Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Auckland City has just invested $70 million in upgrading its art gallery.
One major approach to new building is through the narrow gutted Khartoum Place - never a cheerful piece of urban design and one made less cheerful by a water feature that attracts more rubbish than inspired passers-by.
The whole is dominated by a tiled mural commemorating the centenary of women's suffrage in New Zealand.
The work is not great. It is barely adequate for the great cause it commemorates. Its aesthetic can best been described as 1980's cut and paste graphic design. But it has its powerful supporters who have taken to describing it in terms of some sacred and inviable monument. Successive mayors have latched on to their defense as an easy and popular cause.
The current mayor, Len Brown, has joined their ranks adding its protection to his list of 100 things he is going to achieve. (It seems odd to claim credit for something that will require no thought and nil effort on his part.)
While the mural remains in its current site, a grand urban design opportunity is lost.
To open up the stairway and remove the water feature will radically improve the whole area both physically and visually.
Defenders of the mural say it cannot be moved.
Expert opinion says it can.
After all if Transit New Zealand can move an entire heritage hotel, the Rob Roy, without disturbing a brick, it should not be beyond the wit or skill of Auckland City to move a few hundred ceramic tiles.
There is a simple resolution.
Khartoum Place commemorates the lifting of a siege in Sudan in 1885. A British Imperial adventure which not only had nothing at all to do with us, but when invited to contribute troops, we staunchly refused to do so.
Rename the place Kate Sheppard Place or Suffrage Place.
Rebuild the stairs to open up the entrance to the gallery.
Re-site the mural.
Commission a major sculpture by a woman sculpture, and we have more than a few up to that job, which will commemorate Suffrage and the brave women who fought for it in a way the greatness of what they did deserves.
Surely this would be a win for the Suffrage Movement, Urban Design, the rate and tax payers who have contributed $70 million on a grand new gallery, and public art.
This would seem to be just the kind of inclusive resolution we were promised by the mayor when he campaigned for his job and the mandate the population gave him.
Just doing nothing is a wimpish way to add to a list of 100 achievements.
Talk around Mayor Brown and do something major for this blighted part of town.


  1. Building a grand entranceway to the revamped gallery would be a great idea. Not only would it point people in the right direction from Lorne St but it might also incorporate better access for wheelchairs and those who find climbing that ugly staircase a chore.

  2. I have often wondered how one of the most influential movements in the world was commemorated with that ugly mural.

    I'm strongly in favour of having White Camellia Day celebrated again (read my posts favour on this Not necessarily as a public holiday, but as a day of national significance.

    As for Khartoum Place, rather than ripping it down and forgetting we should be aiming to rebuild it as something much greater than it currently is. What can we do about this?