|SOS Heritage 2012|
Our living heritage makes us who we are.
To understand what is happening at a local level it is sometimes important to see local issues in a global context. Similar patterns and similar problems are to be found everywhere. A feeling of helplessness is not a local issue. All over the world human beings are being reduced to human resources serving corporate machines. Rio+20, in June 2012, witnessed an even more alarming trend which we find everywhere. The rise of the multinationals and the decline of governments. Selling our New Zealand assets is about losing control of our lives. The Trans Pacific Trade Partnership is about losing our identity. We will be remembered as a stolen generation. Our lives have been taken away by a small group of people driven by greed and the lust for power.
Every individual is unique
We easily recognise any one of six billion people. My friend Brian Hunt died on 13 July 2012. There will never be another Brian Hunt. Ralph Hotere inspires us with his art. No one else is even remotely like Ralph. Networks of people form our whanau. All our networks are different.
All landscapes are unique.
The isthmus location of Auckland is unique in the world, but you will not find a reference to that in the Auckland plan, except perhaps to say that it is a problem. Our volcanoes truly are of world heritage value, yet the protection I put in place has been eroded by the planners. I took the Council to court for not protecting Mount Eden, and won the case. Then the developers convinced the planners to introduce viewshafts, and they just go on being eroded.
The sharp light in New Zealand is very special. This means that some universal principles like the effect of north light take on a special significance. A ship seems closer to Devonport than it does to Tamaki Drive. It is the same with Immediate Visual Juxtaposition, which means we need to be cautious about the location of moorings.
Every culture is unique.
Cultures have different ways of building. A bach is a way of life not a building. Sometimes the culture of local government is so completely different from the culture of the people that even a discussion about building is impossible. Getting a permit is a cultural act.
Vernacular architecture is unique.
When buildings respond to local traditions, local skills, and local knowledge they all end up being different. Identity matters.
Our planet is awash with refugees.
Architects, developers, and bureaucrats have one thing in common.
They are all outsiders.
People who live inside a community or a place have a different world-view from those who live outside.
All concentrations of power result in fundamentalism.
Both local government and central government need to simplify and to have standard solutions. Local government destroys heritage because it hates difference.
All concentrations of power result in corruption.
The credits for the Korean film “Taste of Money”, which screened at the 2012 Film Festival, had a very long list of companies involved in product placement. At least they were honest.
Our leading companies are not that honest. Rather than marketing insulation as a good idea, for example, they get the government to tell everyone they must have it. An idea which fractures the relationship between the natural environment and the built environment produces enormous profits.
This soft corruption is everywhere.
Life is dynamic. A city is a living entity.
We watch in wonder as a fern frond uncurls. They are always as beautiful as they are unexpected. We know that spring is coming and yet it catches us by surprise. All around us the world throbs with life.
Heritage is our inheritance. This is everything which has been passed down to us.
Let us now move from the global context to specific examples of how an attitude to heritage can suggest appropriate action.
Rather than focusing on what is wrong I want to focus on the positive through presenting a number of examples. Each has something to teach us.
The homestead built for Richard James Taylor in 1849.
I fought to save this building. As a last desperate move I put in a tender to demolish the building, and won. Then they realised I had no intention of demolishing it. I bought enough time to arrange for the house to be moved to Port Waikato. This was not ideal, but much better than complete destruction. As the very beginning of pakeha Glendowie the house should have remained as a mark on the land. The problem which beat me was a series of subdivision decisions which assumed demolition. To win you need to be a player very early in the game.
The old Auckland Railway Station
We almost ended up buying this building too. “We” in this case was a group of students who were learning about heritage. We put together a $3 million package, but a developer put up $4 million.
When we were broke our next move was unclear.
However we saved the building by convincing the developer and the University to take on board our idea. Unfortunately bad architects produced a bad result, but meanwhile the heritage we wanted saved is still there waiting for a new life.
Pah Farm stables
The lesson to learn from the Pah Farm stables is to never give up. While there is life there is hope. The building is also a reminder that humble buildings are just as important a part of our heritage as the edifices of the wealthy. It took a long time to convince the Historic Places Trust about this.
The building is now more important than ever. It is the classic north-facing U-form of an English farm building. Warmth builds up in the courtyard with the paving and brick walls acting as heat-sinks. In the summer a deciduous tree provides shade. It can be a waste of time talking about passive solar to non-believers. However all you need to do is to take them out to the stables to let them sit in the courtyard. They cannot believe how pleasant it is. This building has the potential to transform New Zealand architecture.
