Warkworth Student Congress

ImageWhen the new Planning course was established I advocated that the entire first year should be devoted to history. Everyone laughed and no one understood.


ImageEvery architecture student could learn a great deal by studying the 1971 Warworth Student Congress. The site was the derelict but majestic ruins of the old cement works. Over a week the students built accommodation for themselves, and learned as much about community as they did about architecture. The creative energy released during the week astonished everyone.

The Congress can only be understood within a wider understanding of global history. The students realised that a moment had come which would probably never come again. They took their chance and changed the world. 


Several years before, in 1968, in Berkeley, a great number of people occupied a vacant lot and established a "People's Park". They planted trees and established gardens, but the process was more important than the product. This was "do-it-yourself" urban design, and people have a fierce pride in what they have achieved with their own hands.


ImageThose who wield institutional power over other people however do not take kindly to activities like this, which threaten their authority. The University fenced off the Park and called in the National Guard. One person was killed and a number were seriously injured. Universities do not like to be challenged.

It was the first time buckshot had been used against whites. There were demonstrations, protests, marches and mass arrests. The whole campus was sprayed by the University with poison CS gas from a helicopter, without any warning. CS gas had not even been used against the Viet Cong, but the University was not going to tolerate any new ideas. The gas forced the evacuation of hospitals and some public schools. These days we would call that PBRF collateral. Every shoot of greenery died.

ImagePeople resorted to going to other parts of the city to plant flowers and trees. The National Guard followed them and tore out whatever had been planted.



(When I visited the Park in 1982 the University had, surprise, surprise, decided to turn it into a park. It was sad and empty. The University had done it their way and no one felt welcome. Meanwhile the University itself was like a bomb site. Graffiti covered the walls. Even the toilet doors were torn off their hinges, but a staff member explained that no one would take the risk of going to the toilet alone. One of the staff had been shot in her office by a student the previous week. I began to understand what a leading research university could be like, and that saved me a lot of time which could have been spent reading about how planners could create a better world.)

The Auckland students decided to invite Sim Van der Ryn, who in his role as adviser to the Chancellor had fought valiantly to get the University to understand, to come to New Zealand and tell us all about it at the Warkworth Student Congress.

Image"I found my students really needed to get out of the school situation, the university, and be involved with real things." Sim Van der Ryn (University of California at Berkeley)



ImageIn 1968 there were riots in Universities all over the world. The situation was rather like what we now have once again, some thirty eight years later. The only difference was that in 1968 the aware staff and students did something about it. In 2006 the BMWs in the University car parks explain why there is now no danger of a revolution. Intellectuals can be bought off just like anyone else in a corporate empire.

Image"Buildings are what architects do to nature. Ruins are what nature does to buildings." James Ritchie



Image"Completion is really a mortuary act. Completion is really when something is dead and is discarded, ploughed under. Then life starts again. What we have is a continuous process in which we merely start things. That is the living process of growth and change." Serge Chermayeff (Yale)



Image"Your institutions are going to be the obstacles that you have to overcome, not the technical issues - they will look after themselves." Serge Chermayeff (Yale)



Image"We don't do any research in architecture in the universities. The only research, so-called, is done by already captive architects, who get attached to some industry or other, who get paid by some developer or other. This is mot research; it is just a slight advance for what fundamentally is still going to be a market commodity." Serge Chermayeff (Yale)



Image"I am interested in fun rather than leisure; in learning rather than in education; in exchange rather than in mobility; in confidence rather than in security; and in a full stomach rather than a roof over my head." Cedric Price


Image"It was decided that catering should be treated as a problem solvable by the Congress participants endeavour. The ultimate test came on the Saturday night. We expected 400, so we catered for 500. Three sheep, two pigs, twenty chickens, and 240 lbs of potatoes, and quantities of pumpkin were prepared. The hangi was put down in the late afternoon. By the time it was opened it was impossible to tell how many were ready to eat; once we started serving, one of those serving counted to 480 and then gave up - there was still another hour's serving to go - probably over 650 people."


Image"I just don't see how you can create great places, works of architecture, spaces, sets of spaces unless you have a culture that is together and that is great, and unless the people who participate in the making of the place believe in it, believe in what they're doing." Serge Chermayeff (Yale)

Image"The way in which some architectural problems have been framed means that architects seem to be no longer exclusively concerned with aesthetic problems but are tackling political and social issues instead. For the first time architecture is being forced into the service of those who up until now have never been able to afford it." John Reid, sociologist


ImageGlyn Bilkey, Derek Bing and Murray Day designed 'Superbog'.

After the Congress 'Superbog' found a home in the Museum at Karaka Bay. the memory lives on. 

David Neil and Associates developed 'Electropu'. More than thirty years later UV purification revolutionised the treatment of Auckland's sewage. This made possible the the removal of the oxidation ponds from the Manukau Harbour.