28 February 2011

460 Albion Street, Brunswick West, VIC, Australia

The drug house was for sale for a very long time. Wonder why?
Brunswick West does have a lot of nice places. It really does. But you can never quite get rid of properties like this, loitering incessantly like a bunch of underage youths outside a liquor store. This place is probably just as dirty, but a hell of a lot more fascinating. Like many of the properties around these parts, we initially thought this one was most definitely abandoned. It looks as if it hasn't been painted since it was first built - and if you think the front looks bad, you should see around the sides and the back! There are a couple of outbuildings which I believe were once a shed and garage. Both are now falling to pieces and literally unrecognisable. So, who in their right mind would actually live here? Nobody, right? WRONG.

Complete with nice car.
We had taken to calling this place "the drug house" due to to the fact that we would quite often see very nice cars parked incongruously in the driveway. We assumed that nobody would have a car that nice and a house that shitty, so we naturally jumped to the conclusion that the falling down shed out the back was actually a sophisticated hydroponic setup. Mystery solved! We would smirk knowingly to ourselves as we wandered by, sure that we had uncovered yet another house of illicit wares. However, as always, things were to take a surprising turn.

One day around Christmas, we were lucky enough to be walking past the drug house when the front door was open. Up until this point, we had never had so much as a glimpse inside, since the curtains are always drawn. But today we were in luck. One of the very nice cars that we had been seeing regularly was outside, and there was a couple who appeared to be dropping a few things off at the house. But here's where the shock set in - this decrepit, falling down heap of turds is actually furnished. It would appear that despite all evidence to the contrary, people actually live here. I'm not just talking about a couple of garden chairs here, either. I'm talking large sideboard (complete with mirror and Christmas decorations), reasonably well-kept floorboards, bookcases and soft furnishings.

The original ad for the drug house.
This is bizarre in the extreme. The place had actually been advertised for sale up until just a few days ago when the sign disappeared. Given that they were asking over a million dollars for the site (they pretty much said "just knock this place down and build massive apartments"), I'm not surprised it hasn't sold. Still, this place didn't look too bad inside. If someone has been living there over a long period of time, why the hell haven't they done ANYTHING to the outside? People would probably be interested in this place if it was fixed up - it's a pretty big house on a full section. A clever estate agent would be able to get close to a million for it quite easily. But no, it's been left to fester and now nobody even wants the land it stands on. I'm not surprised; that shed probably full of cockroaches and rats and used syringes. I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole.

Rating: Condemnable

27 February 2011

Pomare railway station, Taita, Hutt Valley, New Zealand

The bland northern end of Pomare station.
Earlier this month, I ranted about Macaulay station.  Well, the disease of soulless railway stations is by no means confined to Australia.  Meet a dreary trans-Tasman example: Pomare station, on the Hutt Valley commuter line (part of the longer Wairarapa Line).  Contrary to what some people may have you believe, Pomare station is not in a suburb of the same name as no such suburb exists; it is at the northern end of Taita.

Now, some parts of the Hutt Valley, including Taita, can be a bit depressing.  Large swathes of these suburbs are state housing (or ex-state housing) built in the mid-twentieth century, and with that comes the usual socio-economic disadvantage and depression.  This isn't to say that the area is totally and irredeemably crap, because it's not, but the Hutt Valley has never really been my favourite part of the Wellington region.  However, on a cold, damp, and windswept morning in July 2010, I found myself trainspotting at Pomare station.  And, well, oh dear!  Besides my fingers almost freezing to my camera, the station is no place you particularly want to be in a hurry.  It's not the worst station I've ever been to, and it's not quite on the level of the aforementioned Macaulay, but it's still pretty undesirable.

The southern end of Pomare toile- er, station.
If the people who authorised this station wanted to convey the impression that northern Taita is a bland, depressing, squalid sort of place where nobody wants to be through choice, then they've done a damn good job.  It has few redeeming aesthetic qualities; all it can really say in its defence is that it has a real, sloped roof, hence it isn't totally boxy.  The passenger facilties are as spare and basic as possible, and damn uncomfortable.  The building barely fulfils its basic function of providing passenger shelter from the elements.  You know what it looks like to me?  From the southern end (picture at right), it resembles a public toilet planted between two busy railway lines.

In fact, it looks like two public toilets.  The building looks like a rather large cubicle, the sort of which you often see decaying by beaches where the local council doesn't care that much about swimmers (especially since, from this end, the building is deceptively boxy).  Then there's that ramp, leading to a rape-y underpass that really does have a lingering scent of urine; when descending from the platform, it feels more like entering an underground loo than it does when you enter some actual underground loos!  Are you totally incapable of holding in the contents of your bladder on the oh-so-long trip between Upper Hutt and Wellington?  Step off at Pomare's public toilets and unleash your torrent!  Space for everyone.

Of course, the truth is, this station is so basic that it actually doesn't have toilet facilities at all, no matter how much the underpass may smell of one.  And when I was there in July, the whiffs of urine were mingling with the smell of dampness.  I was charmed, can't you tell?

