Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Alan Duff: Build a better dogbox–and your life may never be the same again


While many still wonder how they may ever afford even a dogbox in residential land, writer Alan Duff is wondering how the nation might ever acquire good taste in residential buildings. “House design, like life, can be a fuller experience,” he says. “Kiwis should try it.” 

You (should) want balance, cohesion, clever use of space; natural light is as important as artificial lighting. Everywhere you look (from inside) should reveal a different surprise each day ….

Instead, he bemoans, the only thing you can say for most of our house designs is their overall lack of taste in house.

Can't be called architecture as only a tiny minority of houses in this country use the profession.
    Homes here are, in the main, designed and built from a pragmatic perspective. No thought is given to having a house that blends in or coheres with others to give it that sense of community as well aesthetics. It's Bob the Builder mentality.
    Give our blokey Bob the cheapest materials and he'll give you the fastest, cheapest methods of construction; every shortcut taken. Good taste overtaken on the first blind bend. "There ya go, mate. Done before you knew it."
    Only have to add the budget furniture and Bob's your uncle too.
    Friends drove my wife and I through their township and it was no less than an Ugly House tour. Hideous does not describe it, though won't name the town as might get lynched next time back.
    We saw a competition on who can construct the country's ugliest, most garish-taste dwelling. First-equal prize could have been handed out to at least 500 dwellings.
    Be as rich or poor as you like, in this country, from a low-cost subdivision to an exclusive gated community, you'll see the national cultural trait: A public declaration of contempt for architects, the attitude: "Who needs one of them? Buggers only add to the cost."
    They can do, depending on their brief. … [But you should demand] balance, cohesion, clever use of space; natural light… A love affair with the sun, not a divorce. And so on… Everywhere you look (from inside) should reveal a different surprise each day as you realise how well trained is your architect.

New Zealanders, he reckons, “seem to see only the cost of architecture and not appreciate the value.”

Ask Bob the Builder to add a room or two, and you will get several very serviceable rooms. But ask a decent architect, and you’ll get something you never even thought was possible – maybe even a day-to-day experience that becomes life-changing, and certainly life-enhancing.

There’s more to life than “on sweets,” wall-to-wall carpets and coming home every night through an internal-access garage. There’s a whole world of experiences to be enjoyed. As he says, Kiwis should try it sometime.



  1. I have always thought of NZ houses as sheds with a carpet.

    Heating and ventilation as an afterthought. Cardboard walls wrapped in paper! Wall studs in the most idiotic places to ensure no curtains can be fitted without building some re-enforcement onto the wall. Wiring strewn in randomly, diagonally through walls by idiot sparkies. Powerpoints on purpose smack bang in the middle of a wall. Plumbing, flooring, .... oh it's just depressing. And that is only the technical part.

    Let's face it. Kiwis don't live in their breeding boxes. They camp in them.

  2. To some extent NZers' desire to save money on architects is probably driven by the overall high cost of building. When land costs, building costs, and compliance costs are so high, people are often forced to save money wherever they can. They might prefer to build something innovative designed by an architect, but it's an extra cost that they can't really afford.


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