New Zealand, preferably Auckland, needs a Guggenheim Museum like the one here in Bilbao, Spain. Impossible to describe, just to say it's an extraordinary construction of steel and glass and titanium, in rolling waves, ingenious convergences and marriages of materials. I did say impossible to describe.
Costing 100 million, it paid for itself in three years from the tax generated by 4 million visitors' general spending in this city whose old part of town is all charming age and tapas bars.
Throw in dirt cheap wine at $5 a glass and you can forget the Auckland waterfront at triple that price and more. And don't bring your early evening eating habit to anywhere in Spain, as restaurants don't open till 9-9.30 p.m. Toddlers accompany their parents and usually grandparents too, staying up till after midnight. You hardly see a grizzly kid.
Wellington's Te Papa Museum had its chance to get the celebrated architect of the above, Frank Gehry, who submitted a plan in partnership with New Zealand's finest architect, the late Ian Athfield. The contract was awarded to Jasmax who, in my opinion, took the politically correct road in its obvious features said to represent the New Zealand story. The country missed out on the genius duo of Gehry and Athfield and the only tale that got told is one of conforming.
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The Guggenheim Foundation licenses its name, curating skills and access to some of the world's best art collections. Auckland needs a Gehry/Guggenheim Foundation combination far more than a new sports stadium. Most of us love rugby but come on, we need culture too - and our musical composers should come up with songs we can all sing together at, yes, rugby test matches.
The Christchurch Cathedral, sad though to see so damaged in the earthquakes, is a relic of the past and costly if it is to be restored. Perhaps another, smaller Guggenheim building could go up in its place. Tourists would love it. And yes, there should be a Maori cultural element in both because Rotorua tourists have shown they go there first and foremost to experience Maori culture.
Kiwis are too practical a people to likely acquire admiration for architects. Our DIY culture is why Mitre 10, Bunnings, etc are strong businesses. Nothing wrong with do-it-yourself. But it does generate its own lack of taste, balance, aesthetics.
Example: The hideous new sub-division sprawls of grey iron roofs, faux front door columns, and a contest on who can come up with the ugliest angles clashing with each other. This column has said before, however, that Kiwis are constantly reinventing themselves in their eating habits, the cafe culture, how we've become the best coffee-makers in the world, far superior to France. We need to open our minds to good architecture.
I often ask myself, how did a state-house boy acquire a love for architecture? God knows. At age 21 I found myself walking out of a book shop with a book on architect genius, Antoni Gaudi. Not a single Persian rug in our entire state house neighbourhood, but we have a few in our modest apartment in Bayonne, France which I never tire looking at. Antique furniture? As a young man I would have thrown the stuff out because it was old. Same ignorant young man who would have jettisoned vintage wines for the same reason. Twenty five years ago I wrote a column in the local Hawke's Bay paper having a crack at an awful new subdivision just gone up in Havelock North. Boy, the outpouring. This is before the internet gave birth to its vast families of haters. Now I would be more diplomatic, though my eyes no less offended by the gaudy, the crass, the social pretension.
I think most of us are certain that the coming election is going to throw up some major political change. Yep, Winston can smell it. Not sure the Maori Party or Act or Peter Dunne's admirable lone stand all these years will survive the blast, nor the Greens.
Whoever the newcomers, please bring in a capital gains tax on every residential property transaction including our own homes. Don't forget what Maori culture has done for us but at the same time don't be pushed around and bullied when enough is enough. And please find a way to elevate architects. Every country needs them.