Myths and legends


We can sometimes fail to recall exactly what happened in the past and why it happened. For example, I couldn’t remember what triggered the original decision to introduce a performance-based building code.

The key driver, it seems, was not about ensuring building quality, but the need for what was described as a “national building code”.

The rationale was that prior to 1992, individual councils could promulgate their own building by-laws based on New Zealand Standards. This was seen as old fashioned and led to inconsistencies.


The quality myth

The board advising on the necessary legislation — the Building Act and Building Code — decided it was essential to allow for innovation; for designers and builders to use their combined abilities to produce not just good buildings, but buildings reaching a higher standard of amenity and artistic merit.

Sadly, this brave attempt was lost in bureaucracy, first by a decision that the old councils were more than capable of managing this new approach to building legislation, and then by providing deemed to comply documents — acceptable solutions and verification methods — encouraging most designers and builders to aim as low rather than as high as possible.


Death to the architect

One of the appalling but appealing myths in our industry is that ancient Egyptian, Greek and, later, Roman leaders would often execute their architects who either did a poor job or, in the case of Egyptian Pharaohs, to keep the location of their tomb a secret.

Some didn’t help this “secrecy” much by building great big pyramids on top.

One enduring myth is that Roman Emperor Hadrian — responsible for the wall between England and Scotland — arranged for the banishment and, later, murder of architect Apollodorus of Damascus.

Apollodorus was, in fact, never architect under Hadrian, instead being responsible for much of the buildings attributed to the preceding Emperor Trajan.

The story is that Hadrian fancied himself as a designer and sent some of his designs to Apollodorus for comment on their artistic merit.

Apollodorus’ reply was supposedly less than complimentary, leading to Hadrian’s murderous response. All complete rubbish.

What we have of an historic record makes it likely that Hadrian and Apollodorus never met, or even corresponded — the final kicker being that Apollodorus died of natural causes before Hadrian became Emperor.


Upside down

Another myth in the construction industry is the upside down window.

When I worked in London my company had a very rudimentary version of CAD, comprising a series of standard details on disc, or possibly on tape. These details were added to hand-drawn drawings before printing.

The rumour was that, on one occasion, certain details were printed upside down, and a whole row of terrace housing ended up with upside down windows. Not true, and it is most unlikely that a contractor would blindly follow an architect’s instructions.



I once told how I had designed 750 homes for a large construction organisation in a single morning. The story was enhanced by containing a modicum of truth.

From the late 1960s through the 1970s, the UK went through a period of much-needed urban renewal.

Central government provided local councils, in my case the Manchester Council, with funding, but only as long as the house designs followed standard design books.

So “designing,” or should I say laying out 750 terrace houses in a morning, was not that much of a stretch.

The designs gave a very simplistic and naive view of how families lived their lives. In particular, I remember that the key requirement for the living room was that all in the household could sit comfortably while watching television. Probably not far from the truth, at least for that time.


Like shooting fish in a barrel

We really do make it easy for our Australian cousins to make fun of us. Last year we decided that our flag was too much like theirs so we held a competition and then an expensive referendum, but finally decided to keep the existing flag.

Now we have a real estate agency donating most of the cost of a model of a New Zealand state house to grace our Queens Wharf in Auckland, in a similar location to Sydney’s iconic Opera House.

Sydney’s Opera House is worth in excess of $1 billion to the Australian economy each year just by being there.

Our icon is hidden away behind a disparate group of buildings on the old Queens Wharf, and I’m not sure most visitors will even know it exists.

I can’t comment on the artistic merits of Michael Parekowai’s “The Lighthouse”.

However, I see it as sadly symbolic of the usurious level of New Zealand real estate agent’s fees, enabling such a substantial gift to be made by the agency in question.

And now we have reports of agents “flipping” houses for a second sale and a second fee within weeks.

What do the relevant controlling bodies do about it? Nothing. Perhaps it’s time to “flip” the Lighthouse?


Poo to you

Not really a myth, but I did appreciate the sign on the back of a truck collecting portaloos: “Another load of politicians’ promises”.

An even more accurate statement as we move into yet another election cycle.

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