Warts and all

nelson-civic-house

Jaw-dropping winner  of the  Kiwi version of London’s  Carbunkle Cup (for the ugliest building in the UK) is right here in… yes in one of our prettiest centres, just keep reading…

It seems that the present London skyline might be closer to our Kiwi bones than we might care to think. The Carbuncle Cup, the prize for the ugliest new building in the UK, is up for grabs again. And the Brits are vocal and tearing out their hair.

Last year, with little competition, London’s Walkie Talkie won hands down.

(Walkie Talkie’s like a ginormous, top heavy cell phone, sort of designed to snuggle in the palm of your hand.)  Voters more or less said it was an aesthetic nightmare and along without so much as a nod to its surrounding heritage, the judges resented its domination of their London skyline.

Now if this was 1960, New Zealand House, our diplomatic mission in London, could well have scooped the prize.  Built on the corner of Pall Mall and the Haymarket, this eighteen storey tower of green glass and steel, lorded it over discreet and historical grandeur. Think St James, The Mall, Trafalgar Square.

Controversy raged when this design popped up. Bureaucracy kicked in, as if there was a war on. London County Council, Commissioners for Crown Lands and Fine Arts and most of Britain’s Parliamentary Cabinet all had their pounds worth.

Architect Robert Matthew dreamt of a “romantic silhouette,” but was forced to compromise his design, which the British Cabinet approved – mindful that it would set a precedent for the future skyline of the West End of London.  And it did.

And over the following five decades or so, Kiwis have been known to walk down the opposite side of Haymarket to New Zealand House; head down, embarrassed to be associated with this insensitive design, dumped on London so long ago.

So, who do you think would scoop the Kiwi Carbuncle Cup? Te Papa?  Aotea Centre?

No.  A building just five minutes from where I live; smack bang in the middle of the provincial town of Nelson. This town has streets lined with trees and snuggles up to green hills and is a stone’s throw from the sea.

In November 2105 Stuff listed the Nelson Civic House as one of New Zealand’s seven ugliest buildings, then in May 2016, on TV3’s Newshub, presenter Julian Lee, arrived in Nelson, saw the Civic House and said he was speechless.

Once he mustered strength, he gave the Civic House a double shot: one for New Zealand’s ugliest architecture award as well as one for “the ugliest building in the entire Southern Hemisphere. Maybe,” he gasped, “in the world.”

Nelson Civic House has the lot: a Big Ben clock, stainless steel scaffolding, a drab concrete tower and seven floors of Brutalism, overhung with grey, green 1970s slabs. Julian Lee’s interviewees, locals on streets of Nelson, said the building was gross.  Grotesque.

Bill McKay, Senior lecturer at the Auckland School of Architecture says “a beautiful building is one that fulfils its purpose, sympathetically and gracefully.”

Name your Kiwi Urban Beauty…

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Janet Hart

Janet Hart lives in Nelson, where she taught English in secondary schools for nearly 30 years, before dabbling in a little historical New Zealand Art. In 2012 she took up Magazine Journalism, which now consumes her.