Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Auckland architecture

A public loo on Symonds St, Auckland - circa 1910, but still in use

In the brief time I lived in the States, I was sorry to find my every prejudice confirmed about the place.  Houses, cars, roads and shops were big and tasteless, as if sheer size could overcome their lack of charm.  It was ordered, modern and clean - and for me, it lacked any ounce of character that, I assumed, only places with history could have.  (I extend humble apologies to the Americans I've had the pleasure of knowing and those I haven't for my lack of appreciation - without a doubt, it's somebody's paradise, just not mine.)
New Zealand's towns grew up in the same period as the towns of the western USA, and an inkling of concern ran through my thoughts before I left Italy.  What if I, so in love with the ancient architecture of Italy, found myself once more surrounded by new world styles which I couldn't help but loathe?

Auckland building facades that wouldn't be out of place in Northern Ireland

My curiosity battled my sleepiness to let me have a look at New Zealand on my first car ride from the airport.  I noticed the strangest thing.  Alongside the mirrored skyscrapers and the modern beach houses, there are lots of Victorian-style buildings which I guess are about 100-130 years old.  I felt an odd jolt of familiarity.  The buildings wouldn't be out of place in Belfast or other industrial cities of the UK!

Old architecture contrasts with new trends in central Auckland

Of course, there are differences too.  The skyline of the city is dominated by tall buildings - some stunning, some ugly - and the most dramatic icon for Auckland, the Sky Tower.  This graceful pinnacle is so high above everything else (the highest in the southern hemisphere in fact) that people bungee off it.  Given that the Sky Tower is visible for miles around, it's not hard to see this phenomenon... a dark speck dropping off and dangling from the tower.  I've little desire to try it.

The new and rather textural Imax building with the Sky Tower behind

Meanwhile the style that typifies Auckland for me is to be found in the city's oldest houses.  These are sometimes brick, sometimes wooden clapboard and often a mix.  They are abundant with lathework and latticework, an apt demonstration of the richness of wood that the colonists found here.  It might be called New England-neogothic-victoriana and it's a little too overdecorated to be my dream house.  But it's lovely to walk through the old residential streets on my walk to the Domain (a large park and botanical gardens) and nosey at their quirky style.

 New England-neogothic-victoriana?

In italiano!: L'architettura a Auckland
Dal mio breve periodo negli stati uniti, temevo che lo stile del "nuovo mondo" sarebbe tutto cio che non mi piace: grande, ma senza stile.
Invece a Auckland, l'architettura mi ricorda molto del mio paese, e di diverse citta' brittanniche dell'epoca industriale.  Ci sono tanti edifici che hanno 100-130 anni, insieme con i grattacieli.  

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