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rebuilding Christchurch

New Zealand is full of lofty ideas – not fulfilled, often through lack of money. Many cathedrals are not completed to the original design. Our New Zealand Parliament building is approximately one-eighth completed to the original proposal. Let’s keep that in mind when we are bombarded with grand visions and proposals for rebuilding Christchurch.

Secondly: Christchurch people argue about buildings. Some of that focus will have shifted with the loss of so many buildings – but the attitude, I suspect, will still come to the fore (and already has).

Rebuilding the Anglican cathedral has been affirmed pretty much from the start. Options mentioned are starting afresh and building a 21st century cathedral, or building a hybrid 21st century part with the 19th century remains, but most likely (I suspect) will be rebuilding a replica of the 19th century building (which is itself modelled on an 11th century building in Caen, France).

What I have not heard suggested is, if a replica is what is chosen, why not complete the original design? Christchurch’s Anglican cathedral is one of the unfinished ones mentioned in my first paragraph. The east end is “temporary”, put up when they ran out of money for the design that demands an extra arch’s worth in the chancel. It’s pretty obvious from the outside where the vestries protrude in an ugly manner in poor relationship with the east end. This has meant the choir has never managed to fit where it belongs, and was singing in disproportionately large, dominating stalls. This, with three altars regularly in a row, detracts from the beauty of simplicity of the vision of the local architect, Benjamin Mountfort, who worked on the design of George Gilbert Scott. An uncluttered area around an altar in the crossing, and a permanent position for the cathedra would enhance contemporary worship in the completed 11th/19th century replica. Furthermore, completing the east end would provide the opportunity of adding significant space underneath the cathedral. Currently there is a rabbit-warren of underground tunnels and poky rooms and a severe lack of appropriate meeting and office spaces.

Unfortunately, media comments have not always been correct. The cathedral was designed to have the spire visible in all four directions. It no longer was even prior to the earthquake. The Anthony Harper building prevents the architectural dialogue with the museum. Since the Anthony Harper building’s construction, the spire was hidden from view along Worcester Boulevard (some comments suggest that the spire is no longer visible along this street because of the earthquake). The Anthony Harper building is in the “I can draw rectangles” style of architecture so beloved of contemporary Christchurch architects – if we are not replicating the quaint Victorian/Edwardian buildings we have lost, let us hope that we do not end up with a city in that architectural style.

The architectural gem, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament also is ruined. It is less known than the Anglican cathedral in great part because of its relatively isolated location. The Roman Catholic community had been offered the very central Latimer Square for its location, but Bishop John Grimes wanted it to stand on the site of his pro-cathedral. The two towers and some of the front facade have been ruined, and plans are to remove the dome. If major rebuilding of a replica is to be undertaken, might my suggestion of lateral thinking of moving this cathedral to Latimer Square be part of the mix? Few people in Christchurch would know the original title of Cathedral Square – Latimer Square might become Latimer-Fisher Square, or any other number of possibilities…

The Anglican diocese has about 26 church buildings significantly damaged. I have often lamented the paucity of liturgical study, training, and formation in our church. I wonder now if we have the wherewithal to create beautiful buildings that enhance contemporary liturgy. Other denominations, of course, have also sadly lost their worship spaces. The Roman Catholic Church has a clearly-articulated understanding of worship, and international expertise it can bring to its rebuilding.

The city generally needs creative vision if it is to attract. One of the more creative, lateral-thinking ideas I have come across is the formation of an elevated garden city (see also here, here, and here.)

Zoom in to Christchurch Post-Earthquake Aerial Photos (24 Feb 2011)
Slide across photos of before and after the earthquake

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10 Responses to rebuilding Christchurch

  1. Well said Bosco (though you will understand that I have somewhat passionate objections to renaming Latimer Square).

    A further challenge to the set of challenges you name is the ‘how’ of a decision making process re the Anglican Cathedral. The simplest decision making process would be for the Bishop, Dean and Chapter to take responsibility (which indirectly could reflect the views of the Diocese as the Chapter is drawn from the Diocese). But it would be good manners and good for goodwill if the Diocese was involved in some direct way through its Synod. Then, as you allude, there is the role of the city (if not the nation) in making a decision. If (as often commented) the Cathedral is an icon of the city of Christchurch, should not any new Cathedral (replica, completion of original design, brand new design) involve a conversation with the city and province (some of the $$$ needed likely will be drawn from our farming communities): what kind of icon is required? One with a nod to the past or one encapsulating the future, or both?