Rating: Damnable

55 Nelson Place (Willy Tavern), Williamstown, VIC, Australia

Williamstown is a very nice seaside suburb that I visited for the first time recently. It's not the kind of place where I would expect to find old, rundown buildings - quite the opposite. Nelson Place is home to many interesting restaurants and eclectic shops selling tasteful (but useless) wares for housewives with a bit too much money. So imagine my surprise and excitement when I came across this wreck of an old tavern!
As seen from the corner of Ann Street and Nelson Place.
I can't really work out why this place came to be abandoned. The surrounding streets are full of lovely houses, and I'm sure the residents would love to pop down for a drink at the Willy (teehee) at the end of a long day. In addition to that, I'm sure it would get a fair amount of patronage from all the tourists wanting a cold beer after a hot day at the beach. Yet here it stands looking like it will fall down at the faintest gust of wind. I haven't been able to find out when this place was closed. At a guess I would estimate that it closed in about 1972, but this article from 1992 indicates that it was still in operation then. Also, what a surprise - the Willy Tavern was partly owned by a Collingwood player with a love of topless barmaids! Sounds like it was a pretty classy joint back in the day. The tavern was also used in the filming of the TV series Blue Heelers, in which it was used as the Commercial Hotel.

Graffiti, cracks, broken drainpipe and decrepit balcony.
It may come as a surprise to learn that this building is actually heritage listed. Now I don't know about you, but when I think of heritage listed buildings, I imagine them being cared for and preserved. This is most decidedly NOT that case for the Willy Tavern! Some of the cracks in the exterior walls are terrifying, and all I can say is that I'm glad Victoria isn't prone to earthquakes. The interior of the tavern seems to have been quite heavily vandalised - graffiti is visible through the broken windows on the upper floors, and the windows and doors on the lower floors have been covered in heavy corrugated iron sheets. Those vandals must have been fucking brave - I wouldn't even set foot on that rusty old balcony, let alone go inside and risk the whole thing collapsing on me! Seriously, I'm sure that someone could at least make a quick buck off the Willy Tavern by setting up some kind of Blue Heelers themed bar.

Interestingly enough, I found some photos of the tavern from 2007 and 2008, in which it looks a little less dingy - the windows haven't yet been smashed to bits and the corrugated iron hasn't been put up over the lower doors and windows. This place clearly just hasn't aged well at all. I imagine that towards the end it may have been losing lots of money, so they probably couldn't afford to maintain the hotel's exterior even then. It amuses me that the gaudy neon sign is still intact, though a little worse for wear. Still, even when it was in use, I'm pretty sure that "beer" never resembled anything other than the sludge at the bottom of the Moonee Ponds Creek.

One of many gigantic exterior cracks.
It's sad that a heritage listed building has been allowed to simply rot away like this. Perhaps that's what they're aiming for though - just heritage list it and ignore it, wait for it to fall down and then sell the land off at ridiculously inflated prices so that some "architect" can erect another mushroom-coloured shitbox to ruin the town. I guess they're just waiting for the next big storm to hit Victoria. Until then, though, I'm sure the Willy Tavern will continue to decay, attract vandals and cause complaints from the local residents. Maybe next time we visit Williamstown, we'll be able to show you some photos from inside - it seems that the back wall of the tavern isn't far from just falling off. I really would love to see what it's like inside, but as I mentioned before, I'd be afraid to even tread too heavily nearby in case I brought the whole thing crashing down. Still, the Willy Tavern can now claim the dubious honour of holding our second-ever Cellar Floor rating! Now there's something to be, uh, proud of.

Rating: Cellar floor

25 February 2011

101 Waterfront Way (Melbourne Eye / Southern Star Observation Wheel), Docklands, VIC, Australia

LaTrobe St end of Docklands in March 2008; Melbourne Eye at hard right.
It's fair to say that a number of New Zealand cities have Australian equivalents.  Christchurch is a miniature Adelaide.  Auckland is a miniature Sydney.  And perhaps the reason why I took to Melbourne so merrily is because it's just Wellington writ large, but lacking any serious hills to climb.  They are both the cultural capitals of their respective countries.  They both have by far the most competent public transport of their respective countries (though that isn't saying much in either case).  Their dining precincts are unparalleled in any other city in their respective countries.  And after Wellington did an impeccable job converting its old wharves into a welcoming, vibrant waterfront precinct, Melbourne decided it had to replicate this idea.

Unfortunately, Melbourne didn't quite grasp the idea properly.  Anybody who has been to Docklands can attest to the fact that it can be a pretty sterile, lifeless area trying way too hard to attract ... well, it seems to want hordes of tourists and shoppers, but somewhat in contradiction it wants them to be a higher class of clientele, cashed up sorts who will blow heaps of money on impractical clothes and a meal that costs four times what you'd pay at a normal Melbourne restaurant but is only a quarter the size.  Of course, cashed up bogans dismiss Docklands as a hub of leftie yuppies, while actual lefties such as myself couldn't afford to live there even if we wanted to.  You see the dilemma.  So to help lure some more people in, the Southern Star observation wheel was built ... and that's when things got hilarious.

