Tag Archives: architecture

The Waitakere Ranges National Park

To the West of Auckland, little more than an hour’s drive from the CBD is the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, or Te Wao Nui o Tiriwa (the great forest of Tiriwa)

The Waitakere Ranges National Park
The Waitakere Ranges National Park

700 years ago, the Tangata Whenua (people of the land) Te Kawarau o Maki, hunted and gathered here in a forest rich with berries and birds and along a coastline rich with seafood. With the arrival of the pakeha, the area became the domain of farming and forestry. Dams were built to float logs downstream and mills were set up to log them. Thousands of hectares of bush were destroyed.

Fortunately much of it survived. Nowadays, Te Wao Nui o Tiriwa is a giant playground, which includes more than 16,000 hectares of native rainforest and coastline. There are 250 kilometres of walking tracks, dotted with stunning, secluded spots for fishing, swimming and surfing, picnicking and camping.

Within the park are some of the country’s oldest and tallest kauri trees, as well as other precious natives, like rimu and kahikatea. Indigenous birds, like pipiwhaurauroa or the shining cuckoo, tui, kereru and piwakawaka, or fantail thrive here. Te Wao nui o Tiriwa is also home to Kauri snails, pupu rangi, pepeke (Hochsetter’s frog) and pekapeka ( long-tailed bat). At dusk, titiwai or glow-worms light the bush darkness.

Thanks to Operation Forest Save, a campaign by the Auckland Regional Council, large areas of bush have regenerated and larger numbers of native birds have returned. However, many pests continue to threaten the area, most particularly possums which devour 20 tonnes of vegetation in the Waitakere Ranges every night.

Also located in this great forest and fed by the abundant rains it attracts, are the huge reservoirs, built between 1910 and 1970, that Auckland city’s water.

Many bush loving, brave and ingenious refugees from the big smoke make their homes in the Waitakere. Often, they’re harder to spot than the timid bush-dwelling birds. Letter boxes and the beginnings of driveways hint at habitation, but few rooftops break the line of the bush. By law here, you cannot displace a tree. If a tree stands where you plan to build your house, then the tree must remain and you must build around it. The bush is sacrosanct.

The Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay, a great Singapore building

One of the most string things about Singapore is its architecture.

The Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay
The Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay

Colonial mansions, Gothic and Neo-classical churches, Georgian and Victorian public buildings, modern high rise towers, twenty-first century creations that, as yet, defy classification and, of course, its very own native sons, those exquisite shop houses, Singapore has them all. Among this panoply of great buildings, there are, however, some absolute stand-outs.

The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay is, arguably, Singapore’s most eye-catching modern landmark and on its commanding Marina Bay site, at the mouth of the Singapore River, it can’t be missed from land or sea.

Designed co-operatively by London-based Michael Wilford and Partners and DP Architects of Singapore, it consists of two great glass cones clad with thousands of little aluminum sunshades. Some liken the gleaming multi-faceted edifice to the eyes of a giant fly, others to a Durian.

It was purpose built as Singapore’s centre for performing arts and under those enormous domes are; a 1,600 seat concert hall with state of the art acoustics, a 2000 seat theatre modeled on the classical opera houses of Europe, a public library devoted to the arts scene, an intimate 250 capacity recital studio, a small 220 seat theatre for experimental theatre and dance presentations, an exhibition space, Jendela, or window, in Malay, with a panorama on Marina Bay, two outdoor venues, the Waterfront Stage and the Stage @ Powerhouse, for free avant garde performances, a large rooftop garden terrace, leisure courtyards, open spaces and a mall with retail outlets and eateries.

The 600 million dollar centre opened on 12 October 2002. On July 5, 2005, it seized the world stage when 117th session of the IOC opened here with concert showcasing Singapore’s multicultural heritage.

And, yes, it does look like a giant Durian, tossed casually down among the skyscrapers of Marina Bay


Singapore’s Little India

Singapore’s Little India is a flourishing centre, alive with colour, noise and constant activity, where ancient traditions fit harmoniously into ultra-modern life, where diverse cultures blend and different religions sit comfortably side by side. It is unmistakably India but uniquely Singapore.

