(post)modern?

Peter Entwisle in the ODT today (Mon 5 March) outlined some concerns with the proposed stadium design.

His article, more than any other recently, highlights the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” adage, in particular his somewhat disparaging view of the Caledonian Gymnasium on Anderson Bay Road. The gymnasium, although looking a little lost in its surroundings, is a great piece of architecture. It looks and breaths gymnasium – even assuming a somewhat Soviet-block styled Olympic aesthetic. One only needs to drive past this building to see that it is a gymnasium; that rolling, tumbling, jumping, stretching and contorting takes place in that building. I love this building (I can’t stand the curtains, but can only assume they are needed), and if I won lotto… Actually I know next to nothing about this building, anyone with information please enlighten us all?

AndyBay Gym
(My rather hurried photo while dodging the traffic today)
AndyBay gym
(Detail, just missing the gap in the curtains which suggest the interior and climbing bars)

His preference for a revivalist postmodern sensibility, seems – well – stuck in the past (for want of a better term). In reference to the new stadium being ‘this generation’s railway station’ as has been bandied about recently, I wouldn’t assume for one minute then that the stadium should look to the past (while striving forward) as the overriding aesthetic reference. Recent examples of postmodernism can be seen in the University of Otago’s Commerce Building.

Otago Commerce Building
(Universty of Otago Commerce Building detail)

Where (as pointed out by Mr Entwisle) the railway station exudes quality (finest materials), solidity and confidence, the Commerce Building (being rather apt) is brash postmodernism, without any of the qualities of style and quality (anyone who has been ‘rained’ on in the glass atrium only needs to know what I am on about). Rather than taking a cue from its environs, the Commerce Building has a nod towards American postmodernism; Robert Graves’ Portland Public Service building and the AT&T building by Philip Johnson. These buildings take on more sculptural forms rather than the current trend towards organic as expressed in ‘cyber architecture’, as seen in the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum and FrankGehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA.

Entwisle makes reference to the stadium design looking as if it should have been built in the 1960s of mid-20th century modernism. This is a successful language that has survived fad and trend, with a revival evident in civic and private architecture worldwide today. Take for instance, the sweeping new University of Otago Library (sorry Information Services Building). Referencing mid-century Modern with confidence and elegance, it also speaks to its function in a stunning package. This is one building that delights as much from the inside as it does from the outside (let’s hope that the new stadium does this no matter what the final form may be).

University of Otago Information Services Building

This aside, as a stadium is a stadium, it should have architectural references, it should pay homage to location and history, but it should also be what it is, a place of conflict and battle, of courage and emotion. I am certain this will not be a Sydney Opera House – it’s a sports stadium.

Not wanting to stray too much from the primary focus of this blog, the design and architecture of the new ‘Carisbrook’, one cannot argue form without function (without digressing into the ‘burden on the taxpayer’ issues). Hence, architecture aside, Entwisle has doubts about uses (as many in this city have). However, his concerns from the ‘arts’ world would seem to be rather amorphous. This is a building with many functions, with the overriding ability to host (preferably large) sporting occasions. I cannot see criticism coming of the art gallery’s lack of a 100m running track as holding any ground. His arguments seem somewhat hollow, for surely events not destined for the main arena could be housed within atrium or other spaces within this building (if available). I could see the ID Fashion week using this space as an extension of what they use at the Railway station presently – it’s on the same lines. For those that way inclined, one could imagine several hundred kilted pipers marching up and down the grass with a military tattoo of some kind. What’s to stop us pinching the Ellerslie flower show one year?

As for the mirroring of criticism from other venues that the stadium would struggle to hold large entertainment acts, I find this just a little too defeatist (and buying into what would be our competitors’ arguments). A promoter with the prospect of a guaranteed ‘fine’ location, and a young student population, would be foolish to ignore. We here, fly up to Auckland to see acts (heck we even fly to Aussie to see acts if they are silly enough to ignore us). What’s to stop those from the North getting on a plane to Dunners, spending the night at say Coldplay or even (hmmm) Elton John, then heading off to Queenstown for the weekend and flying home. What’s to say there wouldn’t be a Mini Day Out (some of the acts have always expressed their preference to come south). Acoustics in these buildings are passable – but sure, no Sydney Opera House. I saw The Eagles in GM Place in Vancouver, an ice hockey stadium – it worked.

I agree, its form needs to be redressed, and those in cricket really do need consider the attractiveness of a guaranteed ‘fine’ one-dayer. Wellington has the cake-tin and the basin, we too could have both options, the first-class venue for the sedate ‘county cricket – village green’ feel and the stadium for the brash noisy entertainment of the one-dayer. To suggest that because it doesn’t look like $188 million, it must change is just a little bizarre (gold plating anyone?).

