Old Dungas to Go

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

At a time when Cantabrians are mourning the loss of life and the loss of the built fabric of the city that they lived in, worked in, got married in, went to school in, shopped in, partied in, and were born in, Minister Brownlee desecrates Christchurch’s heritage architecture as “old dungas.”  In slightly less derogatory language he describes how the “Old stuff, if it’s got any damage at all, needs to be got down and got out.”

The question hidden under this inelegant articulation is really the question that Brownlee should be asking – what value is heritage?  This is a complex question – and perhaps that’s why it hasn’t been asked.  Heritage is usually accused of being valuable in terms of cultural identity.  Heritage is a demonstration of what we value in our environment.  Heritage is an expression that we have come from somewhere, that we have pasts, and that we and our antecedents are connected in some way.

Heritage is also valuable in the more narrow financial sense.  As Donovan Rypkema demonstrated in his nation-wide seminars last year (hosted by the NZHPT) heritage generates financial wealth for the community.  Heritage tourism is the fastest growth sector in the fastest growing industry.  Heritage tourists spend more money and more time in the cities they visit.  Heritage restoration is a significant contributor to local economies and downtown revitalisation.  The economic argument for heritage is so strong that Christchurch needs to carefully include a strategy for the repair and rebuilding of key heritage buildings to safeguard its long term economic recovery, as much as its psychological recovery, and the need to repair the damage to its civic identity.

The case has been made – in fact it was made to the government last year (see Colliers’ press release re: earthquake strengthening) – demonstrating that earthquake strengthening of heritage buildings funded by central government would be repaid within two years.  It’s clearly too late for many of Christchurch’s heritage buildings to have preventative earthquake strengthening – but it’s not too late for many of New Zealand’s cities: Wellington comes to mind.  Instead for Christchurch, careful analysis needs to be done before rash proposals about widespread demolition are acted on.  Stupidity is not the foundation Christchurch needs to be repaired and rebuilt on.




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Posted under: Architectural History, Comment, Heritage Buildings | 20 Comments »

20 Responses to “Old Dungas to Go”

  1. Geordie Says:

    ^ strong argument! Hope this makes its way to the ‘old Dunga’ in the picture up top.

  2. sally Says:

    You’d think Brownlee, as Minister of Economic Development, should be aware of some of these issues

  3. Guy Says:

    Gerry Brownlee has not had a great track record of his suggestions being either A) sensible, or B) taken up.
    You may recall that as Minister for Mining, he was the face of advocacy for mining of Conservation lands, including schedule 4 land and of course Kawau/Great Barrier islands. This was going to be achieved by “surgically precise mining techniques” of which the most glowing example of which was the Pike River Mine. That particular surgically precise mine has ended in NZ’s second biggest tragedy in recent years – and you don’t hear of calls for surgically precise mining of strategic assets any more. Actually, you don’t hear of mining any more – that’s all being brushed under the table.

    So in a masterstroke of “what the hell do we do with this minister now” from the Key government, Brownlee has been put in charge of getting Canterbury working again. The similarities with the phrase “bull in a china shop” spring rapidly to mind.

    Yes, the situation in Canterbury calls for action.
    Yes, it calls for decisions.
    But it also calls for calm, rational thought, and a clear insight into a way forward. I’m not convinced that Brownlee is at all qualified to be the right person to be making the decisions he purports to be making.

  4. Silverado Says:

    Renovation workers inside some of the damaged older buildings were killed during the 6.3 aftershock last week, Mr Brownlee said. The local council refused consent to allow some old buildings damaged in the first quake to be destroyed, but Mr Brownlee said it would not have a say this time.

    “Quite frankly people have died in this last earthquake trying to save old buildings. We’re not going to do that any more. My absolutely strong position is that the old dungas, no matter what their connection, are going under the hammer.”

    “The previous method of doing things hasn’t served us well, and we’re not going to work with that any more. Old stuff, if it’s got any damage at all, needs to be got down and got out, because it’s dangerous and we don’t need it.”

    – Mr Brownlee, it would seem, is not in agreement with you about heritage. We need the Minister for Culture and Heritage, Chris Finlayson, to get up there and stand up to Brownlee to argue the case for heritage.

  5. m-d Says:

    Easy for us to argue from your own armchairs, but the reality is that saving heritage buildings (or attempting to) has cost human lives in Christchurch. Given the likelihood of further significant aftershocks, restoration work is highly dangerous work. Are you putting your hand up? Probably not, so – we ask builders etc to do it on our behalf – nice. Let there be, at very least, extreme danger payments for those workers, which of course, significantly increases restoration costs. The question then remains, as it always does, who pays? Are the buildings (the dungas rather than the cathedrals etc) really of national significance such that the NZ taxpayer should pay? Are they of regional significance such that Cantabrians should pay (a big ask in a time like this)? Or are they significant to a small lobby group of heritage enthusiasts, who should be required to stump up for their cherished hobby?

    I agree that we shouldn’t rush to a conclusion and that a debate needs to be had before Brownlee begins throwing his considerable weight around, knocking over important buildings in the process. But I also think that appropriate stakeholders need identifying and listening too – particularly those who are being asked or required to put their money where other people’s values are. It may be that Cantabrian’s want rid of the old dungas (not the cathedrals etc) too – leaving only the heritage crowd in favour of retention. Given the relatively small size of that group, and the fact that we are supposed to live in a democracy, well, you know what follows…

  6. sally Says:

    Is Brownlee distinquishing between dungas and cathedrals? – and isn’t that the sad old conservative line – that heritage is the pretty stuff from the C19th? – that kind of thing means that poor old modernism never has a chance in this debate, and that we get a very biased version of history as a result. Speaking of modernism – Christchurch Modern has a great webpage showing the tragic loss to Modernist buildings.

