30 March 2011

Waiotira railway station, Waiotira, Northland, New Zealand

All photos (apart from one obvious exception) taken by me, April 2010.

Now, as much as I love slagging off hideous architecture, I don't want Mow Your Lawn! to get too bogged down in rants like the sort I just published about the Elizabeth Tower Hotel. So I thought I would fairly quickly follow it by showcasing the other side of the blog: the fascinating world of derelict and decaying man-made structures. Today's subject is the very decrepit Waiotira railway station in the middle of nowhere, lost somewhere in the rolling hills of the Northland region of New Zealand, a couple of hours out of Auckland.

The old back platform is in the foreground. If you can tell.
Waiotira station is located on the last section of the railway between Auckland and Whangarei to be opened. A rough-and-ready kind of freight service operated from 1923, but it wasn't until late 1925 that passenger trains began passing through here. But soon Waiotira was a railway junction, with a branch line leaving this station for Dargaville to the west. Between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s, this was a busy station where trains from Auckland to Opua or Okaihau via Whangarei met local services that ran between Waiotira and Dargaville. It had two platforms, one for the main line and one for the Dargaville trains, a station building, and a busy goods yard. But that's all history.

Waiotira, June 1985. Credit: jeffpylenz; source.
Go to Waiotira today and try to imagine what it was like around 1950. Both railway lines are still open - just. They are on the brink of closure. As for the station itself? It's pretty eerie here in Waiotira really. It's hard to even get a sense of how this was once a busy junction, with passengers changing trains and goods being trans-shipped. Just look at that lonely platform; it's fading back into the landscape, covered by grass in an even more substantial way than Dargaville station. The only reason a train would stop here is so that locomotives on freight trains between Dargaville and Whangarei can swap ends. Passengers have not boarded regularly scheduled trains here since 1976, and the platform is now so overgrown and inaccessible that even a special excursion could not use it. It's hard to believe that even in June 1985, there was a decent-sized, well-painted, and not unattractive building sitting on that platform (see photo above right). If you told me nobody had set foot on it since that last regular service in 1976, I would have believed you.

The old goods yard, with Waiotira township behind.
The yard is basically a thing of the past. The main line and a short loop are still useable; a third track is in place but looked to me like it could no longer be used. The rest is gone. There are no facilities; the back platform has long since been taken up; there are certainly no wagons being dropped off or collected by passing trains. You have to use your imagination to recall a time when wagons were shunted busily, local produce was loaded, and much-needed supplies were dropped off. Waiotira was more than just a couple of hours away from Auckland in those days, and this station was a lifeline. Now, it's nothing. The only life is a signal protecting the branch to Dargaville. Even those tracks are losing their glimmer.

Well there's SOME platform surface left!
Like many country New Zealand towns, Waiotira nowadays is barely more than a dot on a map. There are just a few houses, and it's little wonder that the railway station building has not been preserved or that the station precinct has become so derelict and forgotten. It is, in a way, symbolic of how rural communities are fading away in many places. It shows how in this part of Northland, like so many other regions, being away from the State Highway and being stripped of your railway facilities one-by-one (first the expresses, then the slow passenger trains, then the freight) can be ... perhaps not a kiss of death, but a key part of the slow decline of rural areas.

Rating: Vacant, which I think translates to about Unpleasant on our oh-so-formal rating system.

Update: 786-798 Elizabeth Street (Elizabeth Tower Hotel), Carlton, VIC, Australia

Well, well. Early this month, Charlotte wrote about the Elizabeth Tower Hotel and its decrepitude. She noted that it was subject to an application by the University of Melbourne to demolish it and construct the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity. Today's good news is that Melbourne Uni has succeeded in this application, as reported today in The Age.
Soon to cease being a blight upon the skyline.
What is worth noting is that for some reason, almost inexplicable to me, this building is heritage listed. Some people, judging by comments on that article, seem to think it has some sort of aesthetic merit worth preserving for future generations. I personally would go even further than Charlotte in condemning this monstrosity of a building. For full disclosure, I am a historian, my work has occasionally led me to dabble my toe in architectural history, and I am usually the first person to come out and bat for heritage protection. I am continually saddened by the way many cities have demolished their history, and I am infuriated by how many new buildings have been erected with the facades of their predecessor as some sort of tokenistic concession to history. However, this building is truly and utterly discardable, and the only argument I can possibly fathom in favour of its retention is as a warning to future generations not to replicate the failings of some 20th century architects.

The spiral staircase is cool, I will readily concede that. However, a single staircase is not enough to save a hideous building. If you take away the staircase, you are left with just another 1950s highrise lacking any charm or personality whatsoever. It is an exceedingly plain, bricky building with rows of generic windows littered with unbecoming, mouldy old air conditioning units. I never ventured inside myself, but by all accounts the cleaning staff had long since lost the battle with half a century's worth of accumulated grime - and, perhaps, had lost the will to live too.

