen with an income, which in turn helps the local economy. And for the streets that are beyond saving, we should take the time to reflect on the qualities they possessed in their lifetime: proportion, decoration, human scale, individuality and variation and soaring ceilings that you could really dream in.

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The Unaccounted

A cross-posting to re:speak, but there’s a freerange under-current to my thoughts on the survey below, which documents the trajectory of architecture graduates in New Zealand who seem to be disappearing from the coutnries official Register of Architects.

Some background to familiarise you with the architecture profession in NZ.  In NZ, practicing as an Architect (to design, document, consult on, manage contracts with, administer contracts, and supervise the construction of buildings) is legally protected by the Registered Architects Act (2005), which essentially ensures that Registered Architects comply to ethical, professional and quality standards in their practice, ensuring that when you employ a Registered Architect (or simply ‘Architect’ -which is also covered by this Act) you can expect a professional service (like a registered Nurse, licensed Doctor or Lawyer, etc etc).  You can of course participate in the construction and design of the built environment without being a registered architect, and there are organisations which represent these designers (like ADNZ, Architectural Designers New Zealand Inc) -but like I say, you can’t call yourself an Architect.  Anyhow, if say, like me, you get the idea you want to be an architect when you grow up, and your twelve, you study physics and maths, and maybe design, or art, at highschool, and you look at going to one of our three schools, because to become an Architect, you need to get a recognised Degree (now a Masters of Architecture -used to be a 5yr Bachelor Degree) from an accredited programme (accredited by the Australasian Architecture Schools Association, who are in line with the International Union of Architects – but the whole accreditation thing is another story – needless to say, they have to tick their disciplinary boxes.   So, with your degree in-hand, and presuming you still want to be an Architect [this is where my story deviates], you must prepare yourself for the Registration Examination, which grants you the coveted place on the Register.  A prerequisite for this exam is at least 140 hours of practice experience, all categorised/allotted across a number of areas of competency (and there are MANY), and other documented cases which exemplify your skills and capability of being an architect, and you have to satisfy a committee at interview, and you have to have some money to pay for the application fee (incidentally, this fee tripled recently).  Anyway, if you employ a Registered Architect, they are guaranteed to be an on-to-it muthafucka.

So the discussion below is based around a survey recently published which looks at the activity of architecture graduates and the architects register for the last 20 years, as well as looking at gender, and also throws in some stats on membership to the architects representative institution, the NZIA.

It’s a very nice survey, with some really interesting outcomes, you can download it too, see the links below.

There are a few lines of trickery or subversion which have been alluded to in another post, regarding how one is active in our wonderful discipline/practice, but one statistical outcome which I am glad to have my hands on now – so that I can ponder more accurately – is that only 24% of the total architecture graduates between 1987 and 2008 are now on the Architects Register.  Its a loaded stat, but the author re-estimates a more accurate ‘representative’ figure is maybe 38%.  I’m really interested in the Unaccounted 62%-76%, not so much to dream up elaborate and idealised illegal architects or whatnot, but to consider how this figure could be fed-back to schools who craft their curriculums towards an appreciation of architecture, the professional practice of architects, and a liberal comportment for ethics, representation, craft, discourse, community, etc…

Anyway, that’s a mean preface, here goes:

Errol J Haarhoff, Professor of Architecture at the University of Auckland, has published a new survey of NZ architecture graduates, revealing some great relationships between the architectural institutions of NZ.

“Practice and Gender in Architecture: A survey of New Zealand Architecture Graduates 1987-2008” [http://www.nzrab.org.nz/default.aspx?Page=123] (Auckland University, 2010) extends Haarhoff’s previous, and similar, survey completed in 2001 – and if you’re interested, extends two older surveys of Australasian architecture graduates undertaken by Peter Johnson and Susan Clarke in 1979 and 1987, and supplements Michael Ostwald and Anthony Williams’ comprehensive survey of architecture education across Australasia (see the end of the article for these references).  Fortunately, the study can be downloaded from the NZRAB here [http://www.nzrab.org.nz/default.aspx?Page=123] (look on the left-hand column for the link).

