New Visions needed

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Now more than ever is the time to be thinking of fresh ideas. With Christchurch EQ version 1.0 and version 2.0 being totally eclipsed by events in Japan (Tsunami 9.0), it’s clear that some fresh thinking is due in the battle for sustainable buildings. Gerry Brownlee put his best foot forward (or, in his mouth) when he called for action on Old Dungas, and advocated “knocking all the old buildings down”.

The NZ Herald recently had a vision or two, with Chris Barton describing one scenario:

“Imagine Christchurch returned to swamplands – its two rivers fanning out in a delta of streams and tributaries meandering down to the sea among lush vegetation. Dotted among this primeval garden teaming with birdlife are built-up islands – mounds in the marshes made from debris and sludge from the February 22 earthquake, compacted and engineered as solid, safe, unsinkable ground. Connected by causeways, the islands are self contained, powered by sustainable energy and populated by high density mixed-use pavilion towers comprising apartments, offices, shops and other amenities.

Architects, the visionaries of our society, always have dreams. This is just one of the more extreme ideas swirling around architectural schools for the rebuilding of Christchurch. Radical and challenging, it’s an idea everyone knows will never see the light of day. But it encapsulates many of the issues the city now faces – how to defy liquefaction and how to live on unstable ground.”


So, sadly, the idea gets shot down without having ever been properly aired – but in truth the vision is a step in the right direction. Who really needs or wants to rebuild Christchurch in its present tragic form on its present tragic soil? Who would ever want to go back to Sendai and attempt to build again on those tragic, death-strewn wastelands? What is needed is some fresh thinking – and an extended version of Christchurch as Venice upon Avon may be just the measure to tinker with.

One of the biggest problems to deal with is the issue of churches. Out-dated buildings belonging to increasingly outdated congregations, despite apparently abundant growth with some church forms, the older forms – where congregations sat to listen to the Bishop of Fendalton, are simply dying away. While their building types may be looked upon as the flower of the very soil of Canterbury itself, in truth the Anglican and Catholic churches will be disinclined to spend their insurance dollars on reconstructing mighty stone edifices when a smaller, warmer, and friendlier wooden shack will do.

Some have put forward proposals already for the resolving of triumphant towers that would not sit still, with local piscine factions putting forward a rude and crude proposal for the Chalice and the Cathedral. What if we were to tackle the issue of Churches head on, and the removal of all that harmful and unstable brick and stone forever? The Knox church could be re-imaged as a modern, safe, timber building – with a fine heritage timber gothic roof structure, and no risk of collapsing brick walls? A new use could be found – perhaps as a meeting place, or market place, bulging with fresh produce rather than tired old vegetables?


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8 Responses to “New Visions needed”

  1. richard Says:

    nice – like the covered market church

  2. Tomek Says:

    WE were just discussing this issue at home the other day. We’ve arrived at the conclusion that what Christchurch needs is immediate action. There is no point in devising some great master plan—that will only take too long and will not turn out the intended way anyway (that’s just the nature of the universe). What the businesses of the CBD need is immediate action. It can be a temporary solution, it doesn’t have to be awesome but it has to be soon.

    Once those businesses are operating again everyone concerned can return to the big round table and carry on planning the future. But without those businesses the won’t be much of a future.

    -t

  3. richard Says:

    you’re right Tomek – cities grow from commerce not architectural egos – well the good ones do

  4. Guy Says:

    So… a dictator is best? Cos when you’ve got committees involved, everything takes ages… Look at Gaddafi – he’s a man who gets things done! And Mubarek – the man of Action. Only took 40 years for a committee to oust him…

  5. Guy Says:

    Or rather, what I meant to say, was that a “temporary solution” is often the most permanent solution. The world is littered with examples of “just leave it there for now, and we’ll sort it out later” but when later comes, there’s no time or money to sort it out then. London after the Great Fire, Warsaw after the firebombing, probably Rome as well – urban fabric formed not by planning, but by leaving things as they were in the “short term” and thinking they would sort it out later…

  6. richard Says:

    perhaps not dictators, but there’s thousands of years of trading which has produced many cities – I’m guessing initially from informal trading and commerce – rather than legislated or dictated marketplaces. I think the evidence is Canberra – there’s a city that doesn’t work – no trade origins there

  7. mimimus Says:

    seriously richard? So Canberra doesn’t work. One planned city. Hauptmann made a travesty of Paris, John Nash destroyed London with regent street, and his son ruined Bath. Washington Dc is a disaster of a city. Houston Texas on the other hand, with it’s lack of land use planning and complete market domination is a fantastic place.

