Architecture, Basin Reserve, Beehive, Dominion Post, Kilbirnie Indoor Sports Centre, Taj Mahal toilets, The Cake Tin

The Evans Bay Turtle

What is it about Wellington and its circular landmarks with eccentric nicknames?

The under-50s won’t remember when the twin-domed Welsh Dragon Bar in the middle of Kent and Cambridge Terraces used to be a public toilet block, known by all as the Taj Mahal.

At the far end of the same dual-dragstrip is the Basin Reserve, so named after the 1855 earthquake turned Basin Lake into a swamp, which the council then turned into a sports reserve.

Over in Thorndon there’s the parliamentary Beehive, which Sir Basil Spence designed on the back of a serviette. And the Cake Tin, named by yours truly in response to a call for a nickname by the Evening Post’s Angus Morrison.

(Note: popular rumour has it that the Cake Tin was named by an Auckland talk show host, which is why it wasn’t popular for a long time with Wellingtonians. Still others say it was Andrew Mehrtens. Being a rather obvious name, it was probably all three of us.)

And now we have a new stadium to name: the Kilbirnie Indoor Sports Centre in Evans Bay. It’s not quite circular, but near enough.

The Dom Post’s Hank Schouten is calling for nicknames, so I sent in this letter:

Like the Cake Tin, the new Kilbirnie Indoor Sports Centre is a good example of smooth, single-minded design.

Now, what to call it?

I worry that the architects’ favourite, The Limpet, while anatomically accurate, might be a bit, well, limp to catch on.

So what about the Saucer (as in flying), the Clam, the Oyster, the Stingray, the Flounder, the Slater or the Frisbee?

(Had they built it where Councillor Andy Foster wanted, it could have been the Downtown Indoor Sports Centre — DISC.)

A friend of mine argues noisily for The Trilobite, a creature I had not heard of, but which it clearly resembles.

But the nickname with the best combination of stickability and seaside relevance would have to be the Turtle.

What do you think? Feel free to suggest a name of your own. I may run a poll of the best of them.

But to me, if I squint as I drive round the bays I see a beached, bleached white turtle shell whose occupant is wisely staying indoors.

(As well he might. When I drove past on Monday, there was thick snow just around the corner in Shelly Bay.)

ArcelorMittal Orbit, Architecture

London’s Awful Tower

No contest, is it?

Announced just in time for April Fool’s Day, the practical joke at right is meant to do for the London Olympics of 2012 what the Eiffel Tower did for the Paris Universal Exposition of 1889.

No, I don’t mean “Make it a laughing stock”.

To me, this molten mangle looks like the Eiffel Tower after a direct hit by George Jetson.

Its official name is the ArcelorMittal Orbit, after the steel company of the UK’s richest man, Lakshmi Mittal, who’s kindly donating the materials. 

(Salvaged, I suspect, from a decommissioned Blackpool rollercoaster.)

It can surely be only a matter of time before the Sun or News of the World dubs this spaghetti of scaffolding the Awful Tower.

The public reaction has so far been mixed: a mix of contempt, derision and sardonic British resignation.

Architectural historian Gavin Stamp condemned it as a “ridiculous, over-inflated doodle”.

Evening Standard reader Colin Snelling of Melbourne thinks it “looks like an old helter-skelter from a Butlins holiday camp from the 1950s”.

And I love this gem from John Stallard of Gerrard’s Cross: “Someone should check to see if the Forth Road Bridge is still there.”

The outrage has, of course, drawn praise from the usual quarters, though even that has been strangely muted.

Arts Council chief executive Alan Davey said, “At first sight, it seems an eccentric Meccano-like jumble, but then you see the parabolic beauty characteristic of Kapoor.”

(Er, unless you’re looking at the above official photo, in which case you just see the jumble.)

Kapoor, by the way, is the perpetrator, Anish Kapoor.

My ears pricked up when I heard he’d won a Turner Prize.

This annual insult to the British taxpayer doles out huge prizes for  installations like this (admittedly only a finalist – I suspect the mattress by itself, if accompanied by the regulation ludicrously irrelevant multisyllabic title, would have won).

I once wrote a poem about a Turner Prize winner, which I’ll publish here shortly.

Last word on the Orbit to Colin Snelling: “What an opportunity missed to create an icon for this century.”

(In New Zealand we have a name for that missed opportunity: Te Papa.)

Architecture, Supreme Court

New Supreme Court not world’s ugliest

New Zealand Supreme Court

Scottish Parliament

Good news. Our new brass-clad Supreme Court building, being opened today by Prince William, is not the ugliest public building in the world.

That honour must surely go to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. 

But I do find the judgment that went into approving the design of our new court a good argument for retaining the Privy Council.

(Yes, this at a time when I’m trying to change the flag.)

In the tradition of Te Papa and the Beehive, Wellington’s architects have once again blown a glorious opportunity to give New Zealand a world class building.

Instead, they’ve produced yet another modernistic eyesore – a poor man’s Bird’s Nest Stadium.

And you and I have stumped up $80 million for a five-person building that looks more like a razor-wire-fenced prison than a courthouse.

It does make you wonder at the quality of decisions that will emanate from this building. Can the best New Zealand minds really think better than the best from a nation of 56 million?

But back to that other provincial architectural embarrassment, the Scottish Parliament. 

I remember walking past it at the end of the otherwise stately Royal Mile and shaking my head in disbelief at this right royal hotchpotch of a building.

Bamboo window covers – how Scottish is that? They’d look more at home on a Maori pa than a Parliament.

In fact, they make our jagged brass pohutukawa seem almost relevant.

Architecture, Design, Gavin Bradley, Karl du Fresne, Saatchi & Saatchi, Te Papa, Wellington

Te Papa: what might have been

Museum of Mediterranean History, Reggio Calabria, Italy.

Karl du Fresne says the new head of Te Papa should tear the building down and start again.

I agree. From the outside, Te Papa is not a museum, it’s a mausoleum. One I resent having to see every time I fancy a stroll round Oriental Bay.

Te Papa
Te Papa: museum or mausoleum?

Contrast the above pile of rubble with what three other countries made of similar challenges – the Italian (top) and Dubai (below) examples both museums.

Dubai Museum.

Selfridges Shopping Centre, Birmingham.

Can you imagine dear old Prince Charles cutting the ribbon on this whale-like structure? He’d probably have taken the scissors to his wrists instead.

But such a nautical theme would go well on the Wellington waterfront. (I do love that smooth disc cladding.)

I remember when the full horror of the Te Papa design was revealed, Gavin Bradley from Saatchis suggested a paua shell roof.

Another brilliant idea killed by the mediocracy.