    My two bits (today, my mind keeps changing) are: (1) could we have a cathedral which enables us to meet in conference/synodical mode as well as liturgical mode? [E.g. replace the rabbit warren of tunnels below with a decent crypt for refreshments to be served to a large gathering … counsellors available at the doors for those who still recall the 2010/2011 quakes :)] (2) how about an architectural competition? Scott’s original design could be submitted along with 21st century plans!

    • Thanks, Peter, I was also conscious of your own suggestion of an ecumenical cathedral which would still require the options I mention.

      As to renaming Latimer Square, I regularly refer to the original name of Cathedral Square – do you?

      It is interesting that in those to be consulted about the future of the Anglican Cathedral you do not mention its owner. Also, can you expand on the Chapter being drawn from the Diocese – in what sense are they drawn from the diocese in a way different from others? I tend to err on wider rather than narrower consultation normally, acknowledging that I have seen that backfire. Your first point, about the underground facilities was very much part of my post’s concept.

  2. Hi Bosco
    Is the owner the Church Property Trustees? Certainly the owner must be part of the consultation and decision-making process!!

    I often talk about Cathedral Square being Ridley Square.

    The Chapter (as I understand it) includes the Archdeacons who thus are each in touch with the regions for which they have responsibility. While in theory I imagine members of the chapter could be drawn from outside the Diocese I know of none that are. “Drawn from” is, of course, different from “elected as representatives by” … thus Chapter as a body could be less representative of the Diocese than (say) Standing Committee. I understand the Chapter to be an appointed and not an elected body.

  3. May I leap in and make a comment as a local Architect here?
    I have found the comments above very interesting, because they highlight a few issues that are of great interest to me, in particular with regard to the need for buildings to provide the spaces that serve our current needs, and the way that these change both stylistically and practically.
    New Zealand does not have the ancient built heritage of many countries, or the space pressure that results in more reuse, therefore we are not as exposed to the idea that buildings do change over time as our needs change.
    The preservation of architectural heritage can conflict with contemporary needs, and the obliteration of architectural history can mean we thin down our identity to that of living memory only.
    If change is done with respect and understanding of the style of a building, as well as the purposes for which it was built and for which it will be used now, the result can be very exciting.
    In countries with a long enough architectural history one can see buildings with extensions and wings that reflect the period in which each was built, that work together to tell of how both society and building methods have changed. It would be a shame to lose this narrative in such significant buildings in Christchurch, whether by wiping the slate clean or by pretending change has not happened and replicating without recognising our changed needs and abilities.
    An interesting book I have, the Architecture of Additions, (a part can be seen on this site http://www.thecityreview.com/byard.html), shows one example of a proposed contemporary addition to a neogothic/romanesque cathedral.
    Whether this addition addresses the needs of the current diocese is not discussed, but the proposal does explore the parallels between the glories of vaulting structures in old and new methods of construction.

  4. Thanks Bosco. The Cathedral serves a complex role for Christchurch people, tourists and the diocese, and it will be tricky to ensure it continues to serve everyone, without anyone feeling they have lost some aspect.

  5. The recent deconsecration of Christ Church Cathedral has prompted quite a lot of local discussion about the rebuilding of the Cathedral, and what it signifies (and what it might cost, and who should pay, who should decide, and so on!). Thinking purely from the point of view of the discussion over rebuild possibilities being an act of mission work, if I could all it that, in what ways could the process of discussing options (and recalling the old building’s contribution to the spiritual side of life) be directed to do the most good spiritually? Is it that the discussion will split into two views of the building – the one from the outside that was seen on postcards and was recalled by people who passed by all their lives (yet never went in), while another group entirely thinks in terms of what went on inside?

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Rev. Bosco Peters

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