  8. Guy Says:

    There’s an interesting article here about the role of God in the Christchurch earthquake. Quite long – some snippets here:
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/christchurch-earthquake-2011/4812656/Act-of-God

    ….
    “Makeshift services and mobile congregations have become the norm in Christchurch, in some cases since September. People talk of church groups meeting in parks or on beaches, at least while the weather holds.
    “For the cathedral community to come together again was immensely powerful,” she says. “There was huge emotion. The buildings may be down but the church is not out.”
    ….
    As for whether the news about the cathedral can be considered a miracle, Matthews has given that some thought. “I believe in miracles – let me be very clear about that – but would I use the word miracle?” she says. “No, I think it’s a sheer gift.”
    ….
    But what attitude should the Anglican Church take to its own buildings? Besides the cathedral, there has been major damage to St Luke’s on Kilmore St, St John’s on Latimer Square, Holy Trinity in Avonside, Holy Trinity in Lyttelton, St John’s in Okains Bay and St Cuthbert’s in Governor’s Bay. There has also been damage to suburban churches in Merivale, Riccarton, Shirley, Opawa, Mt Pleasant, New Brighton and Redcliffs. Minor damage to churches in Woolston, Linwood and Aranui means that they should be repaired reasonably soon.

    Damage to Christchurch churches in the September 4 earthquake was estimated at $100 million. Ansvar Insurance, which insures many of the city’s churches, expects the damage after February 22 to be much greater than that. Damage to the Christ Church Cathedral alone would be in the tens of millions, according to Ansvar Insurance New Zealand manager David Leather.

    The likely rebuild of the cathedral is a symbolic act that has received a lot of attention in conversations about damaged buildings, but clearly some hard decisions will have to be made about Christchurch’s other Anglican churches.

    It might be too soon to have those discussions in public, but both Matthews and Patterson seem uncomfortable with the notion that this disaster could be an opportunity for the Anglican Church to rebuild for the smaller, more mobile congregations of the 21st century. As congregations are declining, do we need as many churches?

    Matthews answers with a question: do they have too many churches or not enough people going to them? Patterson says that if you are building for the future, you don’t want to build for a worst- case scenario.

    “Churches, for all their spiritual meaning, have historically been an event. The High Mass, the choral singing, the pageantry. If we start tearing down the beauty and building mean little churches, then we’ll be in trouble.

    “You want to walk into a church and feel your spirit soar. If we were better humans, we could do that by walking outside and we wouldn’t need it. But we need some help and churches help us.”

    Patterson worries that in pragmatic discussions about rebuilding the city, we could lose sight of the need for beauty – the kind of unusual beauty that the now-damaged stone churches lent the city.

    “Beauty embraces us in our suffering,” Matthews says.


    With the heavy concrete dome of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament making the building still too unstable to approach, the diocese office next door on Barbadoes St has also been off- limits.
    ….
    As with the Anglican cathedral, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is the high-profile casualty, but many other Catholic churches have also been damaged. A final prayer service has already been held at St Mary’s in New Brighton, which is to be demolished. Historic churches in Sumner and Lyttelton have likewise been hit hard.

    “I’ve heard people say that the Lyttelton one is so significant as a heritage building that it will have to be restored,” Jones says. “That’s not what the church has said but what I’ve heard heritage people say. But I don’t think the Sumner one, Our Lady Star of the Sea, can be restored.
    ….
    While the churches have good-sized congregations, “the real issue is whether they are the right places to have churches”.

    What would be the great symbol of earthquake damage to Christchurch’s Presbyterians? Your first answer might be the Knox Church on Bealey Ave, where the wooden frame still stands but the brick skin has largely fallen off. That church is probably repairable, says Presbyterian moderator The Rev Martin Stewart, but the old, grand St Paul’s Trinity Pacific on Cashel St, deep inside the cordon, is “gone”.
    …….
    A fire did damage first, then two earthquakes. “We have built the wrong kind of building, with the wrong kind of materials, for this landscape,” Stewart says. An English building style was imported with spires responding to an old view of where God was to be found.

    “As tragic as it is, with the loss of these buildings, we also have an opportunity to say ‘Hang on a minute, what does it mean to be the church?’ Not just now but for the next 50 years.”

    Future church buildings might be spaces that work for worship but are also community resources, he says. But how about as a place of beauty?

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