I don't know where Paul Roser, National Trust conservation manager, gets the following ridiculous notion, as quoted in The Age, that the decision to demolish this building is "another part of the steady attrition of significant buildings in the city".  No, Roser. Besides a staircase of middling importance and effectively no historical notability (wow a tall spiral staircase, nobody's ever seen that before!), there is absolutely nothing significant about this building. It is not a landmark. No tourist is going to come and see this. Locals walk past it without a second thought. The only few people who could possibly give a shit are the same bizarre people who continue to encourage wretched architectural fads that are making Melbourne and other cities uglier. The National Trust has much better things to worry about than some meaningless and charmless inner city hotel that, the moment it's knocked down, won't be missed by anybody.

Time for the Elizabeth Tower Hotel to check out of Melbourne.
Of course, I have utterly no confidence that the University of Melbourne will build a quality building in its place. The uni's latest major project, the new Economics and Commerce Building, is a monument to blithering stupidity, as I'm sure I made abundantly clear in this particular rant. However, regardless of what goes up in place of the Elizabeth Tower Hotel, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has made the right decision to bowl it over before it festers any longer. Councillor Peter Clarke, again quoted in the aforementioned Age article, claims that this decision illustrates how VCAT is "out of step with the broader views of the community". I think the only person out of step is you and your malfunctioning eyes, Clarke. The skyline will be much better upon the removal of this damning legacy to 1950s architectural follies.

Rating: This decision does not impact Charlotte's original rating of Condemnable, which I endorse.

29 March 2011

234 - 240 Barkly Street, Footscray, VIC, Australia

I haven't done a blog entry for a while, and I apologise. I've been stuck doing some crappy assignments which took even longer to submit than they did to write, so I'm a little bit on the angry side too. However, that "little bit on the angry side" changed immediately to ABSOLUTE FULL BLOWN RAGE when I remembered this place. It's very lucky that I didn't have a fatal accident when I spotted this, since for a moment I was so repulsed that I forgot how to drive. Then I just wanted to drive as fast as possible in order to get away from it.

That's your HOUSE? Sorry, I thought it was the carpark.
This monstrosity is not a gigantic multi-storey carpark, though you may be forgiven for thinking this is the case. No no, people actually live here. Cirque Apartments, if you believe the blurb of the estate agent, are a "defining focal point of Footscray’s vibrant re-vitalisation". Oh! I'm sorry, I thought a gigantic Lego man had just taken a shit on the footpath. Focal point, that's what they're calling it these days! Now, I know these photos were taken on a very gloomy day. Perhaps it might look better on a sunny day? Well, here is the artist's impression of the place.

Nice job on removing the dingy shops surrounding it, too.
Ugh. Sorry, even with optimistically blue sky and a nice yellow car out the front, it still looks like it's made of plastic. In addition to that, see how lovely and clean it looks in the artist's impression? Well, when we drove by, the place was not actually finished. In the short period of time that this place has been standing, it has already gathered that awful, stained look that concrete buildings are so susceptible to. I sincerely hope that they cover the bare concrete - I know it would just be a case of polishing a turd, but at least they'd look as though they'd tried. However, I'm not optimistic about the chances of this. 

Looks more like a factory from the front.
This is not a "showpiece of inner-city living", as the estate agent (who, incidentally, needs to learn to use his space bar) may claim. Showpieces are nice things that you should be proud to show off. If I lived in Footscray, I'd want to stuff this into a cupboard like an unwanted gift every time a visitor came through. As far as houses made out of building blocks go, any five-year-old could design something more attractive than this. Apparently this place will "accommodate a variety of lifestyle needs". Oh yeah, my lifestyle needs totally require me to live in a cold, grey concrete box and hate my life every moment of the day. I'm sure that's what they were going for. That's a stupid statement anyway - what lifestyle needs could this place possibly accommodate than any other house couldn't? They must really be stretching.

This needs to go. Word of advice to the estate agent - if a multi-storey carpark is your "grand vision", you really need to aim higher. At least build a proper roof - that staircase effect just doesn't cut it.

Rating: Condemnable, though this could change when the place is complete, for better or for worse.

27 March 2011

69 Albion Street, Brunswick, VIC, Australia

Sorry for the lack of posts over the last few days - it's a busy time, so we may not quite be able to maintain daily posts. However, today I bring to you a place that just baffled me.

Initially, it just seems like a run-of-the-mill example of a house suffering from a lack of maintenace. It's the bread and butter of Mow Your Lawn!, the sort of thing that I casually swore at on the day I coined this blog's name. The paint is peeling, flaking, and just generally decaying; this is so extreme on the side that you would be hard-pressed to tell what the wall's original colour even was. The crappy front fence is an aesthetic displeasure that belongs in front of an underfunded school rather than a house; it has been knocked over at right, and appears to have been left knocked over for so long that the foliage has adapted and grown around it.

"There ain't no awning here and there never was!"
Worst of all, the awnings that used to be over both of the front windows at the front ... are no more. There are just a couple of bits of tatty old splintery wood poking out from the walls above the windows, indicating where awnings used to be. Weeds have even started to make a home on the walls, not in the majestic way of ivy but in the ragtag way of, well, weeds. This place isn't quite coming apart at the seams like dear old 39 Barry Street, but it looks like that is what's in its future.

