Design Review: Volume 4, Issue 5 (October-November 1952)
Here and There
Here and There
Auckland Out of Hand
Like the Americans, New Zealanders are still inclined to measure value by size or rate of growth. It is an attitude we should like to break down. Auckland, our largest city, is growing at a break-neck rate, but I do not think Aucklanders should necessarily be proud of the fact. By world standards Auckland's 330,000 is not a large agglomeration, but measured in terms of distance and area it is surely one of the biggest cities in the world. Every year some two thousand acres or more of farm land are swallowed up by the tide of little houses spreading their rash over the once peaceful and productive landscape. The Metropolitan Planning Organization's plans include a green belt. But is it any use? If the green belt can, in fact, be kept green, how do we stop the rash jumping the belt and starting again on the other side. If we are going to have large cities in New Zealand, and I see no reason why we should not the only way to build them is to build them up, not out. Instead of 10 persons to the acre, there will need to be 50, or even 100, and a much more economical rise of land. That means planning, it means people living closer together in apartments and terrace houses, and it means large scale state or municipal housing schemes.
Planners already realize this. So, too, do most of the mass of local bodies that make up our larger cities. The great Freeman's Bay rehousing scheme in Auckland was initiated not only as a slum clearance project, but because the City Council realized that the continuing sprawl of little houses at three or four to the acre on the outskirts is creating vast social and economic problems as well as a town planning debacle. But unfortunately the Auckland planners refuse to accept higher densities, or tall blocks because, they say, of their higher cost. The Freeman's Bay scheme consists of only two and three storied terrace houses. No more people will be rehoused than are on the land now. The scheme, then, contributes nothing to the problem it was intended to solve. What, I should like to ask, is the cost of the alternative–of continuing the sprawl?
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The Good Old Days
In reading through some correspondence of Early New Zealand–about 1860–I came across some interesting figures of building costs. Someone had bought a house for £80! Not much of a house by our standards to-day, I am sure, but what part of a house could you buy for that now? It wouldn't even pay for a roof. They had a housing shortage then, too; many had to live in tents until their houses were ready. In fact, some families brought their own houses with them, prefabricated. What surprised me was that many of the building materials were imported from England. It seems foolish enough to-day to have to import cement from England, but at least we have large and fast ships. But imagine in 1860 a 400-ton vessel spending about three months in bringing bricks and limestone half way round the world. Bricks must have been a luxury then, for they were £8 to £12 per thousand, even more than to-day. Sawn timber was 18s. to 25s. a hundred feet, which seems high for those times. But a good labourer was paid only 30s. a week.
Skilled workers seem to have been as scarce then as they are to-day. ‘No skilful masons are to be had’ sounds as appropriate to-day as it apparently did then.
A few years ago Design Review heralded the appearance of a well designed flush light switch and cover, made in Christchurch. I now find that, in Wellington at least, these are now unprocurable–because, I was told, there has been insufficient demand. We must now choose between the fluted and the striped variety.
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Too Many Complaints?
I have been accused of having a complaining attitude. On looking back over Sharawag's paragraphs I find that many of my comments are indeed of the complaining kind. But I would like to assure my critics, however few in number, that I am far more concerned in an achievement in local design than in our many examples of ineptitude. But I feel it is necessary to draw attention to the bad as well as to the good. Criticism helps to maintain standards.
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Fluorescent or Bust
Once a movement gets under way, or a fashion starts, you're out on a limb if you don't follow suit. Any office or shop that to-day has not installed fluorescent lights is definitely not of this age. That, at least, is what the fluorescent light manufacturers would like you to think. I have nothing against fluorescent tubes–in fact, they are an advance over the incandescent globe. But I do object to the indiscriminate way in which they have been installed. There are few things more trying or disturbing than a naked light. A naked fluorescent tube may not be as distracting in itself as a naked globe, but when you hang several of them from a ceiling, unprotected or unshaded, the room is cut to ribbons. To make matters worse, the tubes are often arranged in patterns, sometimes with one crossing another at right angles. Now, as every architect or interior decorator knows, the light source should never be seen. And there is no reason why fluorescent tubes cannot be concealed. Enamelled steel reflectors for the factory and work bench, perspex troughs, aluminium egg-crates and reflectors from the wall or ceiling for the shop or office, give the designer all the scope he needs.
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Correction from Dunedin
A Dunedin correspondent has written that my complaint of the demolition by the Dunedin City Council of the home and garden of the late Sir John Roberts was misleading. Though it is true that the house has been demolished and the grounds bulldozed, the result, it is claimed, is satisfactory. The house, it seems, was no great architectural piece, and certainly far from possessing the grace and beauty of some of the earlier timber houses seen from time to time in Design Review. The treatment given to the grounds was not ruthless, as I reported, and care was taken in bulldozing the site to retain some of the best trees.