A fragment od temple
A fragment of temple

In 1925, the British brought a contingent of Indian convicts to Singapore to work as construction labourers on the rapidly expanding settlement. For the duration of their sentences they were confined in coolie lines between Stamford and Bras Basah Roads. Once freed, they were given buffalos and land, in the city’s North West, and dispatched to begin new lives in their own India away from India.  Thus, Singapore’s Little India was born.

There are parts of Little India which are all India – bright, bold, extravagant and exotic. In the Arts Belt on Buffalo Road, the walkways are hung with Hindu emblems and paved with painted tiles of Indian design. Sensational souvenirs abound – statues, brassware, homewares, jewellery and silks, not to mention very special photos for those who wish to don a sari or a turban. There are demonstrations of traditional performing arts – Gamelan, Silat and Angklung. Across Serangoon Road, the Little India Arcade offers more; beautiful saris and sari fabric, stunning hand embroidered vests and slippers, shawls, trinkets, incense, ayurvedic herbs, wonderful authentic henna hand tattoos of ancient, mysterious design and the strange, mouth-numbing potions of the paan wallah or betel nut seller.

Nearby Campbell Road is the home of age-old businesses; the medicine shop, traditional provisions stores and furniture stores with elaborately carved wooden wares. Here, too, are the Flower Garland shops, where men and women ply the oldest surviving traditional Indian trade, threading jothi, or garlands of marigolds, jasmine and roses, (symbols of peace, purity and love) as temple offerings or tributes to dignitaries. Further down Serangoon Road are the gold stores, selling dazzling and much-coveted   yellow gold jewellery in a thousand and one elaborate designs. Deeper into Little India, in Cuff Road, is Singapore’s last traditional spice grinder, the only survivor from the days when spices were ground on the day they were used.

Absolutely everywhere, in Little India, there are eateries; restaurants, diners, cafes, stalls and carts in every street and on every block, offering every imaginable dish and drink from every region of India. The air is alive with seductive smells, they permeate every corner, every nook and cranny; curries of every kind and strength, chapati, thosai, puri and naan breads with lassi of every flavour to wash them down and of course, teh tarik.

Nowhere is timeless and traditional India more evident than in Little India’s houses of worship. The Angullia Mosque was built in 1898 on land donated by the wealthy Gujerati Angullia family, who are still its custodians. The Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman Temple in Petain Road is dedicated to Kaliamman, the protective mother-spirit. The Sri Srinivasa Temple in Serangoon Road which began life as a shrine in 1855 is dedicated to Lord Perumal, preserver of the Universe and God of mercy and goodness. The most famous and the oldest is the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. Built in 1855, it is dedicated to Kali, the many armed Goddess of power. Fittingly, during Japanese bombing raids World War II, the people of Little India sought refuge beneath the richly adorned turrets of Sri Veeramakaliamman.

Then, there are areas of little India which strongly reflect multi-cultural Singapore, like the houses of worship of other denominations which sit alongside its temples and mosques. The architecturally plain Anglican Church of True Light in Perak Road, built in 1952 for a congregation of Chinese tri-shaw operators now holds services in Tamil, Mandarin and English. The Art Deco Kampong Kapor Methodist Church was built in 1929 to serve the local Peranakan Chinese Community. The Leong San Buddhist Temple, in Race Course Road is known as the Dragon Mountain Temple because of the sculpted clay dragons on its roof. The Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple houses a 15 metre tall statue of Buddha surrounded by hundreds of lanterns. A blend of Moorish-Islamic and Southern Indian architecture, the Masjid Abdul Gafoor Mosque, completed in 1907, is famed for the spectacular sundial, decorated with 25 rays depicting the names of the 25 prophets, at its entrance.

Singapore’s blend of cultures and styles is stamped on Little India’s secular architecture, especially on its beautiful old houses and shops. The House of Tan Ten Niah, on Kerbau Road, with its carved swing doors, or pintu paagar, is one of the area’s last surviving stately Chinese villas. Little India is rich in Singapore shop houses, from the early style in Dunlop Street to the transitional in Madras Street, to the blend of Peranakan-Chinese and Malay in Upper Dickson Road to the stunning Art Deco examples along Race Course Road, in the Arts Belt.

