Faulty Towers

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Basil Fawlty, always looking for someone else to blame for any misfortune, would have revelled in the latest debacle with Auckland’s super city — the ironically-named Auckland Council.

The name is ironic because those vested with finding a new name for the new conglomerate simply dropped the most important word, “city”, from its former name.

It seems that the Auckland (City) Council recently decided that its existing building had too many issues to resolve, so left it to quietly deteriorate while purchasing and then moving into another central city tower block, this one built in the 1980s.

Yes, we all know what went on in the 1980s. The key reason behind my moving away from architecture was corporates deciding to stop owning their own buildings.

I found that working for some of those earlier developers was neither aesthetically nor financially rewarding, so I moved sideways into related ventures.

Not that buildings built during that era were necessarily shonky, but they were often designed and built down to a relatively modest standard. 1980s developers were not there for the long haul and were not interested in owning the buildings they built. Go figure.

I don’t have enough facts to in any way criticise those who decided that the newly purchased building was fit for purpose, but there were a couple of clues in what has been revealed about the purchase.

First, it seems that the facade consultants — and the facade is where the problems now lie — were not given access to all original documentation.

 

Use BIM as a basic requirement

The sooner councils insist that all major building projects provide and maintain a digital file of all construction information the better. It’s called BIM (Building Information Modelling), and the technology is now available and should be implemented as a basic requirement.

Second, some problems were discovered during due diligence and there was a price reduction from $105.1 million to $104 million.

Just remember that apparent saving against the current estimate for facade repairs of $32 million. Whatever the reason, somebody got it badly wrong.

However, the real, core concern is why are councils still owning their own buildings? Building ownership, particularly major building ownership, is about return on investment.

Being a building tenant — the only reason why Auckland Council purchased this building — is a quite different activity with completely different drivers.

 

Digging a hole

An even bigger concern than what might prove to be, by comparison, an inconsequential loss of $32 million, is the fact that Auckland Council has started work on the so-called Inner City Rail Link.

It has done this before establishing an overall plan for solving Auckland’s transport woes, and before funding for the new project has been finalised.

It has already made a number of major land purchases and is now driving Aucklanders to distraction with work on amending and lowering existing services in the line of the new underground railway.

A whole range of individual but uncoordinated transport proposals have been mooted for Auckland, including a monorail and/or light rail links to the airport, and either a harbour tunnel or a new bridge to Auckland’s North Shore.

But no one has brought all these disparate schemes together into a coherent whole for providing a viable future for moving Aucklanders from where they are to where they want to be.

The danger inherent in this lack of an overall vision is that the current mayor, councillors and council administrators can simply pick the sexiest scheme from those available and avoid any criticism when it proves not to solve the problem. And it won’t, because it can’t.

And don’t hold your breath on the cost. $2.5 billion will look modest against what is likely to be a final figure somewhere north of $5 billion.

 

Small is beautiful

It’s some consolation that Auckland Council is so good at resolving the small issues that arise in any city. Recently I have contacted the council about a number of minor matters.

The first was removal of graffiti from a children’s playground — removed within 24 hours. Next was persuading a homeless man not to sleep in a small suburban park — resolved with care and concern.

There was also a minor dog attack on my innocuous little terrier. This was dealt with swiftly, and resulted in the dog owner concerned providing an apology and paying for the vet fees.

Finally was the council’s new targeted removal of unwanted household rubbish. The new system requires you to book a time for collection on the internet, avoiding a few weeks of junk spread over footpaths throughout the city suburb concerned.

In this case, the council confirmed the week for my area’s collections in advance and then sent a text confirming the specific collection day. All rubbish was removed prior to 8am on the day confirmed. Well done.

 

We need a hero

Being good at small things but failing on anything greater or more difficult is usually a sign of a lack of talent. In rugby parlance, a good club player but not likely to advance any further.

Digging into history, perhaps what Auckland needs is another Sir John Allum (the Auckland harbour bridge) or Sir Dove Myer Robinson (a sewer system that did not pollute our harbours). Fat chance.

And even if such a person appeared, they would be dragged down by a mass of bureaucratic rules and regulations, and a dysfunctional council.

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