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Auckland could learn from Paris

Te Radar's Rant: Le lessons


Auckland could learn some Unitary Plan lessons from the City of Lights - and gargoyles.

Having recently spent a fortnight casually sauntering around central Paris the one conclusion I came to was that Auckland's architecture is woefully bereft of gargoyles.

Gargoyles are the perfect example of form and function reaching a friendly agreement in the form of a drainpipe. A common feature of many buildings, notably the Notre Dame Cathedral, these carved grotesques are fitted with a spout which channels rainwater through their gaping mouths, allowing it to fall away from the walls.

Perhaps if we'd used more of them we might have avoided our leaky home debacle.

At the very least our houses would have looked more gothic and that has to be a good thing. They add a sense of drama and style to the buildings they adorn. This focus on aesthetics embodies the Parisian building style, and in Auckland's quest for higher density living it's a lesson worth heeding.

Paris does have formless towers in its outer suburbs that are woefully designed, even compared with the worst of our soulless blocks, but the stylish apartments that line the streets of central Paris feature wrought iron balconies and window boxes bursting with vibrant geraniums, making them as attractive outside as they no doubt are inside.

Often built in squares around a central courtyard, the apartments combine a communal private space with tightly packed city living. It may not be the quarter-acre paradise we have long held dear, but at least there's somewhere to put the bins, and no lawn to mow.

While Paris may be a model of urban lifestyle design, they may have taken the concept of having-it-all a little too far with the "Paris Plage". Each summer they truck in tonnes of sand and dump it on the concrete sidewalk next to the Seine River, throw up a few umbrellas, lay out some loungers, and call it a beach.

Parisians slip into their speedos to bask next to an aromatic river they can't plunge into for health reasons. This is either a Parisian Bondi or the world's largest litterbox.

It is a great example of civic money being used to create usable public spaces, even if it is just for those members of the public who want to lie and fry in the sun as thousands of tourists walk past taking photos.

The lesson we can learn from the gargoyles, geraniums, and Gallic speedo-wearers is that developers, and those who allow development to happen, have a civic duty to create visually appealing, family functional, and ultimately desirable higher density environments so that people will move into them through choice and not necessity.

Money spent on a city's aesthetics is not money wasted.

We can also learn that not everyone is adept at keeping geraniums alive, that speedos are not for everyone, and that gargoyles might be attractive but when they channel rainwater away from walls it falls instead in a torrent onto the middle of the footpath, making it rather difficult to stay dry.

Even as I strolled the boulevards, one of the Auckland's flagship apartment buildings, supposed to herald the successful transition to higher-density urban living in New Lynn, was being castigated for having pillars in the bedrooms. Pillars. As if no one would notice this rather inconvenient design flaw.

In fact it seems that no one did, at least until they tried to get a bed in.

We don't have a large history of apartment building but I would have thought that at some stage during the sketching of the plans someone might have said "Should we really have a pillar there?"

The correct answer would have been "No". And, "Let's add some gargoyles."

By Andrew "Te Radar" Lumsden  Photo / Getty Images