There are glimpses in little India, too, of modern, cosmopolitan, commercial Singapore, in places like the gleaming multi-storey Mustafa Centre, in Alwi Road. Crammed with floor after floor of merchandise from around the globe it is packed 24/7 with shoppers from every corner of Singapore as well as tourists from all over the world. The Tekka Wet Market, edged by Buffalo Road, where once long ago, snake-charmers, astrologers, palm-readers and numerologists held sway, has long been a Singapore institution. Rebuilt now, with Housing and Development Board flats above, it is a shiny, clean, up-to-the- minute Singapore place. With its fresh vegetables and meat, the sumptuous fare at its hawker centre and the lively, colourful atmosphere it is always crowded with people – locals shopping for their daily provisions or grazing at the food stalls, tourists browsing and snapping pictures and hopefuls queuing to have their fortunes told by the one last Chinese Fortune Teller.

The full splendour of Little India is revealed at Festival time; Thaipusam, in January or February when men process through the streets with decorated arches attached to their bodies with spikes; Navarathiri, where after nine nights and ten days of fasting, a chariot carrying a statue of the mother Goddess processes through the streets attended by song and dance; Deepavali, the Festival of light, marked by gaily coloured street ligh s and festive bazaars. At these times, ancient rituals and traditions are played out against the backdrop of the 21st century city and modern Singapore comes out to watch.

Thanks to; Uniquely Singapore, Little India Walking Guide.


Marseille, city of the sea

Marseille is a city shaped by the Mediterranean. It sits on the edge of the south of France, in a landscape where stunted trees and scrub cling tenaciously to the rocky windswept hillsides.

Le Vieux Port
Le Vieux Port

Marseille’s old buildings are fashioned from the solid pink-tinged stone of much of the south of France. Its modern buildings are shiny glass and steel reflecting the sea and the sky, recalling the shape of waves and the colours of water. Its people are Mediterranean – Africans, Africans and French coloured, moulded and tempered by the sea.

Le vieux port, or the old port, is one of Marseille, most beautiful spots. It also encapsulates the essence of this ancient Mediterranean port. Thick stone ramparts and forts guard it against the wind, the sea and attacks from long forgotten foes. From a distant hill, a walled church and monastery watch over its calm waters, crowded with yachts and pleasure boats.

Le Vieux Port
Le Vieux Port

Stores selling shipping supplies, striped seamen’s jerseys, boat shoes and slickers, fishing tackle and souvenirs, line one side of Le Vieux Port. On the other, grand old buildings glow in the sun. Dark, narrow lanes lead away from the water’s edge to sunny open squares edged by apartment buildings with ornate facades and tall shuttered windows. Cafes and restaurants with broad street-side terraces sell bouillabaisse and fruits de la mer. The air is steeped in the smell and feel of the sea.

Spoilt for choice in Lyon

There is, as the Lyonnais say “un embarrass du choix” (an embarrassment of choice) in their fascinating and beautiful city. Whoever you are, Rugbyman, foodie, party animal, nature-lover, shopaholic or film buff and whatever your particular penchant, you’ll find it in Lyon.

For so

Lyon lighting up for the night
Lyon lighting up for the night

With over 1,500 hundred restaurants, many of them award-winning establishments with world-renowned chefs, Lyon enjoys a reputation as France’s capital of gastronomy. Most restaurants are located in Rue des Marroniers and Rue Merciere between Bellecour and Tex Of particular interest to the visitor, and unique to Lyon, are “Les Bouchons”, the hundred-year-old Brasseries where the atmosphere is relaxed, friendly. and old-world. Here you can sample typical Lyonnais charcuterie as well as machons, the before-work snack once eaten by Canuts, or silk workers and chase it all down with “pots” or special thick-based 46cl bottles of Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhone.

Lyon night-life offers many choices. For the party person, there are bars galore around City Hall and Opera. Down on the banks of the Saône, discotheques and pubs pump till dawn. For those with quieter tastes, the night-time streets are perfect for a stroll; they hum with life and people; shadows throw a different cast of beauty on the ornate old buildings; light plays on the rivers; and buskers entertain the passing crowds on every corner.

