I was sixteen when I first came across the iconic glass domed ceiling at Galeries Lafayette in Paris. As an awkward teenager seeing the big wide world for the first time, I was both stunned by and a little jealous of the opulence of this beautiful specimen of Art Nouveau being the centrepiece of something as common as a shopping mall. I had never seen anything quite like it.
Being young and poor, there wasn’t anything I could afford in the fancypants establishments along the Champs-Elysees, but buying a pair of cheap, bright, plastic earrings under the century-old glass dome somehow made me feel a little less touristy (despite the fannypack and the New Zealand t-shirt I was sporting), and a little more glamorous.
Who were these people -I wondered, about Parisians -who valued physical beauty so much as to take it beyond palace walls, and away from hiding places in museums and art galleries to make it accessible to everyone from the chic Chanel-clad to the dumpy Croc-shod? Even their shopping malls were infinitely more beautiful than any building I had seen back home in the City of Sails.
I put it down to French frivolity and returned home feeling a little defeated, believing that decadence was the domain of the sophisticated, and that sophistication could only really reside in continental Europe.
Then, many years later, much to my surprise, I found myself sipping tea under natural light streaming through a beautiful Hinuera stone dome at an old post office building in, of all places -Hamilton city.
The Central Post Office on Victoria Street was built in 1940 when the city was experiencing a period of boom. At the time, the dome was the second-largest of its kind in the British Empire.
Constructed in an Art Moderne style, it was both a celebration of the bright future that awaited the city, and a labour of love for architect Bill Young. The stone was sourced from Matamata and the 1600 glass-lensed dome took two years to complete.
All this fuss so the people of Hamilton would have a place to post letters and pay their bills? Clearly opulence and beauty in everyday life was not an exclusively Parisian trait.
Today, although the its postal facilities have long gone, the building still houses something rather common and commercial: the SkyCity complex. Yet, it is undeniable, that walking through the marble-laid atrium and under the dome makes the experience -of a game of laser tag, a spin on the pokies at the casino, or a glass of wine at Rebo -just little bit richer and infinitely prettier. In the wake of the recession and amidst the obsession with grungy faux-industrial decor that seems to plague every other city, the timeless elegance of the old post office dome in Hamilton is refreshingly escapist.
In 2015, the dome will celebrate its 75th birthday. Coincidentally,the SkyCity hotel is due to be completed then too. The boom that the city is forecasted to experience is already evident in the rapidly changing skyline and the noticeable hum of excitement in the air. I hope that in our race to shape a modern city, we take a leaf out of the past and continue to create beauty for the everyday and the banal.