In our entry about Moonee Ponds Creek, you would have already seen this picture of the Southern Star from Railway Canal, taken during construction in April 2008:

Now if you thought "how'd the London Eye get into that picture?", I don't blame you.  No doubt most people have heard of the London Eye; a gigantic ferris wheel beside the Thames that affords spectacular views of the city.  Somebody decided there were enough people in Melbourne who'd also want to pay money to be taken from one place ... to exactly the same place.  Well, pretty much as soon as this thing was proposed for Melbourne a few years after the London Eye opened, the comparisons flowed in.  Can't we have original ideas?  Don't we look like such colonials for copying London?  So on and so forth; the unofficial name "Melbourne Eye" stuck much better than "Southern Star Observation Wheel", a downright stupid name.  Construction began in 2006, and after a couple of delays and inevitable snide comments by everybody, it opened in December 2008.

February 2009 from West Melbourne.
Hooray?  Not so fast.  In January 2009, just a month later, the Melbourne Eye closed.  That's right, after just a month in operation, it shut down.  The damn thing suffered buckling and cracks!  The operators tried to blame all of this on a rather severe heatwave (yes, as in that heatwave that gave us Black Saturday) ... it was later discovered to be a design fault, though I'm pretty sure any big-mouth pundit on the street was proclaiming that the moment the wheel closed.  This led to the most hilarious part of the saga: the wheel was taken down for repairs (or, so it seemed, for good) while the legs remain up to the present, clearly visible from the main highway and intercity railway lines into the city from the north.

Lonely legs in February 2010.

Cranes join the legs in January 2011.
Two years later, this erectile dysfunction has become something of the Melbourne answer to North Haverbrook's monorail, if you catch my drift.  "There ain't no observation wheel and there never was!"  Yet amazingly, reconstruction began last month!  Can't wait for the Melbourne Eye's next month of operation.  How about June-July 2012, then it closes because of a "harsh winter", aka more structural defects and revenue being markedly underwhelming?  After all, that's the crucial difference between London and Melbourne's Eyes: London put theirs beside major attractions in the middle of the city, while Melbourne parked theirs on the city fringe.  Beside the wheel, you have an area of urban renewal that most people don't really care about enough to visit, and a giant fucking railway yard (great for me but not so much for sane people).  Before you get through the reconstruction, folks, you might want to have a quick re-think about the wheel's location.

Rating: Unpleasant, in a hilarious way.  I'm sure it'll be fine once it's ready, but those lonesome legs haven't been a good look.

24 February 2011

198 Berkeley Street (Economics and Commerce Building), University of Melbourne, Carlton, VIC, Australia

The view from Haymarket Junction.
Once upon a time (i.e. for about its first 100 years of existence), the University of Melbourne had an undeniably pretty campus in Parkville with a lake and a lot of gorgeous buildings.  Luckily, some still stand - Old Arts, Old Physics, University House, and the 1888 Building, to name a few.  However, the lake vanished in the late 1930s.  Wilson Hall burnt down and was replaced by a hideous box in the 1950s (soon to be featured here).  And since the 1960s, the university seems to be doing everything it can to erect eyesores that overshadow its rich architectural heritage; see, of course, my recent rant on the Eastern Resource Centre.  The latest chapter in Melbourne University's embarrassing architectural lowlights of the past 50 years opened last year: the new Economics and Commerce Building at 198 Berkeley Street.

Near the intersection of Berkeley and Pelham Streets.
The amount of wank produced by the university and the "architects" surrounding this building almost exceeds the amount of wank on a St Kilda FC team holiday.  And they're up against Nick Dal Santo there, so that's quite a feat!  Just check out the building's website, an unbelieveably hideous and unusable web failure.  Somehow 198 Berkeley St is actually the most attractive thing about that site.  But perhaps the most spectacular wank appears on the university's website, right here.  I quote:

Architect Paul Bennett of Metier3 says:"The University was looking for a landmark to signify their south-western gateway. The opaque enamelled glass has patterns suggesting deciduous trees in winter as well as an abstracted leaf canopy."

The opaque enamelled glass has patterns suggesting deciduous trees in winter as well as an abstracted leaf canopy.  Are they actually serious?  Can they actually say that with a straight face?  I mean, christ-

Just look at it!


No, you blundering nincompoops, the only thing this building's patterns suggest is MOULD.  The opaque enamelled glass has PATTERNS SUGGESTING A GIANT FUCKING LOAF OF MOULDY BREAD AS WELL AS AN ABSTRACTED FUNGAL CANOPY.

Seriously, it looks like some bakers in Melbourne decided to bake the world's largest loaf of bread, succeeded ... but then couldn't actually eat it all and just left it to go mouldy.  The building may be commendable for its environmentally friendly design, but it's about as aesthetically pleasing as my pantry when it's 40C for a few days and I've forgotten that there are loaves of bread and Turkish rolls and pita bread in there.