For a daytime promenade and for a glimpse of the Lyonnais at leisure, the left bank of the Rhône is the place to go, especially on warm weekend afternoons. You can walk for five kilometres along the river and enjoy the chain of parks, playgrounds, skate parks and petanque areas which stretch from the Tete d’or Park to Park Gerland; you can laze on a bench on the riverbank and watch roller bladers, cyclists on velo ‘v (the communal bikes provided as part of the public transport system throughout France) and joggers zoom by, while water-skiers and pleasure boats cruise up the river behind you.

Shopping in Lyon is a pleasant and easy experience – no long-haul treks across the city, burdened with shopping bags – most well-known stores, such as Galleries Lafayette and Printemps, are located in the Presqu’ile, from the Rue Victor Hugo to the Rue de la Republique. Original designs can be found in the Village des Createurs, in Passage Thiaffait, in the Croix Rousse district. But for a unique retro experience, visit the old world shops of the Passage de l’Argue. In the gastronomic capital of France, a little gourmet shopping is a must and the best place for this is the central food market or Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse, in Part-Dieu where 56 traders sell every local delicacy.

If you don’t see another Lyon Museum, be sure to visit the Musée Lumiere which celebrates the work of brothers Louis and Auguste Lumiere, who invented cinematography right here in Lyon. Its 4 levels and 21 rooms trace the history of cinematography and house such wonders as the “cinematographe numéro un” which was used in the first public movie showing in 1928, a selection of Lumiere films with commentaries and “le photodrama” a kind of giant screen on which in 1901, 360 degree, 6 metre high photographs were projected for public viewing.

It was the 2007 Rugby World Cup that first brought me to Lyon. I’ll always be grateful that it did, otherwise, I might not have discovered this interesting, beautiful and welcoming city.

Buildings, boeuf and Rugby in Toulouse

Toulouse is an ancient city with a long, rich history and proud traditions. It is a city distinguished by beautiful architecture, fabulous cuisine and great Rugby.

The pink brick buildings of Toulouse
The pink brick buildings of Toulouse

Toulouse is often called “la ville rose”. This is because of the distinctive pink brick from which so many of its buildings are made. The finest and most famous of these pink brick and stone structures are la Cathedrale de St Etienne and La Capitole (the City Hall and theatre) Aside from its pink brick beauties, Toulouse also boasts some of the world’s most distinguished buildings, like St Sernin Basilica which is the oldest Romanesque church in the world and the church and cloister of Jacobins which is the most complete group of ancient monastic structures in Europe.

Rich in fertile farms and vineyards, the Midi-Pyrenees region prides itself on its bonne cuisine et bons vins. Saucisses de Toulouse or herb sausages, cassoulet or pork and bean stew, garbure or cabbage soup with poultry, foie gras, or pate made from the liver of fattened geese, are all acclaimed and delicious dishes of the region. However, one evening, on the recommendation of a Toulousain at a neighbouring table in La Boucherie restaurant, we discovered the cote de boeuf, a side of succulent beef, carved into mouth-watering slabs at the table and would highly recommend this too, especially to other carnivorous Kiwis. Well-known wines include Bergerac, Bizet, Cahors, Gaillac and Madiran. But also on the recommendation of our neighbour, we discovered a delicious local, nameless vin rouge ordinaire and washed down our cote de boeuf with a generous carafe of it.

The Crowd at the Stade de Toulouse for the 2007 match between Romania and the All Blacks,
The Crowd at the Stade de Toulouse for the 2007 match between Romania and the All Blacks,

Last, but certainly not least of Toulouse’s claims to fame is Rugby. Teams from Toulouse have dominated the sport both regionally and nationally over the years, Le Stade Toulousain is known throughout the country as a Rugby epicentre, international stars often come to play a season here and the city has produced and nurtured such national Rugby legends as Fabien Pelous and Frederic Michalak. Tout ca se voit. The Midi-Pyrenees’ passion for the sport, their pride in their place as national and international greats and their commitment to the world-wide Rugby fraternity is evident everywhere and was especially so during the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

La Place des Vosges

Arguably the most beautiful of the many “places” or squares in Paris is La Place des Vosges.

