Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: So Farewell Then, UCSA

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  • Russell Brown,

    As northwest kids, we had pretty much open access to UCSA without even being students. I remember seeing Arthur Baysting as Neville Purvis ("Right. We're not here to fuck spiders") and The Plague during one Orientation.

    But mostly it was about finding ways to sneak into the ballroom space for gigs, usually after attempting to guzzle Liebestraum in the car park. I saw The Swingers and the Skeptics there, and also a Toy Love show in which Chris Knox appeared to nibble on a broken light bulb. I asked him about it years later and he couldn't remember doing it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report

  • Kumara Republic,

    I can remember when the UCSA building still had a Time Out spacies branch in the late 1990s.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5446 posts Report

  • Xeno,


    The gherkin was me, and I was unreasonably proud of it at the time. I was also the one who coloured it blue later on. It was from a cafeburger though.

    Hmm, lets see if I can attach a picture of our local Andrew Eldritch impersonator hanging out in what used to be Cloisters

    Since Oct 2008 • 27 posts Report

  • Stephen R,

    Last month, walking through Copenhagen, I looked up at a brutalist concrete building and said to my companion "That looks like the UCSA" - It turned out to be the Copenhagen university ....

    I heard Warren tried to sue the UCSA to stop them painting the concrete because he had some clause in the original architecture contract that said they couldn't, but when they built it, the steel reinforcing was too close to the surface, so the moisture seeped into the concrete, caused the steel to rust, then expand, then spall bits of concrete off the outside of the building. Cue significant costs to rebuild the external concrete balconies sometime in the early nineties.

    Ah the memories.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 259 posts Report

  • Alice Ronald,

    One thing I distinctly remember is the weird half levels & steps down into rooms. There didn't seem to be any reason for it.

    I spent most Wednesdays camped out at a trestle table in the foyer or outside the entrance closest to the bridge, signing people up for the ski club and various Temple Basin events. Our diet consisted of the chocolate cake at Brasilia & fried rice from the little Chinese takeaway on the carpark side.

    Watching the engineers try to cross the river on their bridge projects.

    Discovering the gigantic box of condom packages in the back of a meeting room (donated by Durex for O week, I think). And nicking off with most of them (it was August & we needed them for Winter Games in Wanaka).

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 63 posts Report

  • Simone Hindin,

    When it comes to it I have far more fond memories of the UCSA than I'll ever have of the cathedral that I maybe entered half a dozen times in my life. Dancing in the 'new' atrium, fighting in the ballroom, pretending to play 500 because they needed another hand even though I was totally useless at it.

    Christchurch • Since Mar 2009 • 6 posts Report

  • Russell Brown,

    All right, 'pristine' is completely the wrong word. Intact. Concretey. Orange. Drear and blocky and completely impractical. Okay, I'm not a big fan of Brutalism. The easy-hose-down decor was at least understandable, but the rabbit-warren of little hallways and windowless (or far too windowed) rooms? Those orange couches with the sloping backs? I was there in the 90s. Why was everything so relentlessly 70s?

    The brutalist AUSA complex at Auckland University was also designed by Warren and Mahoney, "in a style contemporary to the times," as the AUSA website puts it.

    The story was that the union got it cheap because it was a design that had been rejected by the University of Fiji. I don't know if that's true, but I can see how a design which put the toilets in the basement of a three-level building might get refused.

    Putting on a long record to go to the toilet was customary for bFM DJs on the top floor.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report

  • Euan Mason,

    Wonderful graduation balls in the UCSA building, with different types of music in each room - you could choose your style and volume. Vastly better than recent balls at the Horncastle arena with a single large cavern vibrating to a deafening band of dubious quality.

    Taking the family to evening meals at the UCSA when I was a postgrad. Cheap, but reasonable quality - a grand night out for a family impoverished by both parents studying.

    Great plays at the Ngaio Marsh theatre from Dramasoc.

    Rock concerts at Bentleys with the stage over the river during orientations.

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 259 posts Report

  • Gregor Ronald,

    I saw Blerta perform in the ballroom in the early 70s. It's a shame that the plans for a new building don't include a replacement for the Ngaio Marsh Theatre, but as the English Department has almost been eliminated I guess there's not a lot of drama happening. Sigh...

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 103 posts Report

  • Gregor Ronald, in reply to Alice Ronald,

    Funny, I haven't heard that story before!