At least I'm not the only person who has taken some objection; see this blog from July 2009, half a year before the building was officially opened.  Perhaps the only comfort we can take is that this hideous blunder of architecture has been inflicted on the Economics and Commerce faculty, rather than one with real people.  Then again, I'm not sure even economists deserve this, and it reflects pretty poorly on the whole damn university.  And bloody deciduous trees, really?!


Rating: Condemnable.

Geographical note: Although this building is part of Melbourne University's Parkville campus, it is the latest step in the university's expansion beyond its traditional southern boundary of Grattan Street, i.e. into Carlton.

23 February 2011

Footbridge over Citylink, Brunswick West, VIC, Australia

One day, I headed out for a little stroll around some of the quieter suburban streets north of Albion Street. It was a bit of a dark day, with dark clouds threatening rain on the horizon. Everything was very still, and to be honest I was getting a little unnerved by it all. Imagine how I felt, then, when I followed a grassy little path and came out facing this.

This creepy creepy bridge runs from Peacock Street to McColl Street over Citylink. There is another bridge a little further south that is the same as the Head Bridge in every way except one. The crucial difference is that the Hope Street bridge doesn't have these CREEPY FUCKING HEADS. I inspected the bridge thoroughly and found absolutely no explanation for these heads. No artist name, no commemorative plaque, nothing. Just a whole lot of unnerving stone heads. They seems to all come from the same mould, so it's not like they're supposed to be statues of real people. Then again, I suppose this is for the best - I don't know about you, but I certainly wouldn't want to be immortalised in cracked stone on the walls of a slightly claustrophobic footbridge. This is a fate which I would only wish upon people like Tony Abbott and Justin Bieber, to name but two.

Now, I'm all for a little bit of artwork to liven up the city. I was frequently frustrated with the lack of artwork (or just nice features in general) in Auckland. However, I do not want to be confronted by cracked, blackened, expressionless stone heads when I'm going for an innocent suburban walk. These remind me forcibly of the way that hunters (and my friend Jamie) display deers' heads and the like over their fireplaces. Some of the heads look as though they've been burnt, and others have missing pieces - there's one which lacks a nose. Some of the heads have been defaced as well, which in most cases just adds to the eeriness. The drips of spraypaint on some of the heads make them look as though they're crying (or just emo kids without waterproof mascara).

I've searched far and wide for an explanation of this and have so far found nothing. Still, an explanation wouldn't stop this thing being creepy. I feel sorry for all the poor children who have probably been given nightmares from walking across this bridge. Actually that's a lie; I hate children. Still, this thing creeped the shit out of me, and I had to drag Ax down there as soon as possible to make him believe that I'd actually found such a thing. We went in the late evening, as most of these photos show, and it was even creepier that way. I guess this is what I get for walking down rape-y pathways by myself on dull days. Still, if it wasn't for insatiable curiosity, this blog wouldn't exist in the first place, and what a terrible thing that would be!

Rating: Unpleasant, both in design and in the feeling it gives you.

121 and 123 Dawson Street, Brunswick West, VIC, Australia

121 and 123 Dawson Street, on the corner with Ferriman Street.

Remember my original post about horrid, soulless boxes around Melbourne?  It's about time that we featured another one of these miserable attempts at medium density housing.  Dawson Street in Brunswick West is home to a couple of adjacent examples, one of which has now fortunately been renovated to bring it kicking and screaming ... well, not into the 21st century, but at least a decade closer to the present than its forlorn neighbour.
Closer view of 123 Dawson Street.

Let's start, however, with 123 Dawson Street, which retains its original exterior.  I cannot fathom who designed this or why they thought anybody would want to live here.  How do you give directions to this place?  "Yeah, you turn onto Dawson Street, then I'm at number 123; just keep an eye out for the ugly orange brick place with no charm whatsoever."  Wherever you go, you're destined to spot eyesores along these lines, and I have to say they are the very low point of architecture.  Even your modern wanky bollocks with windows at funny angles, feature walls that look like they are plastered with mould, and an exterior painted the colour of mushrooms and despair are more appealing than this.

At least in the case of modern wank, somebody has put some effort into the design, however misguided that effort may be.  123 Dawson Street is functional and nothing more.  It's just four walls of the most plain variety with some windows in them.  Forget a proper roof.  Forget eaves.  Forget anything more than the barest essentials - four walls around you and a ceiling above.  Utterly thoughtless design for thoughtless developers who just wanted to throw up a block of flats as quickly as possible, cram in hapless sods, and make off with their money.

Closer view of 121 Dawson Street.

A few years ago, somebody recognised the folly of this design and renovated one of the two blocks - 121 Dawson Street.  Unfortunately, this turned out to be a fairly thoughtless renovation.  The walls were slapped with a new cladding, a bizarre "feature" was whacked around the upstairs middle window (straight from Pissweak Feature World), and ... that's about it.  Worst of all, it was painted the colour of mushrooms and despair!  Seriously, who paints their building so that it is reminiscent of a drizzly English day?  The renovator spent all this money on a renovation, and instead of using a tasteful colour scheme to highlight their work and make the place stand out, they have painted it so that it looks bland and sinks from view and memory immediately.  At least it looks about a decade younger than its neighbour now, so I guess the owner can fleece people for a higher rent on the basis of the most superficial work.  It's the rental equivalent of music companies charging you $30 for the "deluxe edition" of an album that normally retails for $18 but has a whopping one extra track and liner notes from a sufficiently sycophantic journalist or associate.

