06 March 2011

Bell tower, Miranda Street, Stratford, Taranaki, New Zealand

Stratford is a lovely service town amidst the farms of central Taranaki. It's the kind of quiet place where you can lie in the middle of the road on a Friday night and not get hit by a car. Besides Mount Taranaki in the distance, the skyline in Stratford is dominated by two towers a block apart: the clock tower on Broadway and the bell tower on Miranda Street. Now, if you arrive in Stratford by night, you'll find it to be a very pretty place. Both towers are well-illuminated and look quite pretty:

The Elizabethan clock tower
The modernist bell tower.
However, things are not as they seem. The clock tower maintains and arguably improves its character at daytime. The same cannot be said for the bell tower. At night, it is stark and almost imposing given how much it dwarfs the surrounding buildings. But you kind of get a hint that it's actually ... well, pretty ugly. And here's the daytime proof for you:

Is that a bell tower, or a monument commemorating an oil well? I'm not entirely sure. It's just a few concrete legs wedded together. It signifies nothing. It could not possibly be any more spare; it is functionalist to a repulsive extreme. Did they run out of money to make it look good? So much effort has gone into the picturesque clock tower that you would think its cousin a block over would get similar treatment. Instead it seems like they erected a bell tower purely as a chore rather than as a complementary landmark, and now the people of Stratford are stuck with something that looks like it should be at the entry to an industrial park.

I'm sorry, but there is no charm in a few concrete legs. As with any concrete surface, it shows off weather wear-and-tear in its own particularly unappealling way; click the daytime picture for an enlarged version and you'll see just how spotty parts of the tower's surface are, especially the centre of the foremost leg. That said, at least some effort seems to have been put in to keeping it a bit clean; I've seen spots and smears that are so much worse. But some things age well and some things don't, concrete structures falling firmly into the latter category. This bell tower is a great example of something that didn't look good when it was erected, doesn't look good now, and never will. C'mon Stratford, surely you can paint it or clad it or otherwise decorate it somehow so that it looks even vaguely as pretty as the clock tower! This stain on your daytime skyline is not very becoming of you.

Rating: Condemnable.

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