I don’t want to go into a full analysis or discussion of the findings here (but I encourage you to), but I did want to point out a few interesting statistics which I had always wondered about, but never really knew the numbers…

Firstly, and most striking is a comparison Haarhoff makes between graduating (architecture) students and those Registering with the NZRAB (the New Zealand Registered Architects Board [http://www.nzrab.org.nz/default.aspx?Page=1] administers the Registered Architects Act 2005, and maintains the architects register, obviously), and he finds that in 2009, only 24% of graduates (from the 3 NZ schools) are Registered Architects.  Statistically, this is a drop from 30% which was achieved in his 2001 survey.

Clearly this is a complicated statistic.  Firstly, Ostwald and Williams (2008) show a current trend in our schools for international students to make up about 20% of the population, it’s possible a considerable proportion of these students emmigrate upon completion.  Another consideration is that more recent years will obviously drop off in registrations (given the 140 weeks of experience required).  Haarhoff also suggests that the registration itself has changed, especially with the introduction of the 2005 Registered Architects Act.  I won’t communicate the full translation of all that here, but Haarhoff does suggest the ‘real’ figure might be around 38%.

Even so, a quick scan of the results shows that never has more than half of a graduating class registered as an architect.

Haarhoff also goes on to show that even when considering the trail-off of registrations in the last five years (because of the experience required in practice), there is still a significant drop in the proportion of graduates who register, given the fact that the average annual cohort of graduates across NZ hitting the scene has jumped from 115 to 165 (43% increase, most of which is attributed to Unitec’s new programme).

A few more factors are discussed by Haarhoff, namely that graduates may now be progressing through practice careers without feeling the necessity for registration, achieving fulfilling working environments alongside other registered architects.  Another critical aspect which Haarhoff confirms, is that a disproportionate number of females never register (where graduate proportions are approximating 50% – although strangely all three schools show a drop in this over the last 2 years – while only 18% of registered architects are female).

Undiscussed here, but really interesting, is Haarhoff’s more detailed analysis of gender in the profession, as well as some curious insight into membership to the New Zealand Institute of Architects – a really great piece of cross-institutional research (which suggests for example that there are 300 unaccounted Registered Architects who aren’t Architect Members of the NZIA).

Unfortunately -and reasonably, given the breadth and value of this survey- it is still very difficult to trace where the architectural graduates really might be.  This is a piece of research that I think would be very very valuable.  It would be a bit of a headache to find everyone (1,850 of us perhaps), but reasonably empirical right?  I suspect there are a few interesting factors which account for the apparent 76% of us Unregistered (or 62%, or 1,850, by Haarhoff’s conservative figure).

1. We travel overseas.  A million New Zealander’s live outside of New Zealand, which by my proportionate calculations of registered architects to population, means about 440 of those ex-pats could be architects.

2. Recent diversification (or ‘fragmentation’!) in the discipline (in the last decade even) – into urban design, city planning, digital fabricating, and all sorts of hybrid practices, means a fair few may never benefit from registering as architects.

3. We research.  Haarhoff correctly identifies, although never puts a figure on, those who follow academic careers in architecture (or other related disciplines).

4. We change careers.  This one I quite love, and although we can’t all be Italians and imagine studying architecture as a generalist education in worldliness –or more accurately, convince others to– I am pleased that there are architecturally educated peers out there, because I believe there is an ontology, and a discipline to architecture education, something important to Being, which is not necessarily about registering as an architect.

Images are Copyright 2010, Errol J Haarhoff.
Email: e.haarhoff@auckland.ac.nz

Errol J Haarhoff
“Practice and Gender in Architecture: A survey of New Zealand Architecture Graduates 1987-2008” Auckland University, 2010.

