The old AHB was as tough as a tug but as elegant as a Logan.
The myth that a lie repeated often enough becomes a truth can lead to endless boring repetition. Better to accept the reality that the quality of design we find on the harbour is far superior to anything in our landlubber built environment. A tug stirs the soul in a way that no architecture does. It is tough. It is workmanlike. It speaks of a love for the sea to which it belongs. Watching a Logan yacht sailing past fills anyone with joy in a way that no architecture does. The grace and beauty of a gull on the wing.
It is easy to understand why architects feel threatened by the sculptural elegance of a bollard on a wharf. However, it would be more helpful to learn from the sea than to tediously criticise the Harbour Board. Criticism only degrades the critic. We need to do better than that. Members of the Harbour Board were not philistines. The real philistines are those who take our wharves and transform them into private apartments, hotels or luna parks. The working port, when we had one, was a delight. You could buy a fish off the back of a boat or get a shackle welded.
The myth that the red fence kept people off the wharves might be fashionable at cocktail parties but it is completely untrue. Once we had a working city too and that was as beautiful as the old port. Now our city has become cosmetic and synthetic, with architects concerned with illusion. Lack of integrity produces bad design.
I have had some fierce arguments around the boardroom table of the Harbour Board but only because the old Board was as robust as the waterfront. They may have been hard-headed skippers but they knew what good design was and they were not given to compromise. Badly designed boats sink. Might be a good outcome if badly designed buildings did the same.
Tony Watkins, Auckland.
First published in Architecture NZ 3 2013