Friday, March 9, 2012

Antipodean Houses, Cross-Promotion and Kitschy Restaurants

I've been writing an arts column for NZ News UK since January and thought that my most recent article, on Amyas Connell, might be of interest to readers of this blog. It's primarily on High and Over, Connell's first building, and its impact on Britain in 1931.

Basil Ward, Connell's partner, is also from New Zealand; George Checkley, too, was born there. I find it interesting that three architects so known for their houses and for using reinforced concrete in the UK were all from New Zealand. I've noticed, generally, that there's an emphasis on the house (as a building type) in New Zealand that doesn't really exist in the same way in the UK.

I had tea with a friend in London last month and she described a house she'd visited near Victoria Park as "an Antipodean style house". It was modern and stand-alone, she explained, like the houses she'd seen in Auckland and Sydney. And certainly white reinforced concrete catches my attention in the UK in a way it wouldn't in New Zealand...

I generally put a lot of this down to New Zealand's population and landscape. There's more space; people can have their own houses rather than living in apartment blocks and terraces. In addition, there are so many places with magnificent views and so architects building private homes have more to engage with in the surrounding landscape, which would act as an incentive for top architects to design houses. In New Zealand there are a lot of brilliant architects building houses and architecture magazines are filled with exciting stand-alone homes; it's not all concert halls and attempts to change the world through innovative social housing.

I've also noticed in magazines that Japan seems to have a lot of architects building really exciting private homes.

I think the use of white reinforced concrete is less a matter of particular countries using it so much as English modern architects choosing to experiment with brick instead; England has a very strong connection to brick as a material. And certainly some modern architects in the UK are known for their use of concrete -Denys Lasdun (National Theatre) and Chamberlin Powell and Bon (the Barbican) spring to mind. There's just less rendering of this concrete than elsewhere and none of my theories are developed enough to explain why that might be.

And on another Australasia/Europe note, why have all the New Zealand related places in Europe closed down recently? I was really disappointed when the New Zealand shop in London closed down a few months ago; I used to buy presents for people there. And then a few days ago I tried to go to a New Zealand themed restaurant in Paris, Kiwi Corner, only to find it had disappeared two months ago. There are plenty of (good) coffee places from New Zealand in London but I really liked the idea of a restaurant serving bacon and egg pies in really kitschy surroundings. It's so touristy! But in Paris! Madeline might have walked past on her way to the Luxembourg Gardens!

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