If Lord Foster was to come to town.
Kiss me Hardy, or was it just Kismet? Whatever the saying was, watching 3 upper class English lads rolling across the French countryside in supercars ( a Pagani Zonda, a Ford GT, and a Ferrari F430) on telly last night, all of my thoughts about the proposed new Carisbrook stadium were spelt out to me.
What were the presenters of TopGear doing driving close to two million dollars of suprercars to a viaduct in the south-west of France? If they wanted to test the metal of the cars, a road trip across the plains and hills of Germany, with exuberant use of the throttle along the Autobahn would have made more sense. Or at the very least, carry on the trip to their rightful home, Monaco on the South Coast, home of the supercar, super rich and Monte Carlo Grand Prix. But no their journey took in the rolling countryside of France, with the occasional mountain traverse. A seemingly pointless destination? These cars are not the most expensive on the market (Bugatti Veyron $1,440,800 USD), the fastest supercars (Koenigsegg CCX, Aston Martin DBR9 or Bugatti Veyron) or the most popular supercar, but they were objects of automotive beauty and very desirable objects. The presenters laughed at the shape and sounds of them, and most of all their power and awe inspiring aura. The expression “this is nuts” was used, “madness” and even expletives. These cars demanded the attention of the locals in Paris (which is saying something in the capital of style), they deserved the plaudits of the critics; quite simply they were stunning and amazing pieces of engineering.
We were still no closer to understanding why the 3 of them in supercars were heading towards the Millau Viaduct, until they actually got there. The Millau Viaduct could, if one was to be so vulgar, be described as a bridge. It’s an engineering artefact joining to sides of a valley, up to 1000ft in the air. It could have been big, solid and a visual disaster. However the people responsible for the designing and building of the viaduct were adamant that it should be more than a bridge. The best architect was hired, the right materials were used, and the resulting form to provide the function was nothing short of madness. Towering columns, rising up from the valley below, ever so gently cradle the deck as it stretches from column to column, as if it was a baby – tenderly yet with security. To strengthen the structure the columns supporting the suspension cables atop the viaduct are sleek, slender yet monumental and supportive. The cables themselves were not an afterthought. Not one single aspect of the bridge was an after thought.
The 3 presenters took their supercars to the Millau Viaduct to use Lord Fosters creation as one monumental metaphor for the existence of supercars. They are both mad and beautiful, powerful yet tender, they are design and engineering feats of care and insanity. Bridges and cars come in the none too inspiring beige 5 door family salon flavour worldwide. You’d pass any number of cars every day without even giving them another thought, as is the case every time one drives over bridges the length and breadth of the country. But why with $190 million dollars would one want to build in beige?
I was a little dumbfounded and inspired by the fact the those upper class English petrol heads in their supercars would describe my feelings and frustrations about the new Carisbrook so well. As is mentioned over and over, $190 million is a smallish amount of money when building a brand new covered stadium. Yes and No. Internationally it’s in the lower 1/3 of stadium costings. However, this still is no excuse for dressing in beige. The design for the new stadium is not a Pagani Zonda, nor is it Ford GT. To be a little kind, it’s a 2007 Skoda, pleasing on the eye, will do the job nicely and is probably very good value for money, yet more then just a family saloon. However, why do we have to put up with a Skoda, when we have the best architects and a large pile of money? There are architectural feats across the globe, which are stunning works, negotiations of form, function, cost and needs. They are as much an ongoing dialogue between the environment, the people and themselves as they are a statement about the vision of the architects and developers.
I admire the work of HOK Sports Architects; they have done some of the finest sports stadiums and arenas across the planet. They also have the odd monstrosity up their sleeve. They have the ability, skill and knowledge, yet either they or the developers have not had the balls to say “keep going”. These drawings are not good enough.