... then you notice the front lawn. Go back to that first photo. Yeah, that's right, the lawn is neatly mown. The flowers seem to have been given some care. The shrubs are in order. The letterbox is clean. The tree at right may be shrouding one side of the house and there may be growth settling on the wall and the remnants of an awning, but the garden itself is perfectly orderly. The house may be a disgrace, far away from its glory days, but the people here have actually mown their lawn! The fence may be kicked over and the plants growing around it, but the plants themselves are being helped to thrive!

Well the shrub doesn't seem unhappy about having a fence foisted upon it.
We can't make heads nor tails of this. While the garden is neat, it's not a showpiece; it's hardly the garden of somebody so obsessive about their plants that they've put all their love and affection into it at the expense of their home's structural integrity. The best explanation I have is that they really couldn't give a shit about maintaining their house or their fence, but they have an outright fear of snakes and spiders and don't want an overgrown front lawn that would host such things. Otherwise, what? This house seems to me a bit beyond the "oh we'll fix it up when we've got the time/money/inclination".

Rating: That neat front lawn means this place just falls on the Damnable side of the Damnable/Condemnable divide.

23 March 2011

305 Albion Street, Brunswick, VIC, Australia

Update, 28/11/2014: We have received concerns that some comments on this entry are defamatory of individual Walshe & Whitelock agents. Comments with defamatory content have been deleted. This blog is no longer actively monitored, so we have chosen to close comments to avoid the possibility of further defamatory comments. We apologise for this; if you have an opinion you wish to share on Walshe & Whitelock's business practices, please post it on your own blog or Google Reviews or elsewhere - and make sure you don't defame anybody!

If you're a regular reader of this blog (and if you're not, why not?) you will almost certainly be familiar with the concept of "Walshe and Whitelock" by now. For those who may not be, it is the name of an estate agent that always seems to be hocking off the most miserable properties, which are usually massive, made of bricks in that awful 1960s brutalist style and have about as much character as a dog turd on the pavement. They usually provoke a similar reaction to a dog turd on the pavement, in fact. Anyway, I thought I'd seen my fair share of Walshe and Whitelocks around here. I almost thought I was becoming desensitised to them. Then we stumbled across this quintessential example of hideousness on Albion Street.
The picture possibly makes it look better than it really is.

This thing embodies the Walshe and Whitelock stereotype to the most ridiculous extent. Everything that could be potentially wrong with it IS in fact wrong with it. First off, the design (or lack thereof). Enough red bricks to last a lifetime? Check. Complete lack of a roof to cap off the "shoebox" design model? Check.  Crappy attempt at adding variation with the white bricks around the windows? Present and correct. Something this soulless shouldn't be allowed to exist, especially in an area which is otherwise most aesthetically pleasing. With regards to the right hand side of the house, I would usually say something like "chop down your trees!" But in this case, the massively overgrown vegetation is more of a blessing than a curse. At least I only have to look at half of it this way. I feel sorry for the residents on that side though - we all know Walshe and Whitelock properties are known for their dinginess, and this shrubbery over their windows would exacerbate this tenfold.

Security entrance! Central courtyard!
Now, you see that open door there in the middle? That's another one of Walshe and Whitelock's famous "security entrances", as seen previously in this entry. It is always open, even in the depths of winter and in the middle of the night. As a matter of fact, I'm not even sure there is a door there to close in the first place. It would make sense given Walshe and Whitelock's general stinginess. It would be very easy to get in here, and judging by the abundance of mailboxes, there would be a great variety of places to rob. That's if any burglar can bring themselves to set foot in this place, though. Even burglars have standards.

The middle of the complex seems to open out onto a courtyard of some sort. Judging by what we can see in these pictures, that certainly doesn't look like somewhere I'd like to spend my afternoons. The balcony that faces it looks mouldy and possibly structurally unsound,  too. I bet it was some optimistic attempt at a garden or some other feature, which lasted about a day and then degenerated into weeds and muck. In fact, I'm probably being optimistic. It's probably just where they keep their rubbish bins.

What's behind the trees? You don't want to know.
There shouldn't be any excuse for this. Seeing places like this just depresses me, so I can't even imagine what it must be like to actually live in one. Are people really this desperate? I guess so, given the exorbitant amounts that Walshe and Whitelock get away with charging for the rent. They know that they can offer a tiny, boxy, dark apartment that hasn't seen a paintbrush or even a duster this side of 1970, and some poor student will still settle for it at $300 a week. In addition to that, it breaks my heart to think what lovely Victorian home stood here before the developers massacred it in the 1960s. The only redeeming feature I can pick about this place is that at least it's used. Can you imagine how many thousands of times worse these places would look if they were abandoned? I'm dreading the day that I come across one. They wouldn't even be interesting to explore given the total lack of thought given to the architecture.

Still, at least it has windows (unlike some modern places) so that you can look out and see what you're missing.

Rating: Condemnable; should be illegal.

