In Praise of the Picturesque

Miss M and I have just returned from a trip around Northland.  It was in 2002 when I last visited the Far North.

The Kerikeri Stone Store and Kemp House in Kerikeri, The Mission House in Waimate and Pompallier House in Russell, were all looking pristine, gorgeous in their settings, and were attracting hordes of tourists.

The Stone Store

As I was steering around the lovely Far North roads, I got to contemplating what has happened to the design of timber frame domestic architecture in the 150 odd years since these treasures were built.

We have gone backwards in many respects.  Steep roofs have got horribly shallow. Spacious rooms now have  flat ceilings on the underside of a monotonous truss roof system. (Dormers have disappeared because of the above.)

Roofs are no longer simple forms, and now feature horrible hipped faux concrete tiles jigging in and out in arbitrary hips and valleys having no relationship whatsoever with the floor plan.

Wood is not exposed. White paint has become muddy. Nicely proportioned windows have degenerated to arbitrary and visually uncontrolled rectangles.

Verandahs are virtually deceased.Clear and logical floor plans have been replaced with inefficient, confusing  and random layouts, with far too much of the area taken up by corridors.

 Typical designs generally demonstrate poor internal relationships between themselves and outdoor spaces.

Front doors are overwhelmed by the adjoining double garage door.

Craftsmanship: The less said the better

Human Scale: A term not known to Real Estate Agents

Materials: Not guaranteed for 150 years.

The mass housing companies are selling houses as products not design. The resulting groupings of this stultifying visual boredom  have made our new suburbs  less interesting than the average cemetery, which at least displays a variety of headstones.

Houses are individualised by the colour of the front door, or the motor vehicle parked on the driveway.

I  concluded that if there is one single design decline, it is the disappearance of the picturesque.

A house should look more like a creative act, a lovely place to live and enjoy life rather than mere accommodation.

Clearly there are not groups of German, English, American or Asian Tourists flocking to the beauty of Whitby, Glenfield or Avonhead  as they do to the historic preservations in the Far North.

The NZHPT is to be congratulated for their authenticity of reinstatement and the superb presentation of our important heritage and at least we haven’t lost the references we should still be following.