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 103 posts Report

  • linger, in reply to Alice Ronald,

    I hadn't even realised that was in the Winter Games! Who came first?

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1944 posts Report

  • Tess Rooney,

    "When you move away from a place that's meant a lot to you, it stays unchanged in your head."

    This, totally and utterly this. Whilst I rationally understand that the building needs to go, and that it isn't "mine" there is a part of me that is devastated by the loss of the UCSA building. Despite changing flats, changing majors, changing boyfriends, the LCR was home and a stable, unchanging focus for my life at university. Losing the LCR is a concrete (very concrete) reminder that my youth has gone and is never to return. In my head I can pretend to be young and 22, but sadly the external reality speaks truth to my youthful pretenses.

    For those of us who were social outcasts at high school, to find not only a group of like minded friends but a place to be was so wonderfully satisfying. To belong somewhere was a true joy.

    Anyway, some memories:

    Definitely remember the pickle, gross, but in a scientific inquiry sort of way. The carpet... whoever designed that carpet needs some kind of industrial engineering award. It could soak up everything, and yet still look the same. Yes, it was a bit sticky, and the design was dreadfully ugly, but it kept on carpeting when all other woolen floor treatments would have surrendered and fallen into corroded holes. The phone, every time it rang there was the communal cry of "first year" so that some poor youngling would have to go and answer it. The conversations, I think every person in the LCR did Phil101 purely by dint of being part of the conversations of the day. The trees by the river just by the (second story) LCR balcony where one day, looking out the window, there was a very sleek, very healthy rat that was just sitting there on a branch looking in at us.

    Since May 2009 • 267 posts Report

  • amanda petrie-peter,


    came into the UCSA as a dreaded “adult” student with babies, 13 years as an undergrad & years spent going up and down these treacherous stairs into RDU. Along with the sound of whatever genre was in at the time the UCSA from the cafe of bribes to dodgy production studio all the hall with the clubs, this was my family’s second home. despite the architecture such a convivial space - typical that the image is sideways

    Perth via chc • Since Dec 2011 • 4 posts Report

  • Xeno,

    In a sense it was already gone before the quakes. Most of the common rooms including the above mentioned LCR had been locked up for years; the UCSA didn't want to pay for cleaners so filthy students didn't get to use them.

    It's been a long goodbye, with plenty of time to get used to the idea.

    Since Oct 2008 • 27 posts Report

  • Jason Dykes,

    Too many memories to list. Remember the protest against student loans where Lockwood Smith jumped out a window to escape? The engineers taking over during St Patrick's Day and performing the (green) helicopter in the amphitheatre. Student politics during Rogernomics (where we played out the national issues in microcosm and had our very own US spy try to infiltrate). Reorientation. Seeing the Yellow Submarine in the Ngaio Marsh. Seeing Little Shop of Horrors in the Ngaio Marsh. Many live bands, some such as JPS playing to about 12 of us in the Upper Common Room at lunch time. Doing the news at RDU. Looking on the noticeboard for a flat and finding a nice condemned house to live in for $12.50 a week. Watching my bike being stolen from outside the building and being threatened with violence when I objected. Buying a new bike for $10 from the Police auction. Surviving on Boston buns from the cafe - enjoying the subsidies available from a building we students owned. Accessing the underground tunnels. Inviting politicians to come speak to us - backbencher, Rob Muldoon drawing the biggest crowd and being the only one to stay for a DB with us in the LCR. And yes, many long day time card games in the LCR.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 76 posts Report

  • Lilith __,

    I loved the UCSA building. I know, Brutalist and everything. It reminded me of a platform-and-ladders game. But full of exciting, unexpected spaces where the students were in charge.

    I remember studying in the Library and coming to retrieve my boyfriend from Time Out when I was done. The first time I was invited into the Women’s Room, and how conspiratorial and revolutionary it felt. Meeting (one of my) BFFs for the first time in the LCR. Campus gossip, and watching who was having lunch with whom. Debating whether or not to go to certain lectures while having a lovely time with friends. The UCR on Friday nights, with Canterbury Draught $3 jugs and lots of laughing and flirting. How the building was smoke-free except when the bars were open. The fug of stale smoke and spilled beer on a Monday morning. Snoozing on the very comfy chairs. Getting Canta hot off the press. Frantically writing replies to the letters column in the 45min or so until the press closed for the following week’s issue. Occasionally being a hipster and meeting friends in the Shelley (where no one ever met, because it was basically a corridor). Lunchtime Exec meetings in the amphitheatre where most of the students weren’t aware they were in a meeting but who could sometimes be persuaded to vote on things. Student Health with it’s poky little rooms and all the secrets they could tell. Counting votes for the Student Exec late at night. Orientation when it was still called that. Headless Chickens, 3Ds, JPS Experience, Jay Clarkson. Not being a part of the Canta set, or the RDU set, or the Musoc set, or the Student Exec, but some of my best friends, etc…