21 March 2011

89 Wilson Street, Moonee Ponds, VIC, Australia

It's just a little ugly but nothing too bad, right? Right ...?
This place simply confuses me. From the side, it just looks like somebody has taken an old shop/light industry and done it up into a residence. There's nothing wrong with it, though it's not really to my tastes - besides being a bit bricky and blocky, it commits the sin of glass bricks, and corrugated iron really shouldn't be used for much beyond garden sheds. Though I suppose it does stick with the building's industrial heritage. It's honestly a welcome bit of urban renewal, and we need more of this sort of thing. If this particular renovation is to your tastes, then more power to you.

Well as long as you don't walk around the front ...
But then go around the front. It looks like an absolutely dingy abandoned shop! The brick wall across the front is totally uninviting, splotchy, graffitied, and in urgent need of a lick o' paint and some repairs. To add to all that, although its structural integrity seems fine, the windows are perplexingly at a slight angle to the wall.  I don't know about you, but I would be completely embarrassed if this were the front of my house. What is this, a residence or an abandoned hardware shop? Make up your mind!

A closer view, just in case you had any doubts about its dinginess.
Perhaps the front is heritage listed? Well, no amount of Googling indicated anything of the sort, and even heritage protection wouldn't prohibit some cosmetic repairs. However, Google did turn up a couple of interesting results. Firstly, a Government Gazette of 3 March 1948 (pdf) reveals some of this building's heritage; it wasn't a hardware shop but the home to "Dynamic Engineering", who had applied to the Transport Regulation Board to register a commercial goods vehicle in conjunction with their work as building and civil engineering contractors. Secondly, well, this is just a bit weird. It's some new age-y sort of group's newsletter, and it gives this address for the "New Environmental Technologies Annual Conference Administration Centre", complete with an appeal for more office staff to help out with the organisation. Zuh? The building doesn't much look it to me. Then again, I suppose they are the sort of people who are likely to engage in the renovation of an old building. And that newsletter is from February 1998. Not sure what the deal is here; if it is or was some group's offices, there is no indication these days of that function.

Whatever the case, I think the key point here is: if you're going to engage in a bit of urban renewal, at least go all the way and spruce up the whole damn thing. This decaying and neglected front wall, along with an abandoned shop on the corner with Fanny Street, are unsightly blemishes on Wilson Street, otherwise one of the nicest streets in Moonee Ponds. Walking along it in summer is an absolute joy; it has so many beautiful old houses with well-kept, fragrant front gardens. It's one of those streets that illustrates why I love this part of the world so much. It's just a shame #89 is one of the first impressions when you come in from the east.

Rating: Damnable.

20 March 2011

Update: 377 Albion Street, Brunswick, VIC, Australia

Well, well. Remember the very first property we featured on this blog? Ah, the nostalgia. Well, we took a wander past it yesterday. Back in early February's entry, I suggested they could pick up a lawnmower cheaply from eBay or pay a local child an utter pittance of small change to make the lawn all nice and tidy. And what do you know? They actually have mown their lawn!

Here's the proof. Before (i.e. 18 January):

And after (i.e. 19 March):

No weeds, no spiders, no snakes.
Yes, it's a somewhat half-hearted attempts at lawn mowing, what with all those epic weeds still sprouting merrily, and I sure hope they didn't PAY for it, but it's a bloody good start. It's obviously not a lawn you could tackle in just one go by yourself anyway. I suppose they got sick of being unable to reach their front door; now the path is clear and nobody's going to accidentally step on a brood of vipers on their way out to the letterbox.

Now you can more readily see the front of the house and the somewhat rundown paintwork, which needs a clean at the least and possibly a nice new coat. I wonder, is somebody preparing this place to renovate or sell? Because it could be so gorgeous. Spruce up the front, get rid of all of those weeds, and plant a nice little front garden and it would look wonderful. This is proven by some nearby houses built to the same plan - they are stunning.

Rating: Revised down from Damnable to Unpleasant.

19 March 2011

105 Arthurton Road, Northcote, VIC, Australia

This house has piqued my interest for a long time, ever since we started walking over to the Northcote Social Club around mid-2010. Most of the time, we had been walking past it at night, so although I noted it as being pretty run down and dingy, I didn't realise exactly how bad it was. And then the clocks went forward, and we actually got to see it in broad daylight. And oh my god, what a sight.
It's only held together by years of accumulated grime.

Creepy graffiti and massive holes in the wall.
What an absolute mess. You can tell that this used to be a very nice house. If someone had saved this place before it actually started to fall down, they could have probably done a hell of a lot with it. It's on a massive section, and the house itself could look stunning if you gave it a nice paint job and possibly replaced the roof. Instead, it was just left to fester, and it now appears to be losing all structural integrity. The latticework is missing in places, the support poles for the verandah are on a serious lean, the place is covered in graffiti and there are numerous holes all through the walls. I would say that I would have wanted to go in and explore, but I'm sure this place is actually occupied by squatters and other ne'er-do-wells. The graffiti across the front of the house, which is currently hidden by an old couch, reads "slum village". Very promising. In fact, I imagine the old couch was a luxurious bed for many drunken squatters occupying this place - it's certainly more comfortable than a bus stop, even if it is probably full of spiders. There's another piece of graffiti next to the front window which reads "sleep well". That one creeps me the fuck out. I may be curious, but I'm not quite THAT curious.

