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

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

The Human House - Live simply and grow tall Print E-mail
ImageIt is a great privilege to grow up in a simple New Zealand House.

A New  Zealander who does not begin life immersed in the special experiences of New Zealand will always in some way be a stranger in their own land. There is time enough in life to acquire technical skills, but once childhood  has been left behind the opportunity to grow up with a deep love of your own place has gone forever.
An old sack door may not keep out all the wind, but it also lets in the sound of the sea, and the smell of the fields.

Candlelight may not destroy the darkness, but  it is in the flickering frailty of the light that you come to know  what the darkness means. The dawn only has meaning for the people who have known the darkness. The seasons only have  meaning for people who are leading lives which reflect their rhythm.

The insulation value of canvas or frail walls may not even feature at the bottom end of the scientific charts, but you  do not learn about energy  from scientific manuals which you read while leaving your pollution behind for someone else to worry about. You learn about energy while you are patiently waiting for the bath water to boil on the old Dover stove.

Bath night in the old tin bath was part of the process of learning to love water. You can tell when people hate water. They want to hide it all away in pipes. No one should be allowed to control something they hate.

Only people who love water should be allowed to control it. Their love  will shine through the beauty of the things they do with water.

Work was part of life in those simple houses. Three times a day there was a billy to be boiled and carried across the fields to where the work was being done. The family was always  together.

Today the planners make it all impossible. When work was part of life you learnt about creativity by sharing in the creativity of your family. The alienation of today leaves many children unaware of the activities of their parents.

It is a pity to have to work to pay someone else to give your children the education which you cannot afford to give them because you are working so that you can afford it.

Play in those simple houses was real, too. A child is not deprived when they do not have any toys. You quickly learn to make your own and with a child’s imagination who needs more than a stick for a rifle when there are endless days to be spent searching through the maize for pheasants?

You learn about much more than just where the pheasants live. You learn about the great New Zealand tradition of becoming the master of your own destiny.

Learning to catch a fish, or going to collect the newspaper , was always  an adventure but it was  also a chance to become sensitive to the beauty of New Zealand.

Life in New Zealand is different now.

For most people, the old earth floor has gone. You can tell those  who still have earth floors at home because they wear their shoes when they are inside. In time even this quaint cultural remnant will disappear.

Train drivers do not seem to blow their whistles for little boys any more, or perhaps it is that little boys do not walk down to the  railway line each day to wait for the only train.

Perhaps the meaning of friendship is being forgotten. There are still parts of New Zealand where you greet everyone you meet. In those simple houses there were no strangers.

The friendly old enamel basin has gone, and the flowers don’t seem to bloom as well as they once did. The new basin with the shiny taps is more convenient, and the new shelf is large enough to hold a copy of the health regulations as well as a bottle of tranquillizers.

The embers in the grate might have died but the smell of smoke lingers on for everyone who has gathered around an old corrugated iron chimney. The memory lingers on in the gum which was polished or the table top which was carved by the light of  a fire.

In those old houses no one seemed to complain about the things they did not have. They gave thanks  for the things they did have. Then someone started a myth about those houses not being good for children. Or something. So people who do not understand never build them any more.

It is only the people who remember a happy childhood in a simple house who miss the smell of winter.

< Prev