My favourite modernist building … the Cricketers’ Arms Tavern

Cricketer’s Arms Tavern, cnr Tory & Vivian Streets (1962-68/1968-70)

Architect: D.C. Gunter, Client: New Zealand Breweries

The Cricketer’s Arms was designed and built through the 1960s (1962-68/1968-70) as a consequence of the amalgamation of small local breweries into the duopoly which defined Aotearoa/NZ beer for the next forty odd years. There were a number of bars built at the same time dotted around the country, and one day, when I have a serious moment, I will write the history of them. They are richly steeped in the culture of ‘six o’clock swill,’ ‘ladies lounges,’ and the dimly conflicted process of modern corporatisation and egalitarian social progress. ‘Better Beer For All’ in the form of a nationally standardised brewing – eerg!

Anyway, the bars were all designed in the fashionable Brutalist style that emerged out of CIAM X, Alison & Peter Smithson, and a romantic/humanist turn by modern architects. Modernism is a fairly complicated beastie when you start to enquire, and technically speaking ‘Brutalist Architecture’ is post-modern though not of the self-referential ice-cream coloured kind.

The Smithsons were working with artist Richard Hamilton whose collage  Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?  (1956) typically punctuates the beginning of any lecture on post-modern art. If you still don’t believe me that it is a romantic/humanist turn just truck on out to Upper Hutt and check out the civic buildings and their gardens – all picturesque and Japanese, hard rock building and filmy soft plants.

Adolf Loos, for all his crimes, compared modern architecture to a clean cut Englishman’s suit – sensible, elegant, anonymous. Brutalism is more, well, hipster – sensible, plaid shirt, a bit archaic. This is neither a criticism, nor a random association. Both Brutalist architecture and Hipsters were/are, for example, nostalgic about the Amish, both pretend to be low tech, both intend to give a solid one finger salute to gratuitous consumerism.

Cricketers Arms

The Cricketers Arms has a number of features – which if I ruled the world – would be protected for posterity as a symbol of nostalgia for A/NZ’s failed democratic socialist experiment. These include a corner cut-out facing the intersection of Tory and Able Smith Streets. This was supposed to organise a 360 degree stair entry marking the divide between upper and lower bars. The lowest basement (dive/public) bar was also a bottle shop, while the upper bars were ‘private’ & ‘lounging’ (for the ladies etc). That this feature has been filled in by a lift is an utter lament, and of dubious functionality – there is plenty of room in the back of the joint, linked to an underground carpark that could have a lift… assuming that this wasn’t a structural problem.

The exterior facades are rough as guts – but then blank facades are a feature of pub design at the time, which did not allow the interior (with its drinkers) to be seen from the street … perhaps also to keep a maximum of cigarette smoke in the bar for best smoking impact. The top floor lounge could forego this treatment having instead floor to ceiling windows behind vertical concrete barricades. The result is fortress like … similar to a tightly buttoned plaid shirt … just missing the lush beard. If the building were being maintained true-to-form the space of the street set back (created because they assumed Tory & Vivien Streets would be widened) would have planter boxes to allow some hairy greenery to mingle with the concrete.

I sincerely hope that at some point when one of the local craft beer companies get big enough they move into the building and resurrect its status as a temple to beer consumption – single speed drop handle bar bicycles parked out front of course!

Kate Linzey

The “My favourite modernist building …” series is in support of Gordon Wilson Flats which is facing threat of demolition.


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