See police tape on the lawn.
However, it looks like I was very lucky to catch this place when I did - as you can see, when I went to get the photos for this post today, the house was surrounded by temporary fencing and security tape. This is a very recent development, so it looks as though this place has finally been condemned! However, things are still not as simple as they seem. Further inspection revealed that in addition to the red security tape, which I would expect to find around a condemned building, there was something more sinister. Blue and white police tape was up around the house too! Immediately, my excitable imagination began working overtime. What the hell happened here? Was there a clash between the squatters and the neighbours who had simply had enough? A clash between the squatters who couldn't work out who was getting the top bunk? Did someone actually come and try to paint the house or mow the lawn and the squatters protested? Christ knows.

Picture used in the official listing. I wouldn't look twice at it!
I thought that I might try and find out if any crime had actually been committed here. While I found nothing in that regard, my search revealed that this place had been on the market, advertised as a "buy it and knock it down" sort of deal. Here's the thing, though - the house looks perfectly presentable in the pictures on the estate agent's website. A look at Google street view reveals the same thing. It looks like someone must have bought the house, but has just left it to rot ever since. Still, I would have thought that for this house to fall into this level of utter disrepair, it would have had to have been abandoned for YEARS. Just look at it! The weatherboards are actually falling away from the house, leaving gaping holes in the walls. Ok, that might have been vandalism, but there are plenty of other examples. The window frames are falling out and decaying, the guttering is warped beyond belief and the roof looks as though it's about to slide away. Though if I was attached to this house, I'd slide away as quickly as I possibly could too. Seriously, the house in the listing may as well be a totally different house. Check out the compete absence of rust on the roof, the straight and upstanding verandah, the nicely mown lawn, the air conditioning unit. Nothing about that picture suggests that in just a few years, the house will be transformed into a slum worthy of Otara.

Come on in, it's so inviting.
I think that in writing this entry, I've raised even more questions about this house than I already had. Nothing adds up. How did this go from being a perfectly respectable lick o' paint to this woeful disaster in the space of just a few years? Why wasn't something done sooner? What on earth is the deal with the police tape? Alas, I don't know if I'll ever find the answers. Soon enough, I imagine this place will be gone for good, the squatters will move next door (an entry for another day), and a new set of shoebox apartments will go up in its place. These will just be bland and roofless rather than madly intriguing, but at least I'll get another blog entry about them. For the safety of the community, I guess it's a good thing that this place is getting knocked down. For my sense of adventure and intrigue, it's a very bad thing indeed! I hope I can at least get a better view through the windows before it disappears forever.

Rating: Condemnable (well, already condemned).

18 March 2011

528 Albion Street, Brunswick West, VIC, Australia

I would love to know what happened to this house, located on Albion Street almost at the point where Brunswick West becomes Essendon. Despite living not too far away from it, I only started walking past it regularly in late 2008; if I'd gone by before, I'd not noticed it - possibly because it hadn't yet suffered its fateful calamity. As you can see in this capture from Google Streetview (this area was done before April 2009, but I'm not sure how far before), it was once a very plain sort of place:

Aerial view from sometime before October 2010.
And now I'm just so curious. When I first remember laying eyes on it, it was the shell of a house. Its twin next door, seemingly a mirror image, is fine, structurally at least; its windows seem permanently sealed like a prison, but that's a rant for another time. This collection of walls with vacant windows, however, was just standing around forlornly, evidently showing the effects of fire. You can see what I mean in the Google Satellite screenshot at right. Compounding the fire damage was exposure to the elements, the streaks from the flames now joined by streaks from the rain. The "elements" in this neck of the world tend to end up including graffiti too, in this case some pretty scratchy and pissweak tagging. A wire fence was along the street frontage with a builder's sign, but it didn't look like much had happened in a while.

Then suddenly, I went past one day in the second half of 2010, and as you can see in my pictures - it had the skeleton of a roof! Some work seems to have gone on inside too, and the property was in general tidied up a bit. Then the mystery deepened: nothing has happened since and the property is becoming less orderly by the day. The skeletal roof is starting to cop the elements. The house looks more forlorn than ever; rather than a phoenix rising from the ashes, it's giving the impression of the ashes just moving around a bit.

Is this a sad case of an insurance company not paying up, or an educational lesson about the perils of not being insured? Is it a buyer or builder struggling for funds? Is this just renovations being carried out on a sort of geological timespan? Why didn't they just knock over the smouldering remnants and start anew? Well, I can at least answer the last question; it appears to have some sort of heritage protection. In my search for information here, hoping to come up with a relevant newspaper example, I found something mildly creepy - somebody died in this house. But not when it burnt down! As this births and deaths page from The Argus shows, a Margaret Spicer died here on 29 December 1945, with her funeral proceeding from this address to Fawkner Cemetery two days later. However, I can't seem to find any news about how Mrs Spicer's house ended up in this state over half a century later! My Google powers have failed me.