  7. richard Says:

    yes good point – where is Chris Finlayson?

  8. m-d Says:

    I don’t think Brownlee is even engaging with the idea of heritage at any level, so no, not the sad old conservative line. His use of the term old dungas probably refers more accurately to old buildings in poor condition (heritage or not). I’m assuming that he doesn’t class the Cathedrals and significant public buildings as dungas, but I could be wrong. Some more precise phrasing would of course be helpful.

    I agree that he should extend his definition to modern dungas as well. The debate then becomes, initially at least, what is a dunga and what is heritage, which is a completely fraught one but needs to be had nonetheless – and needs to be had, in my own inconsequential opinion, on the basis that I have tried to set out above. Anything else will be just more farce.

    Yes, Chris Finlayson should be an important spokesperson here.

  9. Karen P Says:

    Wanton demolition of defenceless buildings has started already.
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/christchurch-earthquake/4725630/Christchurch-church-torn-down-without-consent

    “A historic Christchurch church has been demolished without the consent of the owners or Civil Defence officials, in breach of emergency regulations. News of the demolition follows Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee’s statement that the Government would push through the demolition of old buildings with “any damage at all”.

    The trust that owns the church said the demolition raised concerns over whether the city’s historic buildings could be saved from the wrecker’s ball. Sydenham Heritage Trust deputy chairman Neil Roberts said the Sydenham Heritage Church, on the corner of Colombo and Brougham streets, was demolished by Southern Demolition last Thursday without the trust’s consent.

    The trust became aware of the demolition when the work set off an alarm in the building, Roberts said. “Nobody got in touch with us – not a word.”

    While the church had been significantly damaged by the earthquake, Roberts said it was not a risk to the public. “It was cordoned off, the street was shut down and there was no danger.”

  10. m-d Says:

    This is bad, although Gerry does have the power to change the legislation to allow this (which is also scary) – he should at the very least do that before mandating this action (if it is anything other than administrative bungle – which it is more than likely to be).

  11. richard Says:

    yes who needs Brownlee when you have Southern Demolition? – they were the ones who attacked an engineer with a digger after the last earthquake – http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/4137558/Engineer-attacked-with-digger

  12. Guy Says:

    Southern Demolition were the crew who demolished the Manchester Courts building as well, yes?
    Karen P – There are several things at play here.
    There are simple mistakes.
    There are criminal acts of unlawfulness.
    There are intentionally malicious acts of stupidity.
    And there are bureaucraticly condoned acts of mindless demolition.

    This would appear to fall into 3 out of the 4 conditions.

  13. Maximus Says:

    I’ve got a new name for heritage buildings (old dungas) that have been demolished by ministerial incompetence – they’ve been “Brownleed”. He needs to go.

  14. Christine Says:

    another update re: the church demolition: “An unauthorised demolition of a heritage stone church in the Christchurch CBD could lead to prosecutions, Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker says….” http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/prosecutions-possible-after-stone-church-demolished-4044682

  15. sally Says:

    have you seen the ODT this morning – they are talking about there being two options – accept heritage destruction during an earthquake – or demo them now … http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/150267/cull-stark-choice-over-quake-plan

  16. m-d Says:

    That’s a big call! But then again, what other options are there – current local body legislation is obviously largely ineffective, and if standards are increased (which is probably likely), then the legislation will be even more problematic.

    Heritage, to be meaningful, has to be something of value that is handed down. We can’t predict future values, or else we wouldn’t be able to do anything – so heritage necessarily becomes a reflection of present values. Do we really understand what they are? It is easy to become quite blinked in our ivory towers and professional circles (and fora such as this), but what I would like to know is what jo and joe public think (whom the councils are supposed to represent). If given the choice between a dedicated rates levy or destruction of heritage, which way would they swing? I would love to be surprised, and if so, that is an obvious third way to the two options suggested above. Perhaps the Arch Centre could have a role here – in opening that dialogue with the public…? This is going to play out in a significant way in Wellington over the next while after all, and the Arch Centre has a long history of being an advocate in these matters…

    Maximus – if we have Jerry-built structures, can we have Gerry-unbuilt ones?

  17. m-d Says:

    blinked should be blinkered – sorry.

  18. Maximus Says:

    m-d – or if our Jerry built structures are just Munted old Dungas, then are the Brownlee-ed structures just Dented old Mongers?

  19. sally Says:

    I guess another thing to throw into the discussion – esp in terms of the strategies other cities are considering – is that this was an exceptional earthquake. I’ve heard that our buildings are designed for a once in 500 yr earthquake and this had the force of a once in 2,500 year earthquake. It’s not an everyday earthquake by anyone’s standards

  20. Christine Says:

    Gerry Brownlee is at it again apparently: “if he had his way, most of Christchurch’s heritage buildings would be bowled tomorrow.”
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10710318
    This is narrow and short-term thinking – and really arrogant. Christchurch’s heritage is a matter for Cantabrians to have a considered discussion about – not for Brownlee dictate the shape of their city.

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