Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 20, No. 11. August 1, 1957
V.U.C. Science Block — Another Horror . .
V.U.C. Science Block
Another Horror . . .
I am told that theoretically a frog is so adaptable that if brought slowly to the boil it would cook without noticing a thing. Reactions to the new science building seem rather frog-like, for we have seen this colossus grow imperceptibly over the last eighteen months. To my knowledge, "Salient" has kept a discreet silence and no student voice has been raised in either admiration or condemnation.
"But wait," some might say. "we don't yet know what it will be like." A justifiable statement in this as in any other sphere of art—but remember that the art of architecture is completed in the architect's original conception; we need not wait to comment till, as in this case, an outrage solidly mounts itself on the Wellington skyline, if not for all time, at least for a very long time. For this concrete bunker has been built with a solidity that would send any pyramid-builder a bright Nile green.
I don't like this building and I am not inclined to compromise with the "it's better than nothing" school. If the University cannot give a lead in architecture then it renounces at least part of its prerogative to intellectual and aesthetic leadership. I acknowledge that this is, to some degree, a matter of taste, but let's really take a look at what has been done and what might have been done.
First the site: surely one of the most impressive in the city. I went up to the roof—the view is superb. But at no time, below roof level, can one see it except boxed up in tiny windowfuls. One could argue that such magnificence would distract from serious tasks. This essentially puritan outlook leaves me unmoved. The view is there and only the half-blind or deskbound could, or would want to, ignore it.
Essentially the failure to realise the delights of the landscape is a question of glass. Nowhere do we find in this structure any imaginative use of this medium. The only departure from standard window fittings, comprising tiny panes, is a small circular window over the the rear staircase—a completely trivial gimmick.
The building itself impresses only with its incredible heaviness and utter dreariness. If anyone believes that steel and concrete must give this stolid effect there is evidence in the Lambton Quay frontage of the new Dairy Board building to show them better. It is a sad commentary that the farming fraternity show more imagination than the University, Government or whoever it is who decided on this construction.
Why did it have to be so unrelievedly square. To have supported one end on stilts might have given some idea of lightness; to have set back some of the upper stories, to have run windows into some unusual pattern instead of domino-like repetition, used a variety of facing, anything to lend the eye some interest would have helped.
The interior cannot be assessed adequately yet, but today no note of gaiety enters. The only ceramic tile used seems to have been limited to lavatories. Terrazzo facing, more usual in those places, has been relegated to the entrance hall, unquestionably giving that area the appearance of a vast urinal.
Outside we can now see the brick veneer making its appearance. Dishonest? No; just the cheapest way of covering stark concrete. One may dream of aluminium sheathing, bright-coloured concretes, tile or even honest stone. Such will not be seen here. Seeking uniformity (Why?) with the other architectural horrors of the old clay patch it must be fake brick.
Of the inside layout and the utility of the building "Salient" may comment later when the building is finally finished. One can only hope, against all evidence for hope, that a better job has been done in this respect.
A nation's buildings express the character of its people, are we this dull? And if the answer must be yes, are we content to remain so? Victoria may yet boast a school of architecture. "We may at least hope that its future buildings may be worthy of this and this will require some vigilance, and that exercised before we are saddled with monsters.