La Place des Vosges
La Place des Vosges

The breathtakingly beautiful Place des Vosges is the oldest planned square in Paris. Commissioned  in 1605 by Henri IV, it formed the prototype for residential squares in cities all around Europe. Nothing of the kind had been seen before. Originally named La Place Royale, the square was inaugurated in 1612 to celebrate the wedding of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria.  It was re-named, as La Place des Vosges, in 1799 when the Department of Vosges became the first department to pay taxes supporting a campaign of the French Revolutionary army. So, really the name was a reward for support for the new, anti-royalist France.

At 140 metres by 140 metres La Place des Vosges is a true square. The facades of the houses that line it are all built to the same design from red brick with stone strips over vaulted arcades, steeply pitched blue slate rooves and small panelled dormer windows. Like many of the ‘places” of Paris, La Place des Vosges is planted with Linden trees, surrounded by lawns and gravel paths.

La Place des Vosges has been home to many famous French people including Victor Hugo who lived in L’Hôtel Rohan-Guéménée which is now a museum dedicated to his life and works.

Like many of the “places” in Paris La Place des Vosges  is a quiet retreat from the noisy, busy city

Cuba Street, The coolest street in the capital of cool

If Wellingon is the world’s coolest capital, then Cuba Street is the capital’s coolest street.

Tiger Eye Beads
Tiger Eye Beads

During that time in the second half of the 20th century, when chunks of the city were being sacrificed to motorways, Cuba Street was ear-marked for a traffic by-pass. As it awaited the wrecking ball, businesses de-camped and any upkeep on buildings was more or less abandoned. This, as it transpired, was Cuba Streets salvation. Rents plummeted and along with those seeking low cost accommodation, came others seeking alternative lifestyles – hippies, artists, innovators, visionaries and creators. Buildings were rescued and businesses were reborn. Second hand shops, bargain stores and galleries opened. Bars, cafes and restaurants set up alongside them. Colourful graffiti art colonised blank walls and alleys. Cuba Street was alive again. Cool and rather chic, in shabby kind of way, it was a distinctive part of the cityscape. Cuba Street became Wellington’s Bohemian Precinct.

The by-pass plan was dumped. In 1969, Cuba Mall was established. Buskers and street performers moved in, the famous Bucket Fountain was built and Cuba Street became a playground, a favourite meeting spot and one of Wellington’s most visited and vibrant quarters.  Finally, in 1995, Cuba Street was preserved forever under the Historic Places Act, as a registered Historic Area.

In essence, Cuba Street is still the same as it was when those hippies, artists, innovators and creators moved in, back in the sixties.  Most of the buildings are as they were then – the narrow wooden houses, the shop-fronts with their recessed doors, ornate lead-light windows and tiles still remain. So does the grand old Salvation Army’s Peoples’ Palace, now a Quality Inn. Colourful street art weaves around them on walls and in alleys.  Second hand and bargain stores survive and thrive, many with a 21st century vintage or retro twist. Bars, cafes and restaurants still abound, but among them now are award winners, like Matterhorn and the fine dining house, Logan Brown. Buskers and street performers still hold the floor in Cuba Mall, at any hour of the day or night and crowds gather to watch them, while the Bucket Fountain splashes away in the background. Cuba Mall is still a great place to hang out and one of the city’s most lively areas. And most importantly, that Bohemian spirit not only endures but flourishes.

My Cuba street favourites


Cuba Dupa, the Cuba Street Festival, at the end of March – for a fantastic end of summer celebration and an awesome street party  – food, bands, choirs, art, sculpture, performances, people and fun.

Cuba Dupa
Cuba Dupa

Cuba Street Friday Night Market – for all of the above, but on a Friday evening and on a smaller scale.


Madame fancy Pants – for elegant vintage classics

Tiger Eye beads for a frivolous, fanciful treasure

Arc Apparel – for a rock-bottom bargain


Midnight Espresso – for a midnight cofee and a vegan snack, also because it’s a Wellington icon.

Fidel’s – for a Cuban coffee with a Cubana (the ultimate toasted sandwich) and to re-live the revolution (Cuban, that is) through the posters and memorabilia on the walls

Breakfast, Lunch or dinner

Floridita’s Cafe and Restaurant – for good food, pleasant surroundings, quick service and leadlight windows overlooking a busy Cuba Street Corner – brilliant people-watching potential


The Ferret Bookshop – to ferret out an old favourite, or a new discovery, among their amazing collection.


