A couple of weeks back I wrote how having just returned to New Zealand after almost 4 months away, I sat down and plowed through all the newspapers awaiting me, or at least the New Zealand Herald as I not being a maori speaker, the Dominion-Post is largely unintelligible.
Anyway, I wrote about a phenomenon which such concentrated reading revealed, namely how the pre-fix “award winning” nowadays seems to be applied to virtually everyone and everything.
As I pointed out, hitherto it was virtually the sole domain of journalism, being a sop for low salaries and job humiliation. Indeed, I referred to the full-page in one Herald copy which listed circa 300 winner names for this award year. In other words, everyone gets a prize.
My salient point was that such volume dilutes the value of awards, now seemingly being applied to everyone in every activity.
I’d written that item the day before it appeared. Well, in mid-afternoon, peacefully at home reading, I received a traumatising, gloating call from my Wellington manager who first asked if I was sitting down. What horror was to be revealed; a death; a building collapse; the 3rd world war announced? I wondered fearfully.
“Brace yourself,” Aaron said.
“I’m braced,” I replied.
“It’s pretty bad,” he said.
“What’s happened?” I cried.
“You’re in for a shock,” Aaron tortured me, then spat it out. “You’ve just won an award,” he gloated.
“Oh my God,” I cried, mindful of that day’s blog entry. “What is it?”
“Are you sure you’re sitting down?” Aaron asked. “It’s really bad” and then he revealed the horror. “The Architects Institute have just announced their annual awards and declared Brandon House, (a Wellington office building DESIGNED BY ME,) as the sole commercial building winner for the year.”
Ruination awaited. My name was mud. For the first time since childhood, I was close to tears.
Sensing that, Aaron then provided some solace. “Your name wasn’t published” he advised.
“Thank God for that,” I cried, then it struck me as odd for the Architects Institute to declare a building award-winner and not mention its designer, and I said as much.
“You’re not going to believe it,” Aaron said. “They’ve given the award to the firm we used,” who had absolutely nothing to do with the design but merely drew up the plans to my design and conducted the tender.
To explain. We employ six people, three in each of our Wellington and Auckland offices whose sole job is correcting architect’s design errors in the buildings we acquire and, also adding improvement to our requirements. All of this work requires drawings to be done for the tender process and for this we use architects.
As any real estate agent will tell you, the pre-fix of “award-winning” on a building or house almost guarantees it will be unsaleable.
The newspapers periodically publish photos of architectural award-winning houses which without exception are visual and functional dogs.
With Brandon House our plan drawers still managed a cock-up. For example, for one floor I designed a large harbour-viewed deck to be accessed by sliding glass full length doors. We inspected the building on completion and found the “full-length” glass doors were not and instead one had to step over a foot high wedge they’d created. We’re used it and will redo it.
Wellington has had only one highly competent office-building architect in the last 60 years, a chap called David Lough who unfortunately died a couple of decades back.
But this is not just a New Zealand issue. Sydney office-buildings are full of design blunders and as in New Zealand over the years we’ve spent many tens of millions correcting them.
Yet curiously many Brisbane office-buildings are excellent as so in American and Chinese cities. Some of the worst are in London whereas elsewhere in Britain most are OK. I’m referring to basic function issues such as the number of lifts, their location, the placement of structural columns and so on; all stuff lost on the layman.
Having said all of that, I’ll at least give our Brandon House plans’ drafters points for a sense of humour, and not just for their cheek in submitting the building as their work.
When the firm’s Principals first came in to be briefed their boss asked me why I didn’t want any suggestions.
I have a large central Lambton Quay office with expansive views, marred by a bloody great concrete column unnecessarily in the middle. “Look at that,” I spluttered, pointing at the column.
“What’s wrong with it?” their Principal asked. It’s bloody unbelievable and I saw red.
“Listen to me you bastards. I’ll let you into a secret. Next year my long planned military coup is occurring and as dictator the first bloody thing I plan doing is erecting 40 scaffolds down the centre of Lambton Quay from which will permanently hang, 17th century style, the rotting corpses of bloody commercial architects. And as for you,” I said to the Principal, “for your column locating ignorance, before you get strung up, you’ll cop 1000 lashes.”
A few weeks later a courier delivered a large package. Inside was a glossy piece of cardboard revealing a drawing of Lambton Quay and its various buildings accurately portrayed. And down the middle of the road was drawn about 40 scaffolds, each with a hanging corpse, while at the far end a large muscular black man, stripped to the waist, was shown lashing the Principal strapped over a barrel.
At the bottom lay the signatures of the architectural firm’s dozen or so key partners.
We can forgive their sins for that splendid and now framed effort.