Tracing Steps on an Empty Dancefloor, or, Where Have all the Queer Buildings Gone?

Micheal Mc Cabe Header Image
Test two: installation render

Karangahape Road has become a contemporary site for queer convergence. Located along the ridgeline that frames Auckland’s CBD the rori (road) forms a counter-narrative to the heteronormative city it traces. Though recent law changes have illustrated a political and social shift towards homosexuality through the inclusion of lesbian and gay people into the institution of marriage. These legal changes do not reflect how queer spaces currently exist within the urban fabric.

Nightclubs remain one of the few built spaces for queerness to be enacted and are still sites subjected to physical, cultural, and economic forms of violence. And although we might understand Karangahape Road as a queer territory its past is one of passing through and on, of waka from the Waikato to the Waitematā harbour, of middle class families buying goods, of migrant Pacific Islanders establishing communities on new land. As queer bodies are replaced along the ridge we might rethink the problems of queer territoriality, the encroaching of gentrification and heteronormativity and look toward our past as a way of reframing queer urban practices.

This thesis examines queer nightclubs in Auckland’s CBD between 1970 and 1990 through queer archives and fragments of queer history. Bookended by the 1967 Sale of Liquor Referendum and the Homosexual Law Reform Act of 1986, this particular time period sees the reorientation of the central urban landscape toward marginal communities. For a brief moment we see the central city decentred and ruptured from its foundations. A trace of queer expansion.

A series of tests in the form of installations seeks to engage with this agency through the practice of queer building located in archival methodologies, surface, and colour. Informed through a lens of queer intersectionality specific to this thesis possibilities are offered that reframe the nightclub in and around contemporary Auckland. Instead of working within the confines of gay territoriality this thesis proposes a form of queer building that navigates like a dance around the city; light footed and off balance.

Micheal Mc Cabe Image 01
Measured plan of Family Bar

When I started to measure the building, with all its props, platforms, and singular pole, its underlying skew became evident. I had never noticed how under the glow of spotlights how it channeled you in towards it, towards the stage at the end of the room, towards the hallway and that lead you downstairs and again towards the dancefloor, towards the bar, shunts you on the angled mirror archway off to the side and up a long staircase. The door, when closed, has a little peep hole in it. Pressing my scrunched cheek on the door the view out to Karangahape Road is partially obscured with lazy brushstrokes. A cataract of black paint.

So when I made this drawing of Family Bar and Downunder I was attempting to articulate those conditions felt at 1am in the morning and the qualities discovered from a midafternoon measure up. Understood without surrounding buildings for reference instead engulfed in pink the building’s skew and taper becomes its formally defining quality. It sits awkwardly on the page. Our bodies shift attempting to align ourselves with it, where might its axis be, where is its vanishing point be, how long until I can leave? While we sit uncomfortably with the plan, we might notice the pervasive purple used as the cut line, as the shadow, as the grooves in the differently articulated patterned ground meant to represent floorboards. Purple becomes the space, something unnoticed under fluorescents not lasers. The pink surrounding the building becomes sinister. A border away, a moat, a red zone. The skew and taper uncomfortable now for the dominant culture it sustains. Family, potentially not, alone on a sea of vast pink, uprooted from any ‘real’ terrain. The politics enacted within destabilized, shifted from centre, floating in air.

Micheal Mc Cabe Image 02 Smaller
test one: panoramic construction drawing
Micheal Mc Cabe Plans
Test one: interpreted plans
Install 3
test two: urinal projection
Install 4
Test two: installation view
Micheal Mc Cabe Image 9
Test two: surfaces

We might meet on the surface of the dancefloor spine to spine. I might tread on your shoes a little bit and we will both say sorry because this place is so packed and we are all a little standing-on-one-another's-toes. It might be that our performativity is discourse? Our actions away, toward, and tangentially to one another are attempts to cross the surface to create new ground. These actions become the construction lines for a temporal marking of space. Where limbs morph into arches, where faces repeat under different lights, where body, space, and time are folded into one another. So it seems like we've found a way of making that resists what we think of when we start building a space. Foundations are ruptured displaced from a territory. Arches are found in the small of the back. 

What architecture might clothe our bodies? Could we consider  building as a protective layer? But a protective layer more like a windbreaker than a raincoat that leaves our bodies buffeted by the gale and wet if it decides to rain. But at least the building, in this case the windbreaker, does it best to keep what it can at bay. 

There is no true safety because these modes of construction can afford only a feeling of safety, a bumping of spines and a gesture of ‘sorry’

Install Image
Test two: installation view
Micheal Mc Cabe Image 8
test two: components to be assembled