Rating: Unpleasant (121) / Damnable (123)

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

21 February 2011

Moonee Ponds Creek, northern Melbourne suburbs, VIC, Australia

Dwarfed by Citylink in North Melbourne.
When I first looked at a map of Brunswick West/Moonee Ponds before moving to the area, I noticed Moonee Ponds Creek flowing between the two. “How nice,” I thought, “I could go for pleasant evening strolls along there.” Then I actually saw the creek. To call it a “creek” is to grossly overstate reality. At its southern reaches, it was widened into a small canal for the conveyance of coal to railway yards in the days of steam locomotives and isn't too grotesque:

Railway Canal in West Melbourne.
In the mid-20th century, the then Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works had the brilliant idea of concreting the whole bloody thing from Flemington Road north to Strathmore as some sort of flood mitigation strategy. The buffoons turned it into a hideous stormwater drain, a watercourse with almost no natural or redeeming qualities.

Here it is north of Flemington Road in Parkville, complete with bizarre erections that look like they come from U2's insipid Vertigo Tour imagery:

And here it is, marking the border between Moonee Ponds and Brunswick West. During times of heavy rain, it occasionally fills close to the top of the concrete and bears a faint resemblance to an actual river, but it is usually an awful, stagnant skidmark across a slab of concrete:

Nothing lives in here. Even the pigeons usually give it a miss. It is discoloured and it has an unpleasant whiff about it. Apparently some skateboarders have put the sloped concrete walls to use, but if this is your idea of a mad place to skateboard, I don't really know what to say to you except that you must be pretty desperate. Even more laughable, I once saw a father in Brunswick West taking his two children and their dog to frolic in the creek on a hot summer's day. Had the father promised the kids a cool dip in the water without telling them it would be the most pissweak dip ever? I don't know about you, but I prefer not to waste my leisure time beside a skidmark.

Rating: Our very first "cellar floor", for crimes against nature.

19 February 2011

14A Bent Street, Brunswick West, VIC, Australia

14A Bent Street is, quite simply, a mystery. For years, I had walked past it without paying it much attention at all. It was a pretty unremarkable house, really; plain, inoffensive, with nothing that made me stop in either admiration or disgust. Here it is, as seen on Google Streetview:

The reason why I have to resort to Streetview to show you this house is that it disappeared. After returning from a trip to New Zealand in May 2010, I discovered that it was GONE. It was as if it had never existed. All that was left was an empty lot.
Every time I went to New Zealand in 2010, I would return to find a building had disappeared. In the case of a house on Melville Road that vanished, it was one of those “wow, finally?” cases, and it lay as an empty lot for just a couple of months before development began. In the case of the Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne, construction on a new cancer research facility began basically as soon as the dental hospital was gone.
But in the case of 14A Bent Street? Here we are well over half a year later, and the lot has very quickly been given over to nature. If you are ever curious just how quickly a city would be eaten by nature if humanity vanished, if you ever doubted The Day Of The Triffids and the like, then have a look at how quickly this lot has turned into uncontrolled scrub: 
(And check out the bonus ugly Walshe & Whitelock-esque flats in the background!)
They're going to have a fun time clearing that. I just feel for the neighbours – by this point, I'd start to worry about what may have made a home in there. Mow your lawn!
Rating: Unpleasant.

18 February 2011

71 Melville Road (The Patra House), Brunswick West, VIC, Australia

This little charmer down the road from our house has fascinated me a whole lot more than it probably should. At a glance, there isn't much to it - it's a pretty ugly brick shoebox of a building, and if it were actually a house I'd probably just dismiss it with a "Walshe and Whitelock" sort of rating. As it stands, though, I'm not entirely sure what purpose this place serves. Most of the time the place is pretty uninviting - normally, the door is locked, the blinds are closed and there is nothing to indicate that the place is in use except the rather stern "members only" sign on the door. However, every now and then this place opens its doors to the world, causing much intrigue and confusion. Or maybe that's just in my case.

When I first came to Melbourne, about this time last year, this place had some interesting flags and posters up in the window, which have actually reappeared in the last few days. Last year, there was a flag hanging up which we're pretty sure was Romanian. At the time, we thought that perhaps this was a club for slightly nutty Romanian nationalists. It doesn't seem at all implausible given the high volume of immigrants around here. However, the very small morsels of information I can find on this place actually indicate that this place is home to something called the Patra Brotherhood, named in relation to the Patras region of Greece. Ok, Greeks make even more sense - lots of the shops around here, including many delicious bakeries, are owned by Greeks - but that doesn't explain the weird flag! Is it some kind of weird celebration of multiculturalism? Somehow I don't think so. To add to the mystery, one day we were driving past and we saw a pretty big group of what looked like protesters outside the place. They were holding up Italian flags. What kind of inner conflict is occurring between the Italian and Greek population of Brunswick West? And what do the Romanians have to do with it? It just gets more and more bizarre.

