Slings and arrows

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Sometimes when reading about our industry I come across something that is so patently dumb and unfair that it makes me think what the . . . ?
Although if it involves a local authority “dumb and unfair” seems to cover many of their decisions, especially in the area of planning.
With Auckland going through the long and painful process called the Unitary Plan (a District Scheme on steroids for those non-Aucklanders) the number of inexplicable new planning rules and regulations is leaving Aucklanders gasping for breath.
I was certainly left gasping myself when I read about the owner of a modest 1930s duplex (a pair of semi-detached houses) finding out that his neighbours had obtained approval to demolish their half of the building and build a mini-mansion.
They seemed to think that informing him some nine months after they received council approval was their only moral obligation.
The word “moral” is not a word you often find — along with “reasonable” — in a planning document, especially now with councils significantly expanding the use of non-notified approvals.
But surely they could see how dumb this decision to grant a non-notified approval was — even though they audaciously described the effect on the poor neighbour as “less than minor”?
Considering how out of scale the new “cascading three-level house” seems likely to be alongside its conjoined single-storey twin, any approval at all has to look a bit silly.
Do councils not care any more? Are they happy for our suburban streets to become an out-of-scale, out-of-context mishmash?
Okay, much of our suburban streetscape is a mixture of styles and forms, but do we have to make it look stupid as well? Not forgetting how unfair decisions like these are for the neighbours and neighbourhood.
There was a recent TV programme called Restoration Home. The programme not only followed the restoration of existing buildings but also looked into the history and aesthetics of the building, its surroundings and even who the original designers and former occupants were.
While I’m not recommending this approach be added to our already convoluted planning processes, it does show that there is another way.
There is value in taking a more holistic view on whether a proposed extension, renovation or rebuilding is appropriate.
Just because someone wants to do something, doesn’t mean that it’s automatically a good idea.

Rules are rules?

The recent tragic case of the collapse of an apartment balcony in Dunedin apparently resulted from what was described by the Ministry as gross overloading.
But I found the Minister of Housing’s comment that “the simple reason this balcony collapsed was that there were too many people on it” somewhat disingenuous.
I fail to recall any private balcony having a sign listing how many people it was designed to accommodate safely.
The fact that the balcony appeared to comply with the building code is hardly the point. It reflects the current attitude among our industry that minimum standards are always good enough.
A bit like in reverse, how most people’s view that a speed limit is a minimum requirement, and anyone who travels below that level is an unreasonable idiot.
A key weakness in the current approach to ensuring appropriate building standards are met is the almost universal use by designers and contractors of so-called acceptable solutions.
These minimum-level cookbook solutions are producing an increasingly dumbed down industry.
In some cases there is little attempt by designers and builders to gauge what the real risk of a particular design or building type might be — just blind acceptance that the acceptable solution is the only solution.
Having been involved in creating some of these documents, I am aware they should be viewed for what they are — the bare minimum.
A balcony on a student flat? Design to at least twice minimum loadings and don’t use notched timber joists. In fact, don’t use cantilevered balcony joists at all.
Unreasonable? If we can’t learn from such failures I don’t hold out much hope of avoiding similar tragedies in the future.

A good idea
I thought our Japanese neighbours held the title of cleverest loo designers until I saw the latest effort out of Spain.
Described as ”the world’s first, in-tank wall-hung pan”, this little beauty integrates the cistern and flushing buttons into the rear of the pan itself.
With no more bulky wall mounted cisterns or difficult-to-mount-and-service in-wall tanks, this is a significant advance in minimalist design.
Incorporating something called “soft air technology” (not sure what this might be or what it might do), this looks like a really great idea.
As long as the flush works without gravity to assist it. With the seat being made from urea, this also looks like a giant leap towards instant recycling.

Slings and arrows
The full phrase “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” comes from the soliloquy at the beginning of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I recently attended a season of his plays at the pop-up Globe Theatre in Auckland.
Sited on a car park behind the Auckland Town Hall, this was an innovative and successful approach at bringing theatre to the people, harking back to the days of the circus tent.
It showed that architecture could be both good and ephemeral. After all, Mies van Der Rohe’s masterpiece — the 1929 Barcelona Pavilion — only lasted a few months before being demolished, but still lives on today in the iconic Barcelona Chair.

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