Millau Viaduct & Me

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.


Filed under Architecture, Design, Inspiration

15 responses to “Millau Viaduct & Me

  1. Peter Entwisle

    You’re right. The design of the proposed Awatea Street stadium is a Skoda. Malcolm Farry excuses this by saying the budget is small – a non-sequitur to my way of thinking.But even if it were a Ferrari F430 it wouldn’t turn into a brilliant idea – just a much more attractive folly.

  2. Farry is actually wrong on this. $180m+ isn’t a small amount internationally, and talented architects have done far greater with less budget in smaller markets. I believe that CST have been sold short by HOK architects, but they are too into the excitement of the whole thing to see this.

    We will always disagree however, I just have this image of students walking all over the place. Why not hold most of the summer school classes down there and make the most of a waterfront in the sun. Park and grass one side, lectures in the middle and waterfront and vendors on the other side.

    We are only limited by our imagination. Why isn’t it a good idea? Is it the form, the function or the economics. To slate it so bluntly is doing it a great disservice.

    But once again thanks very much for the comments, I greatly appreciate it.

  3. Peter Entwisle

    Your second sentence is my point. For this much money it’s reasonable to expect something better than the Skoda. Get real. We aren’t going to get that because Mr Farry is driving the Skoda and he’s happy in that car.

    That’s the real problem of imagination round here.

  4. Peter Entwisle

    By the way, I appreciate your website and the opportunity it offers for discussion. Seriously, I appreciate your effort in trying to spark a larger debate.

  5. Meg Davidson

    Compie, your vision for the Awatea St – harbour area is idyllic, I totally buy it. Even in its rough state the Leith – boat harbour area is a nice place to be. Yes, I would love to see a beautiful, inspiring structure thronged with students and park-like surroundings for sitting in the sun. Unfortunately, the way it’s panning out, it’s not going to happen that way. And it’s not the nimbies who are wrecking it, it is the Carisbrook Stadium Trust. Nobody in their right mind would want to spend time in the structure they are planning. And no university department is going to want to ally themselves with such a crass enterprise (sorry but it is really about rugby and not a lot else).
    I’m afraid at this stage your best bet to see your vision realised is to hope the stadium project falls over. The university will, in time, expand out that way and with luck will do things better.

  6. Meg,

    this is the problem though when committee and council seemingly dictate design and vision. There are very few cities in the world where Council has been so visionary as to foster a whole design and civic success. Vancouver is one of those places. Back in the 60s they made the radical decision to buck the north american trend, and refused to put a motorway through the downtown. They invested heavily in public transport (and do so to this day). They also put very tight controls over the highrise, these and a massive number of other features have created a stunning and quite revolutionary place to live.

    Other councils have done it right at times, and failed miserably at others. New Brighton shopping district in CHCH was a revolution in NZ at the time. Then New Brighton in the early 2000s was just a sad place to be.

    Example close to home. A few years back the council ran a competition for ‘Your Vision Dunedin’ in which along with Gavin O’Brien we won a design prize for a vision of a Renzo Piano-esque boardwalk from Macandrew Bay to Company Bay. It would feature a cantilever boardwalk which would be made up of differing wood and styles every 500-800m, with bays along the way focusing on different vistas of the area and harbour, these would be large enough for Coffee vendors and the like to operate small cart like stalls. This would allow the historical Maori built sea wall to be retained and visible. With plaques along the way to tell the story of the area, the walls and the history of the harbour. What have they done instead. Dummped tons and tons of earth, covered the old walls and laying tarmac walkways. Sure it’s going to work, sure it’s practical, but seriously the time they’ve taken to do the one section around Company Bay the could have built our entire walkway. Their option is for locals only, it will be great and safe to walk around there, but it won’t foster people coming to the peninsula from other areas just to walk the boardwalk. Committee and Council are just too homogenising, and you end up with Vanilla – palatable but uninspiring.

    Thanks all for posting. I’ll be happy to post any of the more ‘academic’ articles on this topic. On the whole I’m aiming for that angle rather than the bad Sid all the time – who would read that.

  7. Peter Entwisle

    Well, if you are right, no wonder the proposed design for Awatea Street is such a dog – and liable to remain so.

    However I think even the Dunedin City Council can sometimes get the design aspect right. I think the conversion of the DIC into the present art gallery in the Octagon is an example. I think it’s possible – if a challenge – to make a good job of redeveloping Carisbrook.

    I also note your reference to “the bad Sid” and suppose you mean Syd Adie. If you think opposition to Awatea Street is confined to Mr Adie and his Ratepayers and Householders Association think again. He got 6,000 people to sign his petition – far more than his organisation’s total membership. Also, while he is a member of the new group Stop the Stadium – as I am – there are many people in it, such as me, who don’t share Mr Adie’s barebones view of city spending. I supported the council’s taking over of the Regent Theatre, the building of the new library, the building of the new art gallery, the restoration of the Railway Station and other projects considered by many to be expensive follies. I personally would support a city takeover of Carisbrook and its redevelopment even if that cost tens of millions of dollars. (My top line for that would probably be about $50m.) Opposition to Awatea Street is really quite widely based.

  8. I felt long ago that the media put the blinkers on the issue and produced Syd as the ‘only’ face of the opposition.

    We could play the “you show me your 6,000 signatures and i’ll show you my ….”

    As the regional council found out, after it announced how little support was evident at the public meetings, it was flooded with letters and emails of support.

    Also possibly the most telling of all, was the local body elections recently. The city gave an overriding message, that those who opposed the stadium were out. It was very clear and simple.

    I have no doubt that there are a great number of people on both sides, my friends and I can’t even agree, but then thankfully we live in a free and open society where we can argue it.