However, on a rather anticlimactic note, I think I'm being forced to admit that The Patra House might not be as suspicious as I originally thought. I've seen the doors open on Saturdays when they tend to hold their functions, and inside it just seems like any old club - there's a bar, a large seating area and lots of standing room, all clean and tidy but rather nondescript. Still, I would like to know exactly how you become a member - it's not like you can just waltz in and ask the friendly staff. If I was a Greek person new to Melbourne, I'd feel pretty intimidated.

All that aside, and going back to the essence of the blog, they could have at least tried harder with their clubhouse (or whatever this is). Surely they could decorate the outside, perhaps put some nicer blinds in the windows, and make their sign just a little bit more interesting and welcoming. And for heaven's sake, take down the irrelevant sign on the side of the building! It says "LP gas conversions and EFI specialists", which just makes me think of cartoons in which dodgy Mafia groups hang out in headquarters disguised as a "pet shop". I don't have a photo to show the incongruous sign, so I did a drawing instead. I'm very talented at drawing.

When it all boils down, I think this place needs to close for renovation before any members are admitted. It gives them a bad impression of Melbourne. We have many beautiful buildings to choose from - I'm sure that they could buy one of the abandoned shops around here and fix it up to be quite nice. But no, they picked one which looks like it used to be an abattoir. Try harder with your secret society headquarters!

Rating: Unpleasant.

194 Dawson Street, Brunswick West, VIC, Australia

Or, "how Mow Your Lawn! got its name".

It was 31 December 2010 and time for that annual celebration when the entire planet joins weirdos like me and Charlotte to be number nerds and celebrate something as basic as one number changing to another. I mean, I think interesting dates are a perfectly good reason to get drunk and set off fireworks, and it's comforting that once a year, everybody else joins in.  What, you're telling me there's a bit more to it than that, something called "culture" and all that?  Oh, well then.  That's not the point!

The point is that, on this particular New Year's Eve, Charlotte and I were going to meet my mother and her partner for dinner.  Classy souls that we are, we got smashed on delicious cider before even getting out the door.  So we stumble onto the tram, and I'm trying not to be one of those obnoxious, overly loud tram drunks talking about totally inappropriate subjects (cf Charlotte when we took Helen to see Alpine in November).  I don't think I entirely succeeded.

We already had some budding curiosity about decrepit buildings and crankiness about shonky modern architecture.  See, for example, this post and another post on this topic from Charlotte's blog.  On this particular trip, we'd already - and fairly quietly - noted a couple of Melville Road's more curious places (like Gibbi's Pizza and the shop next to Con's).  But then the tram pulled onto Dawson Street, I laid eyes on #194, and blurted:

"Mow your lawn!"

Because, christ, this thing really does need a mow, soon.  The property is otherwise lovely, and with a nicely mown lawn would attract a considerable amount of approval from me, not that this hasty shot shows much beyond the overgrown lawn:

I spent the next ten minutes critiquing unmown lawns and even urging one concrete paradise to "get a lawn!", which just made me think of a line from the Late Show's sketch about things wogs would never do.  Charlotte finally forcibly got me to shut up, or perhaps it was the urgent call of my bladder, parlously overloaded with cider.

Anyway, all I was getting at that night, and all I'm getting at now, is that you should mow your lawn.  You can't do a whole lot on an unmown lawn (except pass out in it, or hide power bills you don't want to read), and it's probably going to wind up home to things that want to kill you.  Especially in Australia.  And since this country is only three quarters of a mile from the sun, it's a bushfire risk too.

Rating: MOW YOUR LAWN!, or on our oh-so-formal scale, "lick o' paint".

17 February 2011

Eastern Resource Centre, University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, Australia

Today, I would like to highlight an example of truly horrendous architecture.  The Parkville campus of the University of Melbourne has a good number of beautiful and attractive buildings, amongst which are a few malignant tumours that blight the landscape.  One of the worst offenders, in fact probably the worst offender, is the Eastern Resource Centre (ERC), one of the main libraries:

Just look at it!  This is meant to be a library, a place of knowledge and ideas and books.  I can think of few more noble purposes for a building, yet this seems to have been built with none of that in mind.  There is no style, no grace, not a single nod to its purpose as a repository of intellectual achievement and historical record.  It looks like a prison, or a place to house a soulless, bloodsucking bureaucracy or accountancy firm.  Perhaps it should be home to the Faculty of Law.  This sort of incongruous, faceless Brutalist architecture should be deplored, or even better, torn right down.  The ERC is especially offensive because it neighbours and overshadows the most beautiful structure on campus, the 1888 Building:

My grudge against the ERC is not just on the basis of aesthetics.  It used to be.   It is now personal.  For all its aesthetic failings, inside it used to be everything you could want from a university library.  The upper three floors are given over to the Education Faculty's needs (hence its former name, the Education Resource Centre); the bottom two floors house books of interest to the social sciences and humanities - but because the main SS&H library is the Baillieu and most Arts students seem far too lazy to plumb the depths of the ERC, the wealth of relevant books here went largely unmolested.  If you were willing to use the place, it was a goldmine!  Few people ventured down to the bottom two floors; you could get lost amongst the wonderful smell of books, exploring all kinds of arcane but fascinating subjects, and curl up at a desk in a very, very quiet corner to get your work done or just to unwind.  You could even just sprawl out comfortably in an aisle - there was hardly anybody to notice you.