    Oh, and sitting at a table in the foyer selling tickets to a Ball, while trying not very successfully to read Foucault’s History of Sexuality. Great times.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3895 posts Report

  • Joe Wylie,

    There's a stainless steel memorial plaque affixed to a large boulder just across the Avon footbridge from the UCSA. From memory it reads:


    There's also a year, I think late 1970s. Anyone know Tom's story?

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report

  • Russell Brown, in reply to amanda petrie-peter,

    despite the architecture such a convivial space - typical that the image is sideways

    Indeed. Oddly, if you click on it, it enlarges right way up.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report

  • Steve Barnes,

    So farewell then ucsa
    You were a building i never entered
    because I went to Auckland Uni instead
    but Keith went there and said.
    for some reason the building
    reminded him of his mum
    he never explained why
    but she wasn't made of concrete.
    E. J. Thrib

    Thanks for reminding me Emma. ;-)

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report

  • Paul Campbell,

    I spent two years there in the mid 70s it was still pretty new and sterile, and didn't seem like it had been grown into yet .... Unlike Otago's that I'd come from.

    I do remember one concert played outside by a bunch of car horns (with cars still attached) especially composed for the orchestra's unique range

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2623 posts Report

  • Jenny Dawson,

    This building was where I met the person who eventually became my future (and forever) husband: the day I started work in a wee office near the Upstairs Common Room, Engineering lecturer Derry Gordon introduced me (the new Lay Chaplain) to Jimmy McAloon (UCSA Vice-President) because, as Derry said "Jimmy's a friend". Some exciting Students Association meetings, some more-or-less amazing chaplaincy events, being around the Canta Office with some very talented people, lots of other social times...and this building came to mean almost as much to me as the Stud Ass building (later part of the Arts Centre) on Town Site where I had been an undergraduate. Thanks for all the memories above!

    Pukerua Bay • Since Oct 2015 • 1 posts Report

  • Tess Rooney,

    Heh, I met my husband in the UCSA building as well. Thanks for the reminder.

    Since May 2009 • 267 posts Report

  • Lilith __,

    Maybe one of the reasons I loved the UCSA building was because University Brutalism was already so familiar...

    (Shout-out to Stephen and Isabel and other 80s teens xx)

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3895 posts Report

  • Mike C Campbell,

    12 years and more I treated that building as a drop in center, a known fairly clean toilet (yes the actual toilet!!) and a navigation beacon when my gyros were spinning. And as others have said, the games of 500, "Bitch", drinking, drinking, drinking, end of year steins - watching Ensoc perform from the safety of the LCR, darts in the UCR....so many memories.......so long ago!! :O

    Wellington • Since Oct 2015 • 1 posts Report

  • Lucy Stewart,

    Most of the time I spent in the UCSA was in the Ballroom, but never for a ball or even a gig; it's where the fencing club met, because it was free for us to use on Saturday mornings (except when they were having an event, which wasn't that often) and hiring a room at the gym would have cost money we didn't have. I spent a lot of Saturday mornings over five years going up and down the ballroom, hauling out equipment from the cupboard we kept it in, putting it away again. Occasionally the floor was a wee bit sticky, if it was the Saturday morning after a particularly good night before, but we tried not to think too hard about that. They meet in the College of Education gym now, I think. It's not quite the same.

    I spent a bit of time in the Foundry, too, although probably not nearly as much as some. It was okay if you just wanted a beer right after class, but not much more. There was that weird period around 2007 where they tried to change the name to "The Common Room", but it never took, except to confuse new students with the signage. I still have a few Polaroids from a thing they were running there the first couple of weeks I was at Canty, in 2005, where they breath-tested you and then gave you a Polaroid photo with the reading on the back, to try and stop drink-driving. My readings are all absurdly high because they always managed to find me right after I'd taken my first sip of beer.

    I didn't have any particular love for the building, architecturally, but knowing it's coming down...it's another little bit of history wiped away.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report

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