Peter Johnson & Susan Clarke.
“Architectural Education in the Commonwealth – A Survey of Schools”
1979 & 1987, University of Sydney.

Michael Ostwald and Anthony Williams’
“Understanding Architectural Education in Australasia”
2008, NSW, ALTC.

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Archigram Archive Project might enliven Architectural speculation.

A few years ago now a small bunch of wellington architecture students and recent grads flew up to Auckland, excited by the prospect of a Conference about a radical Architecture Student Congress that happened in the 70s in Auckland.  There are a number of stories that have unraveled from this event, but a particularly memorable presentation that day was from Kate Heron (or was it Sam Hardingham, i can never remember, shamefully) from the University of Westminster, who had been working alongside David Greene -a poet and member of the Archigram group- anyhow, she presented on a particular project called the Invisible University -which we were invited to contribute ideas to (the presentation included a recital of a poem from Greene, which was particularly great, and should probably be posted here…I have it somewhere).

A lasting impression was the excitement that a revitalised and active member of an incredibly famous group (in the architecture community) was to some extent continuing its work some 30 years later, in a reasonably radical way.

Westminster University has just published the Archigram Archival Project online. It is an amazingly comprehensive digital archive of the entire Archigram oeuvre, containing hundreds of projects and thousands of staggering images produced by the group in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

“Almost 10,000 items are included in this archive, including digital versions of drawings, collages, paintings, photographs, magazines, articles, slides and multi-media material, accompanied by original texts by Archigram wherever these are available. Around half of these items belong to the 202 projects currently listed and given project numbers by Dennis Crompton in the Archigram Archives. The rest are supporting and contextual material such as letters, photos, texts and additional projects provided by the depositors.”

What I find interesting given this new availability is the possibility for a renewed enthusiasm and experimentation in architectural representation, especially from the student body, which in large, produces increasingly frigid architectural representations –a tangential discussion to be had relates to the uptake of digital representation in architectural practice, which in my mind is still largely in a state of clumsy infancy in most conventional architecture schools and practices: the uptake seems too excited by production rather then quality-.

What I find interesting is the conceptual and intellectual rigour and consistency applied throughout the body of work, which radically attempted to imagine future conditions for modernity, the city, the suburb (and so on, the breadth is phenomenal), and to a huge extent has been proven as fairly accurate.  Commodity-fetishism, virtual nomads, techno-environmentalism and invisible network cities are just a handful of ideas flooding through the work, which remember, was created when only snippets of these conditions were evident -the mobile phone was really only taken up in the 70s.  In some ways the work might be framed as evolutionary, exploring and fantasizing about the things they saw around them, and developing those aspects they thought would persist.
A few favourites:

Sin Centre

“Entertainments Palace’ on the site of the Empire Theatre, Leicester Square, London. Originally ‘failed’ as student final thesis project at the Regent Street Polytechnic

The Polytechnic failed the scheme and continued to do so several times even after its prominent display at MOMA and published status as an epoch-making and original technic icon.”

This makes me think of the stories heard (in nz…a few years back) of students being failed in final years of study, only to retort that the university wasn’t able to argue its case based on the assessment criteria, and eventually were forced to pass the student under legal presuure.  I wonder what it would take to fail these days, sure you could do it by being crap -maybe, but it would be interesting to see which directions you could take architecture that might be considered un-architectural enough to be denied by the university.  I know I tried… and there’s plenty to be analysed there, but I havn’t been bothered yet.

Plug In University Node

“The University Node was an exercise to discover what happened to the various notions of gradual infill, replacement and regeneration of parts on to a Plug-in City megastructure: but with a specific kind of activity.”

Instant City

“Instant City forms part of a series of investigations into mobile facilities which are in conjunction with fixed establishments requiring expanded services over a limited period in order to satisfy an extreme but temporary problem.”

Sorry about the clumsy formatting, but i like how hungry the images get all over the website.

Love it.

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