“Appropriate” uses are also critical in saving heritage. Last week I was out at the stables and there was talk of using the building as a library. This would be a disaster. It is a working building and the environmental standards demanded by a library would result in some architect who does not understand the building putting in ceilings or insulation. The wonderful timber trusses could be lost. Vigilance means you can never assume that any building is “safe”.
St Mary’s Convent chapel, Ponsonby
This is a good example of being in early and ahead of the game.
The client wanted the chapel demolished. I convinced them about the advantage of being able to continue using the old chapel until the new one was completed.
That gave me three years to get the St Mary’s Old Girls involved and they saved the chapel.
Turning negative energy into positive energy can provide just what is needed to save heritage.
Thirty years later this nature reserve is an Auckland haven.
Every few years there is another battle to be fought and won,but tenacity is critcal is saving heritage.
Trees have a longer life span than people….
Most people assume the first move to make is cut down any trees. A person bought down at Karaka Bay and then told the council that she did not feel safe walking home under trees. The first I knew was when around twenty people with chain saws turned up. A desperate call to Mayor Cath Tizard saved the 400-year-old pohutukawa.
To my mind if you do not like trees then do not buy a place with trees. At least 70% of the pohutukawa along the Glendowie foreshore have now been cut down. One time I had to go to Wellington to get the government to stop the council from cutting down a pohutukawa at Karaka Bay.
Trees are a significant part of our heirtage.
Laingholm big muddy creek
Saving this land resulted from the goodwill of everyone involved. It began with a subdivision proposal. The Waitakere Ranges Protection Society asked Harry Turbott and me to propose a scheme which would save the ridges and place development in the valley.
For me the breakthrough came when quite by chance I was at the Aritaki lookout when the Minister drove in beside me. I convinced her that the government should come to the party and eventually enough funding was cobbled together to buy the land.
Manchester Unity were wonderful.
Protest is a last resort, but it saved Musick Point when Telecom proposed a housing subdivision to take advantage of an underlying zoning. Councils become worried about votes when the numbers are big enough.
The world is not given by our fathers…
With heritage it is important to be resolute and to stand your ground. People with power tend to be bullies. When they are not sure of their ground they resort to pushing other people around. Never give in to bullies, governments or bureaucrats. If you do they will continue pushing you around. If you stand firm others will be inspired.
The old Rangi Point school is now a community centre, but that means it is also used for education. The best lecture I have ever given was when I took a class from Auckland University up to the cemetery above the Matihetihe Marae, Mitimiti. We sat for an hour and watched the sun sink into the ocean. I never said a single word. In silence and darkness we made our way back to Rangi Point. What else was there to teach them beyond the fact that their heritage had been passed down by those who had gone before.
As we drove north on that same trip we filled our minibuses with food. Then at Rangi Point I banished all the kiwis from the kitchen and left the Asian students to cook. The food was simply astonishing. After that the Asians, who had previously felt marginalised, were invited to every student party, and of course did the cooking. The way we cook, along with aroma, taste and texture, are part of our heritage. You celebrate heritage by living it. This is not only fun. You can give a lecture without saying a word and eat the outcomes. Everyone understands.
The essence of the Waitemata Harbour Maritime Plan was simply to “Protect the natural character of the Waitemata Harbour”.
One of the lessons I learnt when working on the Waitemata Harbour Maritime Plan was to keep the message simple. If the essence is clear the detail will look after itself. Planners and lawyers love to argue about detail but by the time they have finished everybody loses, and frequently no one can even remember what the argument was about.
ASB funding has been used to strengthen communities
Kohukohu Heritage Precinct
This was all too radical for both the council and the Historic Places Trust, but the locals loved it. The book was concerned with building a strong community. It sold out at the book launch.
One overseas example.
I was given a five-minute audience with the President of Turkey, and advised not to bring up any contentious issues. However I could see no point in wasting five minutes.
We shook hands and I told him to stop the bridge and motorway which would have destroyed the Kilitbahir fort. He asked why and the challenge was on. As our interview ended he wrote a note asking for an investigation and handed it to a five star general. Another five star general told me I would never get out of the country alive.
The bridge and the motorway never went ahead and the fort was saved.
How do we realise this living heritage which is the life force of who we are?
We need to move beyond seeing buildings as consumer objects.
We need to move beyond throw-away consumerism.
We need to become kaitiaki of our whakapapa.
We need to constantly tell our stories.
We need to celebrate community.
(Leave behind selfishness and the current focus on self.)
My thanks to the library. Gathering together to tell stories, as we are doing tonight, is more important than anything I might say. Integrity is critical. Live what you believe.