One Man's Plan: The Story of Gerald Melling's Tenure as Editor of New Zealand Architect, and some Implications Thereof
Keywords:Journalism—Editing, Architectural literature, New Zealand Architect (Periodicals)
In late 1983 Gerald Melling replaced Gordon Moller as editor of the New Zealand Institute of Architects' journal, New Zealand Architect. The appointment of Melling was not contentious, Moller was stepping aside after a lengthy term, and while Melling brought less architectural experience to the job he added weight as a noted writer and editor. Melling edited New Zealand Architect for 11 issues, from No.4, 1983, through to issue No.2, 1986, and, as the NZIA might have expected, the first issues under Melling's influence displayed a far greater degree of creative and editorial urgency than had been the case previously. Yet, the end, when it came, was sharp, with Melling stepping down from the role in the aftermath of legal threats, and there are still rumours that the Institute abandoned its editorial association to the journal as a direct result of Melling's editorial control. This is not true, and this paper traces the circumstances of that myth. During Melling's supervision New Zealand Architect entered into a brief period of critical commentary in which New Zealand's buildings were viewed as a responsible to a wider public, and accountable to that audience through criticism. In his first editorial Melling wrote of the need for openness where architects get things right, and an honest reflection on where they get them wrong. Unfortunately the principle audience for New Zealand Architect, New Zealand's architects, did not always feel quite so happy about discussing their failures. Indeed, in one key instance they felt compelled to defend their work through legal channels. In his 1985 end-of-year Wellington BLAND Awards (Blatantly Limpwristed Acceptance of Nondescript Design) Melling erroneously named the architects responsible for the "Gross, overbearing, cheap and nasty" Control Data Building as Williams Developments. The architects, understandably perhaps, reacted immediately to what they perceived as a harmful association and demanded a retraction. One was offered, in the next issue, but it must be added that the sceptical tone of Melling's withdrawal, which involved reiterating his condemnation of the Control Data Building, was not helped by another mistaken attribution. The next issue, in which authorship was finally resolved, was to be Melling's last. Behind the print of the BLAND Awards was a flurry of threats, legal and otherwise, which called into attention the financial responsibility held by the NZIA in the advent of legitimate claims of slander being upheld, soon after Melling stepped down. This paper reviews the editorial content of New Zealand Architect immediately prior to, during the period of, and subsequent to Gerald Melling's dismissal as editor. Attention is given to the circumstances of his departure from, and the NZIA's subsequent dissolution of any legal relationship with the journal. I suggest that after Melling the journal's intellectual attention focused on the successful activities of architects and has not since seriously discussed wider issues regarding the social and public responsibilities of buildings, or architects. As Gerald Melling wrote in his first editorial, architects are seldom held to public account for their failures. Sadly, the Institute's response to one editor's attempt to rectify this oversight set its own journal on a course of social disengagement from which it has never been able to recover.