Then the forces of renovation struck.  Somebody evidently needed to kickstart a project to justify their existence.  Part of this involved a redevelopment of the third storey entry, which has been little more than polishing a turd, as the picture at right illustrates.  Sure, the glassy new addition is a bit more airy and open, but it's just as incongruous as the ERC and doesn't achieve a whole lot.  The other part of the redevelopment is what really gets me, though: half the bottom floor was given over to some new "hub" that hasn't really proved its worth to me after a few years of trying.  My favourite aisle was lost to this renovation.  The smell, the quiet, the atmosphere - it's never really been the same.  Sure, most of the second floor and half of the first still largely look like how they used to:

But then you look down a first floor aisle and you see the new hub.  I see where my cosy little home used to be, my place of relaxation, gone forever:

So if I seem especially bitter about the ERC, it's not just because it's an ugly building (though let's not play down the architectural failings here).  It's because the best damn spot on campus has gone the way of the dodo.

Rating: Condemnable.

16 February 2011

Macaulay railway station, North Melbourne, VIC, Australia

I like railways.  As a consequence, I often find myself at railway stations.  I've seen many ugly railway stations in my time wielding a camera and generally looking weird (oh no a guy has a harmless hobby!), and if I were to ever make a list of the ugliest, Macaulay would be a prime contender for the top five.  I've also passed - quickly - through plenty of dingy and uninviting stations, and again, if I were to make a list of such stations, Macaulay would be a prime contender for the top five.

Yes, the lead picture above depicts a railway station. That's it on the left, where that train is hidden - the bricky thing that looks like a public toilet beneath a six-lane motorway.  As the picture at right shows, things look just as grim when you're on the platforms themselves.  And while cars whiz overhead, there is precious little activity at rail level.  Macaulay station is located in a part of North Melbourne home to light industry that gets lighter and lighter every passing year as industries downsize or close.  There used to be a thriving network of railway sidings here, diverging from the main tracks to service factories; now, the sidings are just dirt bereft of rails passing decrepit loading docks at businesses that have closed.  A bit of traffic passes on Macaulay Road, but if you are taking shelter inside the dimly-lit buildings, or are just any sort of distance down the platform, you might as well be invisible.  Not exactly the most comfortable place to be, especially not when the train frequencies on the Upfield line are so abysmal.

The setting is bad enough, but were the dank brick shoeboxes posing as station buildings really necessary?  Even before Citylink was built overhead in the 1990s, these would have been enough to make you turn your nose up at Macaulay station.  They're barely even useful - they don't exactly keep out the elements, let me tell you.  I'm pretty sure they'd be right at home in the Walshe & Whitelock part of the property press, and no doubt if the railways desperately need an injection of funding, Walshe & Whitelock would merrily rent out both buildings for outrageous sums to the poor and desperate.  "Cosy, modern riverfront unit close to transportation!"

Once upon a time (i.e. the early 1920s), things were different; Macaulay had a station that, although not an architectural marvel, was smart and functional.  Below, compare the first picture from Victorian Railways.net with a photo I took in 2008:

Ridiculous.  I'd say pull the fucker down and start again, but there isn't much you can do about that motorway looming ahead.  If you must catch a train in the vicinity, you're probably better off spending a few minutes walking over to Kensington on the Craigieburn line, just a few hundred metres away, or if you're obliged to use the Upfield line, Flemington Bridge isn't far either.  I'm surprised the station is still even open.  Well, it could be worse: the neighbouring Moonee Ponds Creek (soon to be featured on the blog!) doesn't look as bad here as it does a couple of kilometres upriver.  Here, the creek has been artificially widened into a canal that contains, gasp, water; upriver it has been raped and abused into a stormwater drain that is often just a stagnant dark smudge.  Macaulay station has suffered enough since its origins as a smart little stop; at least it isn't made even worse by neighbouring a skidmark.

Rating: Condemnable.

15 February 2011

185 Blyth Street, Brunswick East, VIC, Australia

For this entry, I thought I would shift the focus from derelict old houses to the worst of modern architecture. Behold, the luxurious new model of garden shed! Big enough for the whole family!

What kind of awful drugs was this "architect" on when he decided that corrugated iron shouldn't just be restricted to the roof of the house? In this case, they appear to have done away with the roof altogether. Having a roof on your house is so last century, don't you know? The stylish object to base your house around these days is in fact a shoebox.

Seriously, everything about this house is unappealing. Apart from perhaps the cheery red door, but the utter hideousness of the rest of it somewhat negates that. The boxy shape, the harsh lines, the truly awful windows that look like the architect just couldn't find a pane of glass the right size and so instead had to use a lot of smaller ones for a piecemeal effect ... the list just goes on and on. Oh, and the proportion issues - that garage is probably the same size as the house itself. If they don't watch out, Walshe and Whitelock will come and start renting the garage out to foreign students at $400 per week. You could fit at least six people in there and call it "cosy".

