Shooting fish at the bottom of the barrel
The Architectural Centre has had a go at identifying Wellington's worst buildings, and the results are featured on pages A8 and A9 of yesterday's Dominion Post. While I might quibble about the precise rankings, I agree that they're all pretty hideous and deserve to be singled out for criticism. Here's the list:
1 Chaffers New World (279 Wakefield St), Foodstuffs internal designers
2 TSB Arena (Queens Wharf), Craig Craig Moller
3 Courtenay Apartments (120 Courtenay Pl), Calcott Design Ltd
4= Marickian Apartments (135 Taranaki St), Bruce Welsh Architects
4= City Lodge Apartments (cnr Knigges Ave & Vivian St), Peddle Thorp & Montgomery
6 Galleria on Tory (77-87 Tory St), Archaus
7 Renaissance Apartments (above Burger King, 79 Manners St), architects refused responsibility
8 Big box development (generic, but the Airport Retail Park was singled out)
9= Defence House (2 Aitken St), Craig Craig Moller
9= Environment House (23 Kate Sheppard Pl), Campbell Pope
11 Circa Theatre (1 Taranaki St), Ampersand Architects
The paper asked the architects to respond, and two themes emerged:
It's not our fault. Bruce Welsh replied "It's a bit rich for people to criticise a building without knowing the constraints of a brief". Perhaps the way it was presented in the Dom was a bit unfair, since identifying and inviting a response from the architect, but not the client or the planners of the time, implies that the architect had sole responsibility for the design and hence can take all the blame. But the article was about "Wellington's Worst Buildings", not "worst architects", and it's the result that's being judged, not the skill or otherwise of the architect. If a brief makes it impossible to design a decent building, then the brief is at fault, and people are quite within their rights to criticise the result.
There is some justification for passing on the blame in the case of heritage additions, where the council heritage rules of the time seem to have forced some hideous travesties of neoclassical architecture where something simpler would have been much more honest. On the other hand, just saying that the consent application was approved by the council (as Foodstuffs responded) isn't quite good enough: essentially they're saying "we got away with it". Architects and developers should be actively looking for ways to produce good buildings, not just relying on planners to fight the worst aspects of their proposals.
It's okay on the inside. This is the most worrying argument, since it implies absolutely no grasp of the idea that a building should be responsible to its neighbours and the city as a whole. Revealingly, Richard Kay said of City Lodge: "We designed the building from the inside out", and it shows. In these designers' eyes, the apartments have "lots of light, good kitchens, rooms and amenities", and that's all that counts. The fact that the building is a ridiculous, poorly detailed, overbearing lump that detracts from the quality of the street doesn't seem to matter. I'd expect such attitudes from the most cynical developers, but not from architects, who should at least have some professional pride if not an actual social conscience.
While it's important to point the finger at buildings that detract from the environment, it's all a bit depressing to dwell on the negatives. I look forward to seeing a list of Wellington's best buildings.