Slow Boat Music – to browse their incredible merchandise, to bask in the glory reflected from illustrious international customers like Robert Plant and to maybe even catch an in-house performance?


Wellington Sea market – for fresh fish, a staggering variety of seafood and mouth-watering displays.

Fruit and flowers

Cuba Street Fruit Mart, for its abundance, its colour and its fragrance.



Urbis, of the city of Manchester


In 1996 an IRA bomb hit the area of Manchester around the old Print Works and Arngate. Fortunately, although 300 hundred people were injured, there were no fatalities and happily, the destruction was limited, in the main, to a car park. As it rebuilt in the aftermath of the bombing, Manchester became an international model of city centre development, with innovative buildings, malls, monuments, and spaces. But the star of this showpiece of urban development must surely be Urbis, Manchester’s state of the art exhibition centre.

Urbis, which is Latin for of the city, was the result of a design competition. The winner was local architect Ian Simpson.

Urbis shares one edge of a triangular garden space with Chetham’s Music School and the old Corn Exchange, which now houses the trendy Triangle Shopping Complex. It is a tall cylindrical concrete building coated in 200,000 panels of glass with emerald lights at their centre. There is a 3 foot insulation clearance between the concrete of the building and its glass exterior. At one end an external spire stretches like a bird towards the old city, while below it, the inside is like the prow of a ship.

The core focus at Urbis is Manchester – what makes up this fantastic city and how its citizens and visitors interact with it. The local television station, Channel M is housed here, promoting performers, producing shows and broadcasting uniquely Manchester events.

Urbis is a centre for workshops and tours, like the City Sights Regeneration Tour, exploring Manchester after the bomb, the Faith Tour, exploring city churches, or the Behind the Scenes at Urbis Tour, which looks at the history, the architecture and the organization of Urbis.

The Urbis  foyer is marketplace for local artists and craftspeople as well as an information centre on city life and history. Its shop offers a great range of books on Manchester and its people as well calendars, posters, prints, crafts and souvenirs of the city and the region. Urbis café is a meeting place, a place for Mancunians and visitors to socialize. Urbis’ three floors of show space house exhibitions about city life.

Urbis is a fascinating place to visit, not just as an introduction to the city of Manchester, or as an exploration of its story, or of its latest productions but for its own sake as a unique example of architecture and as a unique centre of city life and art.


Newcastle’s Grainger Town

Newcastle has a boom and bust history and nowhere is the boom of the 19th century more apparent than in its city centre, Grainger Town.

Grainger Town
Grainger Town

Having made their fortunes in coal and shipping and having earned Newcastle a place of prominence on the British as well as the world stage, the city fathers of the time were inspired to build a new Newcastle, to reflect their golden age of wealth and power. As their model, they chose ancient Rome in its golden age and appointed the architect Richard Grainger to realise their dream.

When finished in 1842, the area was described as the city of palaces. Recently regenerated, it is a precinct of elegant Victorian and Georgian neo-classical buildings which now house cafes and restaurants and offer fantastic shopping. It includes the splendid Central Railway Station, with its monument to George Stephenson, the Novacastrian who invented the steam locomotive. Grey Street, the city’s “main” street remembers Earl Grey, a name which resonates with tea-drinkers the world over. The focal point of the area is Grey’s monument, at the top of the street, which features the great teaman himself and was built to commemorate the Reform Act of 1832, drafted when Grey was Prime Minister.

Running off Grey Street is the Central Arcade which, with its triple domed glass and steel ceiling and tiled walls, is reminiscent of those beautiful, 19th century Parisian “galeries”. It was built in 1840 for Richard Grainger and is believed to the work of the architect John Wardle. It was originally a commercial exchange, then later a newsroom later still an Art Gallery. It was rebuilt in 1906 after a fire and today houses a number of retail outlets, a Starbucks café and the Newcastle Tourist Information Centre.

To walk in Grainger Town is to walk in another world, a world which is a monument to wealth, power, vision and beauty, a world which has carefully preserved the past, brilliantly harnessed the present and judiciously keeps a window open to the future.