I am not privy to the design process. Were they deliberately boring, playing down the nature of the complex to appease the inevitable critics? Did they send their B team across the ditch? Are the developers Farry et al just prepared to put up with mediocre? It is true beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they may very well think what they have is great. However the role of a good architect and engineer is to train the eye of even the most uninspired and dispassionate to acknowledge beauty. Farnsworth House is not just a small cottage on sticks in the woods. Lord Foster and Frank Lloyd Wright’ various Guggenheim museums are more than just buildings to house works of art and antiquity. One doesn’t need to look at them too long or with any training what so ever to know that these are stunning buildings. Just like one doesn’t need to know that the supercars being played with last night on TopGear are hideously expensive toys for the rich and overpaid. I’m hardly a petrol head. I have been suckered into buying a big Wednesday ticket recently on the sole basis that an Aston Martin is on offer. However if I was to win lotto (would have to buy a ticket first), I just couldn’t imagine buying myself a luxury car. I watch TopGear for the humour as much as the engineering and styling of the aluminium, carbon fibre and steel. Yet I could tell that the big brash Ford GT, ugly Pagani Zonda and stunning Ferrari F430 were more than engineering after thoughts. They demanded attention, caused arguments and more than anything else delighted all who came within cooey of them.
This is what should be happening with out stadium. I agree $190 million is not a lot of money to build a covered stadium. But neither was the $180,000 I had to build my new house. This didn’t stop me from seeking an architect, arguing with him and in the end being excited every time I come home and drive up the driveway. My neighbour spent close on twice the amount to me, yet still went for the catalogue house twisted slightly on it’s axis with the tan rather then cream options, and (with all respects to them and their nice house) have built a beige box that most people drive by.
Now before I am accused of being a design snob, I would like to state that I may very well be, but then with enough coffee snobs, wine snobs and beer snobs out there, anyone can buy a great espresso most places in NZ now, rather than dear old instant. Wine is no longer thought of as coming in a 3 shades of cardboard, and beer is more than DB or Lion Brown. My dad even drinks Speights Old Dark now, because he can and he likes the taste of it. I drive a Subaru and Rover (get up off the floor from laughing), but still coveret an Aston Martin (preferably the one Bond drives thanks). I am not a design snob; I just prefer to think that we don’t need to live like beige dyed sheep. I tear my hair out every time I see a modern tilt-slab concrete retail block appear on a nicely paved lot. Developers, Councils and Architects whom allow such monstrosities should be stung up. It’s a disservice to the public, just as Mitre 10 Mega, big red Warehouses and catalogue homes are.
I love the fact that we are about to get a new stadium. I am excited and exceedingly proud of the vision of the developers for reminding Dunedin that this was the first place in the world to send frozen sheep on a boat to the other side of the world. That Dunedin built not just a railway station, but the most photographed building in the country. That Dunedin didn’t just open a technical college, but the finest educational institution in NZ, that we have been the founding home of some of the finest architectural, engineering, industrial and technical companies New Zealand has produced.
Yet with the current designs of the new Carisbrook, someone somewhere should have said, “what else have you got?” I want to play football on Logan Park and look across the way with awe in my eye and drool coming from my mouth. I want there to be arguments (and not about dear old Resident Associations precious rates), I want there to be praise, I want us to be proud of the building itself as much as the concept and function of the thing. I find it astonishing that given we have HOK sports on board and close to $200 million to spend, that we are looking to park a high end priced Skoda where a high end Pagani Zonda or Aston Martin should be.
Here endith the rant for now. Who’d thought that 3 rich petrol heads driving around France in mid priced (gulp) supercars to a bridge in the middle of nowhere would say so much about our new stadium.
Final thought, until the Millau Viaduct was built the sleepy town at the bottom of the valley was nothing more than a small frustrating bottleneck on the road from Paris to the South of France. It is now a destination in it’s own right. People drive for hours to get there, hop out of their cars, take photos, walk around the base of it, and buy the souvenirs, rather than driving on through without a second thought about the town they’ve just driven through. They stay in the new B&Bs, and motels. They dine in the busy cafes and restaurants. They don’t just stay spend their money at that town, they spend all along the road, petrol and food, even accommodation many many miles away for something that isn’t even in the same town. They buy local produce and spend their hard earned money on a town that was used to deposits of carbon and rubbish rather than dollars. Hint bloody Hint Dunedin, HOK & developers.