    Carisbrook, just shouldn’t be redeveloped, it’s very good money at a dog, a suburban patch-up. And $50m would only add another layer of new lipstick to it.

  9. Peter Entwisle

    Like many others you misinterpret the election. First up it was an election not a referendum on the stadium. Second, it’s true Lee Vandervis and Maurice Prendergast who were both anti stadium were not re-elected. However, Fliss Butcher who was openly anti stadium was, as were new councillors Dave Cull, Kate Wilson and Chris Staines. Other sitting councillors simply didn’t delcare their position so the election wasn’t a vote to proceed with the stadium.

    Some months earlier the DCC mail survey showed 59.3% didn’t want public funding of the stadium. The ORC mail survey shows 56% opposed to public funding of the stadium while the DCC phone survey showed 48.1% opposed. The mail surveys were criticised by anti stadium people as being tilted in favour of the stadium (by being addressed to the first name on the rate account, usually a man’s) so the results really show substantial opposition at that time.

    No doubt it’s gone up and down since then but the surveys are still the most accurate gauge of opinion. As I said the election is clearly not a pro-stadium charter.

    Yes, the ORC said it had many emails of support after the Chairman called for them – although so far as I’m aware they’ve never been published, unlike the submissions opposing, which anyone can see.

    In my view there should have been a referendum at the time of the election. That way there would have been no doubt where public opinion lay.

    You can get quite a bit of lipstick for $50m.

  10. Paul Campbell

    I think that having a referendum at the time of the election would have been a mistake because at that time the Stadium Trust hadn’t yet presented its plan – the way it came down there was only a few days between when the proposal was tabled and the council voted, certainly no time for independent review or public discussion. I wasn’t able to get a copy until after it was all over.

    What I think should have happened was that the Trust should have presented it’s document, we should have waited a couple of weeks so that everyone had a chance to digest it, research it, ask the Trust questions about it, etc – then we should have had public hearings, give everyone a chance to have their say – then another week or so for people to digest the results and make presentations to the council, then the council should have voted.

    What’s really missing is public hearings – of course they don’t really need to be held by the council, anyone could hold them provided they’re fair to both sides and everyone gets a say – maybe we should just do it – I wonder what it costs to rent the concert chambers for a night?

  11. Meg Davidson

    A high aim but a worthy one Paul. Bags not me chair it though! I doubt you would get the CST to support such a forum because to their way of thinking the whole thing is done and dusted, but there would be heaps of stadium supporters there, not giving constructive suggestions about the plan but trying to make the rest of us shut up. But perhaps I’m being cynical. What do you think Compie?
    I would like to add my thanks to Compie for starting this blog. It’s the sort of debate that should have happened a long time ago, and it shold have been the CST’s job IMO.

  12. Peter Entwisle

    That would have been a very useful exercise Paul. It might still be possible to attempt something like it, although, as Meg said, quite a few pro-people seem to think the whole thing is done and dusted. The councils would disdain it because they’d say they have already been through public hearings, although those are a rather stilted forum with little chance of a real exchange of views and information. And it would cost money… still, it’s food for thought.

    Peter Entwisle

  13. Guys,

    I have this baby up and running early middle of last year before I went to Vancouver for 6 months. Seems that the Stop the Stadium people have only just discovered it, and the pro stadium people hang out at another forum (can’t remember name), or are just apathetic.

    As for the idea of public forums, I’m cynical, they allow the overly passionate to get too heated, and bugger all is achieved. As for a referendum, and the election. Don’t give me the excuse that all of the information was out there. CST report or not, we were within a couple of $1m or so of the actual figures (not tens of millions), we knew the form of the building, the structure of the trust, the massive public pledge required, the planning issues, the vocal opposition, those Councillors for the development and those against. And resoundingly those opposed to the development were defeated in the election. Call me old fashioned, but democracy of that magnitude should be applauded.

    If we were to believe Citizens Initiated Referenda, we’d be hitting our kids and still outlawing Homosexuality. I’m not a fan of them, they allow the lowest common denominator and uneducated (on the issues) to dictate agenda.

    My only opposition to the development is in the details, like location and design. By all means though get more people involved in this issue, this is always good, both for and against.

    This blog is a forum for these, although excuse me if (not always) most of the time, I try to keep it academic.

  14. Peter Entwisle

    I think referenda over contentious issues regarding minority rights – homosexual law reform, smacking kids – easily can lead to the tyranny of the majority and for that reason are morally dubious.

    But this isn’t such an issue. It’s a question of whether or not to spend a very great deal of public money – enough to constrain civic finances for a generation if things go right and to seriously undermine them if they go wrong – on something which isn’t necessary but some people consider desirable. For such a question a referendum is desirable and the last local body election wasn’t that on this issue. Five candidates declared against the stadium were elected – Butcher, Stevenson, Cull, Wilson and Staines. Of the others they had either said they hadn’t yet decided or expressed only qualified support. The election really can’t be construed as a vote to proceed with the stadium.

  15. Paul Campbell

    Meg: Oh hell – I’d chair it – 3 minutes a person then the mike gets turned off, sign up first come first served, over head projector only (no people fiddling with laptops) – reasonable audience participation allowed but people get to be heard – stop someone from being heard and you lose your place on the list

    Stadium supporters shouldn’t be an issue – it’s a public meeting, of course they get to be heard, it would be a pointless exercise otherwise.

    The hard thing to handle would be people who want their say but are afraid to go public, I’ve met two people now who are very anti-stadium but afraid for their jobs if they are public about it (one guy’s boss had a city councilor down to lecture his employees) – I can’t figure out a way for people to make anonymous presentations

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