Te Radar

Auck­land could learn some Uni­tary Plan lessons from the City of Lights – and gar­goyles.

Element - - Contents - TE RADAR RADAR’S RANT

Having re­cently spent a fort­night ca­su­ally saun­ter­ing around cen­tral Paris the one con­clu­sion I came to was that Auck­land’s ar­chi­tec­ture is woe­fully bereft of gar­goyles. Gar­goyles are the per­fect ex­am­ple of form and func­tion reach­ing a friendly agree­ment in the form of a drain­pipe. A com­mon fea­ture of many build­ings, no­tably the Notre Dame Cathe­dral, th­ese carved grotesques are fit­ted with a spout which chan­nels rain­wa­ter through their gap­ing mouths, al­low­ing it to fall away from the walls.

Per­haps if we’d used more of them we might have avoided our leaky home de­ba­cle. At the very least our houses would have looked more gothic and that has to be a good thing. They add a sense of drama and style to the build­ings they adorn. This fo­cus on aes­thet­ics em­bod­ies the Parisian build­ing style, and in Auck­land’s quest for higher den­sity liv­ing it’s a les­son worth heed­ing.

Paris does have form­less tow­ers in its outer sub­urbs that are woe­fully de­signed, even com­pared with the worst of our soul­less blocks, but the stylish apart­ments that line the streets of cen­tral Paris fea­ture wrought iron bal­conies and win­dow boxes burst­ing with vi­brant gera­ni­ums, mak­ing them as at­trac­tive out­side as they no doubt are in­side.

Of­ten built in squares around a cen­tral court­yard, the apart­ments com­bine a com­mu­nal pri­vate space with tightly packed city liv­ing. It may not be the quar­ter-acre par­adise we have long held dear, but at least there’s some­where to put the bins, and no lawn to mow.

While Paris may be a model of ur­ban life­style de­sign, they may have taken the con­cept of having-it-all a lit­tle too far with the “Paris Plage”. Each sum­mer they truck in tonnes of sand and dump it on the con­crete side­walk next to the Seine River, throw up a few um­brel­las, lay out some loungers, and call it a beach.

Parisians slip into their speedos to bask next to an aro­matic river they can’t plunge into for health rea­sons. This is ei­ther a Parisian Bondi or the world’s largest lit­ter­box.

It is a great ex­am­ple of civic money be­ing used to cre­ate us­able public spa­ces, even if it is just for those mem­bers of the public who want to lie and fry in the sun as thou­sands of tourists walk past tak­ing pho­tos.

The les­son we can learn from the gar­goyles, gera­ni­ums, and Gal­lic speedo-wear­ers is that de­vel­op­ers, and those who al­low devel­op­ment to hap­pen, have a civic duty to cre­ate vis­ually ap­peal­ing, fam­ily func­tional, and ul­ti­mately de­sir­able higher den­sity en­vi­ron­ments so that peo­ple will move into them through choice and not ne­ces­sity. Money spent on a city’s aes­thet­ics is not money wasted.

We can also learn that not ev­ery­one is adept at keep­ing gera­ni­ums alive, that speedos are not for ev­ery­one, and that gar­goyles might be at­trac­tive but when they chan­nel rain­wa­ter away from walls it falls in­stead in a tor­rent onto the mid­dle of the foot­path, mak­ing it rather dif­fi­cult to stay dry.

Even as I strolled the boule­vards, one of the Auck­land’s flag­ship apart­ment build­ings, sup­posed to her­ald the

“[We] have a civic duty to cre­ate vis­ually ap­peal­ing... and ul­ti­mately de­sir­able higher den­sity en­vi­ron­ments so that peo­ple will move into them through choice and not ne­ces­sity.”

suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion to higher-den­sity ur­ban liv­ing in New Lynn, was be­ing cas­ti­gated for having pil­lars in the bed­rooms. Pil­lars. As if no one would no­tice this rather in­con­ve­nient de­sign flaw.

In fact it seems that no one did, at least un­til they tried to get a bed in.

We don’t have a large his­tory of apart­ment build­ing but I would have thought that at some stage dur­ing the sketch­ing of the plans some­one might have said “Should we re­ally have a pil­lar there?” The cor­rect an­swer would have been “No”. And, “Let’s add some gar­goyles.”

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