22 February 2011

6 John Jennings Drive, Albany, North Shore, New Zealand

Many years ago, I moved into a suburb called Torbay, on the very outskirts of Auckland's North Shore. If you drove a little way down the road, you would enter the tiny village of Albany. To get here, you would drive down what was little more than a dirt track named Oteha Valley Road snaking through sparse fields. Nothing really happened there - apart from the orchards, the thing that Albany Village and surrounds was well-known for was its vast chicken population.

These days, things are very different. People actually refer to the place as "Albany CBD", there's a gigantic and soulless Westfield shopping mall, the bars and caf├ęs are many, the architecture is non-existent. It's a bustling hub, unrecognisable from what it was in the mid-1990s. I blame this largely on the Northern Motorway extension, which was built in 1999 and connected the isolated Albany to the rest of Auckland. When this happened, Oteha Valley Road was rapidly transformed. They had to actually seal it and make it into a proper four lane road, to allow for the flow of traffic on and off the motorway. When this happened, little shops and houses started springing up all along the road, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing at first. But shortly after that, the inevitable mass produced housing developments were built alongside the road. This line of eyesores was one of the first. While it is not technically ON Oteha Valley Road, it might as well be - it casts a great ugly shadow over the entire road.

Clearly funding was very, very low at the time, since they've actually had to build these houses from balsa wood. Seriously, I'm astounded that they're still standing more than 10 years later. The walls are about two centimetres thick - they look like they would fall down if you so much as slammed your door. In addition to that, I have much respect for the residents of these houses for being able to find their way back to their house each day. They all look exactly the same. If I lived there, I dread to think how many times I would have tried to go into my neighbour's house after a long day at uni.

There is absolutely no excuse for this. These days, Oteha Valley Road has many housing developments, but at least with the other ones they tried a little bit. At least they look as if they took more than a day to build. At least they're actually made out of housebricks rather than something you would find in a hobby shop to make model aeroplanes. I'm really not sure what has the least amount of charm, these houses or the ugliest Westfield shopping mall in Auckland which resides a little further down the road. Both served to ruin a little bit of Albany - the mall by taking away the business of many small independent shops close by, and these houses by simply being a crime against humanity.

These houses can never be saved. Just bomb the entire site and start again, please. Don't make me look at these block of mushroom-coloured death and sadness any longer. Still, at least now the shrubs along the retaining walls have had a chance to grow and at least partially shield these houses from the eyes of innocent drivers. Oh, and they don't have real roofing either. What looks like a pointed roof from the front isn't really, it's just a facade. Just another thing to make these places look even more like badly painted stage props.

Rating: Condemnable

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