Urban Designer - Vernacular Architect - Maritime Planner - Owner-Builder - Servant of Piglet - Educator - Author - Revolutionary - Peacenik - Tour Guide 

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

Global context Print E-mail

ImageThe Local Government Act 2002 states as a first principle that “a local authority should conduct its business in an open, transparent, and democratically accountable manner”. The failure of the Auckland City Council to comply with the Act has deprived the Karaka Bay community of a very interesting debate.



By 2010 the whole world was deeply divided in relation to environmental issues. On the one hand there were those who recognised that the natural environment constantly gives us life, and that anyone wanting to be more fully alive should strengthen their relationship to the natural world. On the other hand there were those filled with paranoia and fear who saw the natural world as yet another enemy, from which they needed to be sheltered and protected.

This division ran deep in the architectural world. On the one hand many architects loved the sound of waves and the smell of the forest. They wanted their buildings to invite these things in and to intensify the experience of them. Their work was gentle and humble because they wanted the mountains and the sky to speak louder than their buildings. On the other hand many architects recognized that money was to be made from paranoia and fear. People were willing to pay handsomely to buy insulation and triple glazing to try and keep threats at bay. Their work was arrogant and dominating. Reassurance was sought in power. With air conditioning clients could die in comfort without needing to realise that they had died spiritually long before they were sent off to the crematorium.

The division even ran deep in the medical world. Some doctors recognized the healing processes of the natural world. The role of the doctor was to create conditions which would allow healing to take place. Aggression had no place.

Joan Chapple, for example, devoted her life as a plastic surgeon to being gentle and working with nature. If the blood could be kept flowing and the tissues brought close together then healing would be rapid and scar tissue could be avoided. For someone like Joan putting gabion walling into a natural eco-system was completely anathema because it challenged every value she had devoted her life to. The brutality of the gabions was just another manifestation of the brutality of stitches clamping a wound shut and cutting off the blood flow.

A second deep division has also split the world. On the one hand are those with a static world view, and on the other are those with a dynamic world-view.

The town planning process, for example, takes a static view of the world. Rather than living in the present planners promise a perfect future. Their paper world is fixed and rigid, and current disasters are dismissed as unimportant because they want everyone to focus on the vision over the horizon. This static world-view is welcomed by architects who see their buildings as a vision realized, needing only to be photographed for magazines. After that the buildings will deteriorate into oblivion. This static world-view is perfect for a materialistic consumer society. Architects become providers, clients become consumers, and the Building Act is concerned with consumer protection. The real estate pages in newspapers set the values and architects buy into it, with just a fashion twist.

For dynamic people it is the journey which is important. Life is lived in the now. If today’s decisions are right then tomorrow will look after itself. Getting a permit for a future which may never happen becomes a nonsense. Growth is constant. Change is normal. Being alive in the present ensures that the future will always exceed our expectations.

The coastline is always dynamic. It has been in the past and it will be in the future. Only a fool would try to freeze it at one moment in time. Nature always wins.

The world is just about as severely divided in a third way, between those concerned with self and those concerned with whanau. The selfish look after themselves and let others look after the consequences of their actions. Those who see beyond themselves do things to help other people. This is why the Maori view with concepts of whanau and whakapapa is so important.

I suppose you could also say the world is divided between those for Midas and those who think there is more to life, with some things actually being sacred. The idea of cashing up our National Parks by mining them is Midas thinking. Let the economy destroy the planet and we all die happy with the knowledge that we will leave behind money in the bank.

Nothing wrong, I suppose, with everyone having the same haircut and all living in leaky homes all looking like Spanish haciendas if that is what people want to waste their lives doing, but this misunderstanding about life really comes into focus at the coast. The coast is diverse, complex and very dynamic. You really need to be a particular kind of person to live on the coast. We now have wealthy, static, selfish people taking over the coastline, and it refuses to be pushed around by the power they have become accustomed to flaunting in every other aspect of their lives. The rich and powerful think they always win, and they just want the coastline to look beautiful, like some picture postcard outside their triple glazed windows so everyone will know they have the best site in town, and are indeed much superior to other people.

We need to understand these global issues, and to get on top of the philosophical conflicts, before a conversation can really get going. At the moment most people are overwhelmed with a feeling of helplessness and apathy. Instead of dealing with the issue of gabion walling people degrade themselves by attacking someone else’s web-page.

Turning beaches into a Normandy battleground tangle of basalt, wire and non-biodegradable rubbish is not a solution to anything. The focus needs to move to the cockle beds.

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