It's really something when even the abandoned shop next door to you looks more appealing than your house. At least the shop is intriguing and makes me want to go inside. The house, on the other hand, just makes me want to set my eyes on fire. I guess someone liked their modern office block so much that they decided to live in it. And of course, you know what really helps to add to the appeal of a house? A really nice fence. Preferably a wooden or stone one. This house fails almost as hard as possible when it comes to fences. That belongs at a railway level crossing to control pedestrians, not in front of a suburban home. However, at least it's not one of those godawful common wire netting fences that you see around school playgrounds and in front of houses in South Auckland. Clearly this house can still sink to further depths!

Oh, and for the record, the picture at right shows what used to be here. Even though behind all that greenery it looks pretty dingy, at least it's readily recognisable as a house. With a lick o' paint and some serious garden work, it could probably be quite a nice one. Instead, someone just couldn't be bothered and knocked it down and replaced it with an upmarket tool shed. Just another way to make me lose even more of my faith in humanity!

Rating: Condemnable

19 Melville Road, Brunswick West, VIC, Australia

So, you're hungry. You're craving a nice big pizza from one of Melbourne's many delicious independent pizza shops. Well aren't you lucky that you stopped at Hot Pizza House on Melville Road near the Albion Street intersection (some of the best damn pizzas in Melbourne!), rather than continuing south down Melville Road to be horribly misled by “Gibbi's Pizza”.

The first time I saw this place was about five years ago. It isn't a pizza shop now, it wasn't a pizza shop then, and I don't bloody well know when it actually was. Nonetheless, it still appears in some business directories that need urgent updating. The shop occupying the other half of this lot, “Melville Road Physiotherapy”, is a similar story – except, perhaps, for the fact it looks disused for even longer. Gibbi's Pizza appears to be somebody's studio; somebody who is clearly too lazy to actually take down the old signage and make the place appear anything other than dingy. Melville Road Physiotherapy now looks like it's either 1). abandoned or 2). an illegal den offering other forms of “physiotherapy” with imported girls from southeast Asia who are almost certainly underage.

At least Gibbi's Pizza looks like it was, once upon a time, a decent, functioning shop. The Physiotherapy, on the other hand? That small door and those narrow windows at the top of a soulless brick wall were not attractive when they were first put in place, and the passage of time has not been kind. It looks like it was built to keep customers – and prying eyes – out. It makes you think that even in its days of business, it was a shonky “physiotherapy” akin to those dodgy “Thai massage” places you see in Sydney's Chinatown with mildewed curtains covering the windows, and lights that are only ever on after about 11pm.

Rating: Damnable (Gibbi's Pizza side) / Condemnable (Physiotherapy side)

14 February 2011

300 Dudley Street (Festival Hall), West Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Festival Hall from Dudley St.
There is simply no competition for the worst concert venue I have ever been to: Festival Hall wins by a mile. I've been to venues with worse organisation (looking at you, Auckland Town Hall and Stade de France), but for sheer dinginess, Festival Hall coasts to victory. Rightly dubbed "Festy Hall" or "Festering Hall" by Melburnians, this decrepit and dank hall is a stain on Melbourne's otherwise fantastic live music scene.

Stage door, Railway Place.
Now, many venues have access doors down alleyways that aren't exactly the most aesthetically pleasing places in the world. However, Festy Hall looks like it is surrounded on all sides by such alleyways, even on the wide open Dudley Street side. There is hardly an indication that this is a live music venue, or even that the place is still operational. Charlotte has never been to Festy, so when I first showed her my photographs of the place, she asked if it was some old and possibly disused factory. Nope, this is a live music venue that can hold up to 5,445 people - and if your band is too big to play theatres but not quite big enough to play Rod Laver or Hisense Arenas, this is about your only option in Melbourne.

Inside, it's not much better.  If you have the misfortune to be in the seats at the side, as I once did, you can enjoy all the thrills of watching a band through a tall plastic screen.  It's meant to separate the seated area from the standing floor, but in the end just makes you feel like you're watching a video on a grubby television.

Rosslyn St side, western end.
Festy's biggest claim to fame is hosting the Beatles in 1964, and I'm pretty sure it hasn't seen a lick of paint since. It doesn't have the character or mystique of most old venues; its walls don't ooze with stories of frenzied and chaotic live events; it doesn't even have the faded charm of a legend well past its prime. It's just a rambling, uninviting cavern with covered windows and peeling paint. It looks more like a prison or - as Charlotte noted - a disused factory than a vibrant centre of music. Normally music venues employ architects in the design phase, but Festy Hall's original developers clearly just skipped that.  If I weren't from Melbourne and my tour was booked here, I'd leave with a false impression that Melbourne's a pretty smelly city without much going for musicians.  Then again, hopefully this will work in our favour next month when Ke$ha plays here and she'll resolve to never again sully Victoria with her presence.

Rating: Damnable