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

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

Brief history Print E-mail

ImageAround 6000 years ago the sea level was much lower. It rose, and then the beach became more or less stable. The ecology adjusted, as it always does, until we reached the situation where most recent arrivals thought it had always been like that.



Geologists have the right sense of time for looking at the natural world. They think in thousands, if not millions, of years. When caring for a beach and acting as kaitiaki, we also need that long-term approach.

The cockle beds established themselves and they provided the sand which formed Karaka Bay beach. Large shell banks up to three metres high formed and these absorbed the energy of storms. They would move up and down a little, but the energfy require to move them was enormous.

Very recently, in the sixties, Pakuranga was developed. It was a time when earthmoving was cheap so rather than working in harmony with nature the landforms were destroyed and recreated in the image of planners and developers. Much of the fine silt from this bizarre misunderstanding of natural processes ended up in the Tamaki Estuary and it killed the shellfish beds which could no longer breathe. The development of Highland Park repeated all the same mistakes. It would perhaps be fair to say that ecological degradation had been going on for much longer than this, as the shellfish were around three times their present size as little as 300 years ago.

The first buildings at Karaka Bay were baches and one of the first principles of a bach was that love of the landscape came first and any buildings touched the landscape lightly and did no harm to natural ecosystems. The beach remained much as it had been for a thousand years.

A significant change took place when new people arrived who had no love of the beach. They wanted change, and what they saw as "improvements" which would make the Bay more like the places where they really should have been living.

One of the critical decisions was to destroy the old shell path. The new people could then break their realtionship with nature and they no longer needed to understand the ecology of the Bay. Once tht understanding was lost the downhill slide was very rapid.

In June 1988 Tony Watkins predicted what would happen if the shell path was replaced when he wrote, in Home and Building, “The shell path leading up to a bach has a powerful beauty precisely because it is enough. The unthinking person who pours a concrete footpath is moving from subtractive thinking to additive thinking, and if the process goes unchecked there will soon be no point in going to the beach. It will become a nowhere like everywhere else.”

Once power replaced understanding everything changed. Murray Jamieson built a new house  and along the way took away the immense shell banks which had protected the beach from erosion. His “hard” buildings compounded this ftal error and moved out into the coastal zone, concentrating the energy of storms. His architect had no understanding of the coastline. The resulting erosion caused alarm.

Doug Armstrong concreted in his boat ramp in an attempt to fight against the erosion caused by Murray. It was the worst possible thing to do. Very few engineers understand nature and the natural forces of nature. When a hard element was introduced into a soft environment the result was massive destruction. This is similar to what is happening at the moment where gabion walling is causing significant adjacent erosion. The erosion caused by the boat ramp was spectacular. In one night perhaps three metres of the adjacent soft ecology was lost. Panic set in. It was a panic which would eventually lead to the destruction of the whole of Karaka Bay.

Rae Varcoe dumped all the clay excavated to make the building of her boatshed onto the beach frontage. With a twelve foot excavation at the back the amount of material was very significant. How she got awy with it will always remain a mystery. Did the ACC beach people say it was okay because she was just dumping it in the middle of a road, or did the ACC road people say it was okay because she was dumping it in the middle of a beach? Either way the gassy public flat in front of her house became a gigantic mound of clay. She became attached to it and wanted the ACC to stop it from eroding away.

In 2010 the long series of really stupid decisions werer gathered together to make and even bigger stupid decision. It was as though nobody had learnt anything from their mistakes. The ACC moved in an destroyed what was left of the beach. They repeated the mistake of Doug's boat ramp, leaving everyone who understood the coastline and wave dynamics waiting for another spectacular failuer in the next storm. The vengage of nature was n ot going to treat the stupid engineering lightly.

The impact of Murray, Doug and Rae on the beach was, as they say, history. Our unfortunate history. They had destroyed our inheritance for no reason which made sense to anyone else..

We inherited an exquisitely beautiful natural beach. Murray, Doug and Rae decided to pass on to our children a tangled rubbish tip of rotting dangerous wire, and hundreds of tons of rock from somewhere else They though nothing of destroying along the way a beautiful volcano as well as our beach. We had the choice of  passing on to our children’s children a beautiful natural beach which would have filedl their lives with wonder and joy, and instead Murray, Doug and Rae opted for passing on a tangled mess of rotting wire, non-degradable synthetic material, and foreign rock.

It may not be their beach, but it was their choice. Ignorance and power won the day. Little wonder that they had to act illegally to get away with it.



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