It’s not my favourite structure, not by a long shot, but I have some affection for it as my first long-term encounter with modern architecture. We can credit Bill Alington with the architectural design of the mushroom shaped Bulls Water Tower (1956) —popping above the radar of motorists heading north on SH1 as they cross the Rangitikei River—from his years in the Hydro Design Office of the Ministry of Works. It was a giant structure alongside a water-testing station, which seems not to have lasted the distance. The anciliary building, unlike the tower, was, in any case, long out of use before it was demolished. I remember speaking with Bill about fifteen or so years back about the decision to make each angle 17 degrees to the perpendicular. He couldn’t recall, off hand, the logic of this angle, except to say that decisions of this kind were entirely in line with his geometrical preoccupations of the time—or, let’s be fair, in general. I grew up in the shadow of the tower. Not literally, but close to it. My first years were spent in the State-built military housing area that extends to its north and west, and which I would later and better appreciate as part of a nation-wide experiment in housing and town planning. The ethos of the HDO was to treat engineering works like architecture, to imbue them with the kind of careful consideration in matters of composition, material finish and contextual resolution that aspired for each work to add to rather than denigrate the landscapes in which these bits of nationally vital infrastructure were placed. It could not be done now, not in a public service enslaved to performance indicators. As a piece of composed engineering, it is a fine work: considered, functional, composed, doing all that it needs to do, but looking good in the process. I can’t resist it: the thing is admir-a-bull.
Andrew Leach, Professor of Architectural History at Griffith University. His new book Rome is out in October.
The “My favourite modernist building …” series is in support of Gordon Wilson Flats which is facing threat of demolition.