Rating: At present, condemnable! Before the fire? Lick o' paint. If it's ever fully rebuilt? I'll let you know!

17 March 2011

6 Homer Street (Rooster Delight), Moonee Ponds, VIC, Australia

Disclaimer: I have a mild form of plague at the moment, so please forgive me if my posting isn't quite up to its usual standard. In this case, I think my subject matter might make me feel even sicker and it might even kill me. I hope it's worth it.

The concept of "charcoal chicken" takeaway places was not at all unknown to me when I came to Melbourne, but they seem to be really fucking popular here, inexplicably so. You might be thinking that's not strange at all. It might bring to mind barbecues, sunny days at the beach, and overall some delicious tasty chicken. That's kind of what I thought too ... until the day when I first walked past one of these places. More specifically, Rooster Delight in Moonee Ponds.
Not so inviting frontage.
Now, "Rooster Delight" is a bad enough name in the first place. I have frequently been put off what might otherwise be perfectly good restaurants just based on the name, and this is no exception. Anything with "Rooster" in the title is inherently damning, simply because of the potential that removing the "S" holds. Teehee, rooter. However, that seems like a perfectly decent and attractive name when you think about what this place was originally called. I believe I did see the place under the old name on my very first trip to Melbourne, but I don't remember too well. Fortunately, they've had the kindness to leave the old sign up out the back of the store!
I can smell the factory farms from here.
The Chicken Machine? Seriously? What kind of mad drugs was the owner on when he thought that would be a fun and appetising name for a takeaway place? All I think of is the "chicken" you see in the deli sometimes, you know, the kind that comes in perfectly round slices. The kind that close reading of the label reveals to be "manufactured meat, minimum 40% chicken". The other 60%? Don't even ask. Are you hungry yet? I'm not, and I was so hungry 10 minutes ago that I was about to eat Axver. I don't know about you, but the last thing I was to be thinking about when I'm eating chicken is factory farms and meat processing plants.

Still, those things will probably be the last thing on your mind as soon as the smell of this place invades your nostrils. It is inescapable. Just be glad that the Internet doesn't enable you to smell things from the other side of the world, because I would totally inflict that on you. I can hardly describe it. It smells like death and burning and plague. If I smelt it out of context, I would assume that there was a crematorium nearby. NOTHING about that smell makes me think "oh, I'd love a chicken burger!"

See large version for a better view of the dingy awning.
Going back to the core purpose of the blog, I've got to say that the building itself isn't doing anything to redeem itself either. Dingy old "Chicken Machine" sign aside, the flaws are many. At the front, you can see a sign lurking behind the fancy new "Rooster Delight" billboard which possibly even predates The Chicken Machine. The awning is falling apart - I'm quite worried about its structural integrity after looking at the right-hand corner - and is in serious need of a good clean/lick o' paint. Being situated next to a fairly dingy and unattractive alley leading to the Coles loading zone doesn't help much, either. They could at least paint the brick wall - I've seen nice murals done over ugly brick walls just like this, and it can make such a difference.

In an area with such a high standard of dining, this is simply inexcusable. I don't know who they're trying to cater for with this charcoal chicken thing. People with no sense of smell, perhaps. I don't know. Just knock it down and let people go to one of the many other fine eating establishments in Moonee Ponds. I wouldn't even be tempted to eat here out of sheer morbid curiosity, and that is really saying something.

Rating: Condemnable

15 March 2011

494A Victoria Street (St John's Anglican Church), Brunswick West, VIC, Australia

Now, normally when I rag on a church, it's because I find some aspect of their theology ridiculous or offensive (and being an atheist, this is not an uncommon occurrence). There is a Catholic Church near us that provides us with endless amusement via unintentional double entendres on its messageboard, but the church building itself is pretty imposing. Churches themselves have a habit of being attractive buildings. However, there are a couple of nearby churches that aren't exactly up to the usual standard, and today my focus is on St John's Anglican Church (or St John Chrysostom West Brunswick) on the intersection of Melville Road and one of Melbourne's ten bazillion Victoria Streets.

The front entrance on Victoria Street.
More specifically, today's sermon is about the Sin of Glass Bricks. Some of you may think there is nothing wrong with glass bricks; some of you may even own glass bricks. Well I call upon you to give up your glass bricks and come into the light of truth! No, seriously, what is the purpose of glass bricks?  It's basically like you're trying to give a false impression of openness and transparency while actually trying to stop anybody seeing in. Never mind a basic wall with windows; the front (Victoria Street) entrance to this church is three-quarters glass bricks. "Come on in, we're nice and airy and open ... except we really aren't."