Posted by Paul Le Comte

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5 Comments

Filed under Architecture

5 responses to “(post)modern?

  1. Jesus that’s a long post! Submit the bastard to the ODT and be done with it. Now, there seems to be an awful lot of talk about form but what about function? The current plans for the 25m high roof is totally impractical and a rectangle pitch (which can’t be used for cricket). I mean come on …

  2. Yeah sorry about the posts, I’m not as succint as many – I guess I have a bit to say.

    The whole point is I don’t want to write to the ODT “concerned of Kakorai Valley” is just too boring, besides this is the chance for interaction.

    I agree the roof as it is in the form proposed isn’t the right type. Nice thinking about materials though, they do get a pass mark for that.

    Of course form should follow function, but as cricket Otago in their wisdom has indicated they want to develop the Varsity Oval just across the road at Logan Park as a first class, test and one day venue. I think it’s madness and cricket was on board then the form would have to follow this function. As it stands the architects just don’t need to accommodate cricket – a real shame. Imagine scheduling a cricket one dayer in Dunners and knowing that it will go ahead regardless of outside conditions. Imagine being able to host early season games, instead of heading off to Darwin each year…

  3. Peter Entwisle

    The Caledonian Gymnasium is a war memorial, dedicated to the dead of World War Two. It was designed and built in the early 1960s by the then city architect, the now late Bill Hesson. He also did the original Momona Airport and Moana Pool. It’s a modest bit of Modernism for its time, mildly daring and comfortable in its context remote from the colonial city. The curtains are to mitigate light and heating issues arising from its glass curtain wall. My point about its relation to the design proposed for Awatea Street is that the latter is of a similar, if more ungainly form, although this is nearly fifty years later. It is not contemporary Modernism but a much older sort.

    I do think Post-Modernism which allows itself the latitude of reviving styles from the past is a useful development for a city like Dunedin which has inherited a lot of good architecture from the last revivalist period.

    The university’s Commerce Building is not a good post modern design and nor is the Information Services (central library) building which is a bit schizophrenic about whether it’s trying to be Modernist or post modern. (It’s a makeover and addition to quite a good Modernist building of 1965.)

    I haven’t said the proposed new stadium should be post modern, though it’s something the designers might have attempted with more chance of success in Dunedin than in other New Zealand cities. I have said its particular type of Modernism is dated and the design is anyway just clumsy and uninspiring.

    My point about its use for arts purposes is that the promoters claimed it could be used for art exhibitions and big concerts. It won’t have the atmospheric and light control necessary for the former – or the blind white cube interior spaces – and event promoters have said roofed stadium or no roofed stadium the Carisbrook Stadium Trust’s projections for 4 concerts a year with 14,000+ crowds are unrealistic. The city doesn’t have the population base. You could hold the ID fashion show there – although it’s oversize. You could hold it in the nearby quarry – a better setting for showing off couture. Or the ruined Milburn cement works if you want to be really bold. But the organisers seem reluctant to stop using the Railway Station although I think that’s now a cliche. (Holding the ID show there – not the station itself.)

    The real problem is Malcolm Farry and perhaps others in the CST are not prepared to interest themselves in getting a striking design – of any sort. They don’t think it matters, which is probably why they’ve got such a clunker from HOK who are certainly capable of better. HOK are their clients’ servants and are giving them the kind of pap they feel comfortable with. Which would be fine if we didn’t all have to pay for it and look at it.

    Aesthetics aren’t everything in a stadium or anything else but when people start wittering on about vision and the future and the Railway Station you’d expect them to be interested in producing an outstanding or even just a good-looking design.

  4. Many thanks for your comments Pete, I do appreciate them.

  5. BTW the Caledonian Gymnasium is one of my favourite buildings in all of Dunedin. I don’t actually think it’s too modest at all, and given the ability to look back from time, it’s design, use of material and function, all give it a wonderful air of Soviet gymnastics. I also love the fact that it’s retained it’s function for such a long time, and not been converted.

    Just down the road is another of my fav buildings, that wonderful smoke stack of the old brick works (is that right, i’ll check). It’s reminiscent of the iconic towers of the Tate and Battersea buildings. This building however i’d love to see someone put a posh restaurant in there.

    I am excited and stunned that The Hilton is going where it is, and only wish that someone would do the same or something with those spectacular old banks in the area. In any other city they would have already been converted into anything other than a strip joint.

    The built environment of Dunedin is astonishing and full of the most wonderful gems.

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