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Design Review: Volume 4, Issue 1 (July-August 1951)

Here and There

page 4

Here and There

I came across a good example of some of our absurd local by-laws the other day in a County just outside Wellington City. This by-law, in the interests of health, lays down that no person may place his septic tank closer than thirty feet to his house. but there is no provision as to how far it must be from his neighbour's house. My friend kept his tank the required thirty feet from his own house, but he was allowed to have it five feet from the house next door.

The building of flats has been almost totally suspended for at least six years. This is forcing our cities out into lower densities with all the consequent evils of higher development costs, travelling time and general inconvenience. As few permits are given for new commercial and industrial premises, residential buildings near the centres of the larger cities are gradually being taken over by business firms. These firms have to reconvert at great expense, in some cases at a cost equal to that of a new building. This is an economic waste for it forces business to use unsuitable accommodation, creates poor working conditions and deprives large numbers of people of housing. A boarding house converted to a factory can put fifty people in the street. It might be better for all if more permits were granted for essential business needs, provided the conversion of esidential buildings was controlled.

This trend is of course to be expected in a growing city. But for a healthy growth, new high-density housing should be continually replacing premises taken over for business. The only new housing today, however, is single units on the outskirts. This is the main reason for the decline in the population of Wellington City by 3,700 in six years. The Wellington City Council and the Auckland City Council realize these problems but are not prepared to act to remedy them. The reason put forward in Wellington is that the cost of flats at £4000 a unit is prohibitive. But has any one ever investigated real single unit housing costs? They would probably find that if the costs of new subdivisional roading, sewerage, water and electricity supply, loss of good farm land, local body administration, transport and less of time in travelling were all taken into account, the cost of the average single house in Tawa Flat, Upper Hutt or Tamaki was well over £4000. It now costs £400 at least a chain for roading alone. The building of tall flats in open settings would save road, service and transport costs.

The recent annual conference of the New Zealand Branch of the Town Planning Institute was a success. There is only a small body of qualified town planners in New Zealand and it was encouraging that so large a proportion of them should come together and provide a stimulating three days in discussions and meetings. The main topic of discussion centred around attempts by the respective institutes of surveyors, engineers and architects to invade and swamp the legitimate planning profession. But I trust that the Town Planning Institute will be able to maintain its integrity. I think it will. Nevertheless the professional town planner still has a long way to go before he finds his rightful place among the other professions.

We have had a letter from Howard Wadman, who writes enthusiastically of the South Bank Exhbition of the Festival of Britain. ‘It is truly superb,’ he tells us. ‘The wit, charm and beauty that have been poured into those few acres take the breath away.’ Two concerts in the Festival Hall left him with the impression that it is the finest piece of twentieth century architecture in Britain and perhaps in Western Europe. ‘To sit on one of the terraces and sip a drink while the sun sinks behind the Houses of Parliament, and all the Thames for a mile lights up is something new for London. It is civilized pleasure of an intense kind.’ ‘It is,’ he tells us, ‘the most glorious splurge of colour and gaiety that Britain has seen for at least forty years.’

I appear to have committed a blunder in the last Design Review in my reference to the architect of the proposed Students' Union Building at Victoria College. I stated that an unqualified architect had been appointed. In the irst place the particular architect I had in mind had not apparently been officially appointed, and in the second place I have been taken to task because I complained that he was unqualified. My interpretation of the word ‘qualified’ seems to be the point in question. The Oxford backs me up by its definition of qualification as ‘quality fitting a person for a post’. Qualified in the other sense means possession of a recognised diploma or registration. If I had meant the latter I would have used the word ‘registered’. No offence meant to the select number of unregistered archtiets who are in my opinion also ‘qualified’.

Experience has already taught me that popular taste in curtains is predominantly floral. I have learned a further lesson. Popular taste in carpets is floral also. Although there is a wide variety in flowers, from masses of rose buds to clumps of hydrangeas, it is almost impossible to find any choice in plain carpet. So with flowers on the floor, flowers round the windows, flowers all over the chairs and on the wallpaper, and bunches of grapes hanging from a fibrous plaster ceiling, we really are bringing the outdoors in.