Click for a larger copy and you should easily see the cross pattern.
Now, I don't know anything about this church specifically or its people, so I don't want to slur them directly, nor do I want to turn what is just a light-hearted blog made partly from curiosity and partly from casual revulsion into something overly serious and theological. But glass bricks are honestly quite fitting for many strands of the church organisation in general over history, trying to present an image of openness and light when they're actually a closed shop - especially if you're some sort of homosexual or unmarried sinner. Glass bricks are how you can present a welcoming image when you actually don't particularly want to be welcoming. Plus they can look fairly dirty even when new, an attribute exaggerated by this church. The pattern of a cross is made by some of the glass bricks, but it just looks like they've gone grubby with age and need a good scrub; I initially thought some had acquired a coating of dirt until it twigged that they were in the shape of a cross. This is all not to mention the glaringly obvious: glass bricks are seriously tacky. If the Reject Shop were a window, it would be a glass brick.

The Melville Road side.
As for the building overall, I think they tried. The main body of the church is a big brick edifice (big, I mean, in relation to the surrounding buildings) and it is exactly what you expect out of a church. It seems to follow a fairly tried-and-true traditional style - even if the top has windows that seem straight out of the mid-20th century, complete with an overly obvious cross. "Hey it's funny because the patterns in our window create a cross and we're a church so our symbol is a cross and yeah we're emphasising it REALLY REALLY HEAVILY just so you get it ... so you see it's funny ... and clever." Or not. But at least the main body, a hall I presume, is done right.

Think they ordered "prison tower" instead of "ornate tower".
And then they even decided to go for a tower. Nice big hall, capped by a tower - it should look good, shouldn't it? But this is a case of "good idea, poor execution". Here's a missed opportunity if I've ever seen one. A tower should be a grand statement, something beautiful that draws the eye. If you're going to make anything ornate, if you are going to demonstrate that you are devoted to your god by building him an imposing and gorgeous house of worship, if you are going to make your building a landmark around which the community can gather, then the tower is where you go for glory. Evidently they didn't get this memo. The tower just looks like they decided to lock somebody up the top ("shit, the pastor's gay? Well this'll fix him!"), or they wanted to give pigeons a roost to poop all over and suffocate within. Because they want the pigeons to have a chance to be close to god too ... or something. This doesn't look like a tower for a deity, but a tower for a somewhat petty local authority that thinks it's got some influence but doesn't even command the obedience that your school fete "little Hitlers" manage to acquire. Come to church and worship the mediocrity of our decent but uninspiring council!

St John's, I can see you tried. You're not a bad thing in the community. But those glass bricks? That plain tower? You can do better. Get out the paint cans, at the very least. Replace those glass bricks with something that actually shows off a vibrant faith community.

Rating: Lick o' paint.

14 March 2011

9 Tamariki Avenue (The Nautilus), Orewa, New Zealand

This is perhaps one of the biggest tragedies I'll ever feature on this blog. However, before I actually say anything further about the Nautilus, I would like to share with you a quote from the official Nautilus website.
The Nautilus, designed by award winning Walker Architects, is a stunning development designed to complement a beach location that is probably one of the finest in New Zealand. Spread over 12 Luxurious levels the range of apartments afford breathtaking ocean views over Orewa Beach and the surrounding area.
It sounds quite nice, doesn't it? Sounds like it might fit in quite well with its surroundings, probably in keeping with all the other architecture in Orewa?


Oh my christ what the fuck is that.
The Nautilus, designed by a blind architect with a very small penis, is a festering tumour breaking through the delicate skin of a once-charming beachside town, which is now teeming with inconsiderate littering tourists. Spread over 12 hideous levels, the range of apartments afford breathtaking ocean views over Orewa Beach while at the same time completely ruining views of the beach from anywhere else in a 50 kilometre radius. Fuck you, Orewa residents!

Those trees need to do a lot of growing to hide THAT.
This monstrosity was in no way necessary. Orewa did not need a huge hotel/apartment block hybrid. The town is full of little motels, as you might expect in a seaside town. The thing is, most of them are nice and small - as far as I know, none of them are higher than 3 stories. They're all painted in bright, cheerful colours, and most importantly, they do nothing to detract from the nice views over and from the beach. In fact, they "complement the beach location" in exactly the way the Nautilus doesn't. Now, they're probably all losing money as the Nautilus attracts the brain-dead tourists with way too much money away from the local businesses. I imagine that in the near future, the Nautilus will spawn many other hideous, soulless high rises, and eventually the little motels will be gone forever.

I guess this sort of thing is inevitable with the way Auckland and surrounds are sprawling off into infinity. I should have seen it coming when a new housing development was built to the west of Orewa town centre - all the houses were mushroom coloured and made out of balsa wood. Still, seeing the Nautilus raping the skyline was quite the unpleasant shock for all of us. At least the housing development was low-rise, just like EVERYTHING ELSE IN OREWA. Ugh.

The pretty town is visible here, but the Nautilus still dominates.
However, there is still some justice in the world - I had to laugh when a couple of years after it was built, the Nautilus was found to be leaking like a burst tap. God knows how many millions of dollars they invested in repairing the leaks, but I hope it hurt! Next time, I hope the whole thing floods and they just have to knock it down. What a shame that would be!

Rating: Condemnable

60 Keilor Road, Essendon North, VIC, Australia

I don't really want to be seen as an architectural luddite, and nobody needs an architectural equivalent of those "rock music died in 1975!" people. There are some examples of older architecture I am by no means fond of, and they will end up on this blog sooner or later. However, so many of the new developments going up around Melbourne are decidedly unappealling, and many of the popular trends do a good job of raising my ire. Today's target is a good example of many silly ideas in small apartment blocks you can find in the inner and middle suburbs.

I honestly just feel like very few people are even trying now. This building has a number of nitpicks that together combine into a more substantial irritation.

Maybe it actually is structurally unsound.
Firstly and most significantly, THE SLANT. It doesn't have a roof as such, but the upper ceiling is on a slight lean. As are some bits on the side. Do they WANT to give the impression of poor structural integrity? Look, don't hint at the slant of a roof; build an actual damn roof rather than yet another flat-topped (or slightly-slanted-topped) building that resembles a shipping container more than it resembles somewhere people would actually want to live. I can think of few more substantial architectural sins than depriving a house of a nice, well-angled roof. At least if you go somewhere like Switzerland, winters tend to dictate a nice sloped roof, regardless of what else you do to the house.

Beyond that? Well, does the number need to be THAT gigantic? You'll never forget where you live, at least. OK, so that's really petty. However, I would like to point out the silliness of the balconies. On the side, where it's extremely difficult to see in, the balconies have railings (or walls) so gigantic that they actually look more like an electrical switchboard locker than somewhere to go chill outside. Meanwhile, up the front, where everybody on a busy road can merrily see in, you have low balcony railings to aid in that voyeuristic quest. Hmm, got that round the wrong way, huh!

I'd be selling up too. They forgot to mention that the building's hideous.
And in general, I find buildings like this to be monumentally unappealling. They're dime-a-dozen boxes with basic paintjobs that lack detail, just templates and bare surfaces slapped together to be functional rather than appealling. Once upon a time, buildings of any decent size were civic statements; now developers can't throw apartment blocks up fast enough, and anything that isn't absolutely necessary to its structural integrity is jettisoned as an "optional extra" rather than constructing a building that will actually age well and possess dignity decades down the track. And then that's compounded by the tokenistic attempts to try to airbrush away its cookie-cutter functionalism by placing a basic necessity at a slightly unusual angle to that it's A BIT different from everywhere else (i.e. giving the flat top a bit of a perplexing slant) or throwing off-cuts at the building instead of taking the effort to dump them (as in the case of the inexplicable poles at 7 Bent Street). You're not fooling anyone. We know you just want people to hurry the fuck up and move in so that you can move on to your next charmless, hastily designed and even more hastily erected money pit of apartments.

And yet it's probably got all the mod-cons inside and is very liveable. At least when you're inside, you don't have to look at it!

Rating: Unpleasant.

12 March 2011

341 Victoria Street and 92 Henkel Street, Brunswick, VIC, Australia

I've been a little busy these last few days. I've been fine though, just doing fun stuff like maths assignments and turning 20 (anyone want to change my colostomy bag? I'm too old to do it myself). However, if I had lied to you and told you that I had a chronic case of food poisoning after eating food from this place here, would you believe me? I bet you would.

341 Victoria Street in all its derelict glory.

Ok, ok, I know it's closed and it has been for some time. I don't care. I have a funny feeling that it probably looked exactly the same when it was in operation. I wonder why it was closed down?  Now, before you go on with something like "stop stereotyping Chinese takeaways, they're perfectly clean", I might just go on a little tangent to tell you about this place I saw in Sydney's Chinatown back in August 2010. It was a takeaway Chinese place right near the railway station, which I imagine gave it more than its fair share of customers each day. It was pretty damn grubby - I would have never set food inside - but I thought it must be at least acceptable in order to continue operating in such a busy area. How naive of me! I happened to walk past one quiet morning on the way to the train, and witnessed five or six rats come scurrying out from under the door of this place and vanish into the drain. I was honestly almost sick. I guess they would have just been pissed off to lose the best item off their breakfast menu!

So yeah, what I'm trying to get at is that this place probably did close down due to a failed food safety inspection. However, there is still someone who lives in the space above the shop - maybe the ex-owner? This would make sense since I saw him as we walked by, hacking and coughing and spitting off the rooftop. Truly charming!

Hungry? No? What a surprise!

However, at least that place is actually closed down, unlike this. As far as I can see, this one is perfectly functional.

92 Henkel Street (Victoria Street frontage).
Now I don't know about you, but if I was a food wholesaler, I'd kind of like to get some customers every now and then. In order to do that, I'd have an attractive and most importantly CLEAN shop front. This one fails on every account. It looks as if it used to be a mechanic's workshop, and I wouldn't be surprised if the food in here was prepared on old oily benchtops. Organic products? Yeah, probably just the algae they scrape out of the sink every day. I don't know, maybe I'm being too harsh. It might be really nice inside. Maybe. Can you tell I'm not even convincing myself?

Oh, and get a roof. That wouldn't hurt.

Please, if you're starting a business in the food industry, at least paint and clean up your shop! Things can only get better from there. But if you decide not to, just don't come running to me when you get shut down for having sea snails attached to your taps.

Rating: Damnable