Knox Church

Monday, February 20th, 2012

There is going to be a long period of rebuilding in Christchurch – we all know that. Which is why that the importance of getting the first buildings rebuilt right is vitally important. One of the first proposed rebuilds out of the starting blocks is the Presbyterian Knox Church, which really had the stuffing kicked out of it. Built with a gorgeous native timber roof, which has proved the versatility of timber construction, and reinforcing the stupidity of unreinforced brick construction; when the big February quakes struck, the brick walls simply “fell off” into the street and all that was really left standing was the gothic arched timber roof structure. Timber is like that – it knits together like a net, with lots of small flexible joints. The interior is now exposed and looking brilliant:

Knox Church minister Geoff King said he wanted to make sure that the inside of the building (completed in 1902) was still visible after the rebuild:

“Our plan is to retain about 95% of the remaining building and the internal panelling but encase the whole building in a seismically safe envelope with new cladding. We want the public to be able to see what is going on inside the building. The internal woodwork has been so much more visible since the quake. As much as we can, we want to open it up. The more glass you have, the more thermal and soundproofing issues we have. We want to have a more open building. A large stained glass window on the Victoria St facade was destroyed in the February quake and we wanted a stained glass feature of some sort on that facade. We want to use the shards of glass from the original. We have preserved as much of that as we can.”

The new structure, as proposed by Wilkie and Bruce Architects, is to avoid the look of the former unreinforced brick masonry that previously encased the building, and wrap it instead with precast concrete panels. Two-toned in cladding colour, the layout of the panels appears to mimic the buttresses of the former gothic plan. Is this updating of the gothic idiom a valid response, or is it just a pale pastiche of the former?

We can see a number of small changes in the layout, with the entrance moved to become more axial, and a protuberance at the side of the nave. Most of all, the buttresses are visible as cautious, inconsequential little bumps on the edge of the precast units.

At the Architectural Centre, we have advocated for new visions for the city: click here for a former post on the Knox Church, and noted that: “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.” Our post proposed for the Knox that: “A new use could be found – perhaps as a meeting place, or market place, bulging with fresh produce rather than tired old vegetables?”

Yes, that probably is was (formerly) the world’s worst photoshop job, but it does show a very different outcome for the Knox. The city has to come to grips with its own future, as well as handle its response to the path, but I can’t help feel that a great chance is being lost here. Do the religions of the region really need to go back to building a one-church, one denomination form of Christianity? Are there really enough Presbyterians to go around – they’re dying out as a breed in most parts of New Zealand, and I’d question the need for a new solely Presbyterian church at all. Most of all however, the closing off of this structural timber wonder just seems to be a gross step backward into the dark ages of the church interior. Isn’t there more to celebrate than this?


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12 Responses to “Knox Church”

  1. Geordie Says:

    What do you think the chances of seeing exciting roof forms like this will be post rebuild?

    I think the proposed design is quite an improvement on the old one. It goes someway towards a more transparent exterior. The ground level windows would function in a similar way to W+M’s Salvation Army church in Wgtn- allowing multiple views in but not turning the building into a shop front.

    You can’t really question the need for a ‘new solely Presbyterian church’- they (presumably) own the land and the building. Why, when there are plenty of empty sites, would they give it away as a farmers market? As well as organic kumara and free range eggs, people need spiritual feeding and community strengthening. Many of the Christchurch residents I’ve talked to are re-evaluating not just their city but their lives as a whole. The church has, and always will, have an important part to play here.

    p.s. off the top of my head Rechurch and Arise Church are two building-less churches with growing congregations that could easily fill Knox if you think they should share it 🙂

  2. Guy Says:

    Geordie – absolutely get the Arise Church in there to raise the roof and sing their heads off. You’ve hit upon the nub of the whole Christchurch rebuild thing though – who owns the land. It always comes down to that – not “what is best for the city” or “where does our church really need to meet”, but the age old thing of – its mine, and no one will tell me what i can do with it. But then you get the same old, same old “my steeple is taller than yours” argument we’ve been seeing for thousands of years.

    A question for you young jedi Geordie: does the Arise Church use the Town Hall there for services, the same as they do in Wellington with the MFC? Because, if so, they’re out of a space down there… I hear the Warren & Mahoney Town Hall in Christchurch may never reopen… another architectural tragedy.

  3. Geordie Says:

    No, Arise in Chch use the Aurora Centre at Burnside High School – so are relatively fixed there still. Arise Wgtn shuffles around the MFC, Old Town Hall and occasionally the St James or Opera House.

    Yes I have heard similar reports about the Town Hall, but more recently heard it was going to be ok? Someone else might be able to confirm? Probably my first taste of modern architecture with a capital A, so I would be very sad to see it go!

  4. m-d Says:

    Is it just me, or did the world’s worst photoshop job just improve a little!?

    Also, not sure that Chch needs a whole bunch of architectural follies to remember events by, but I do kind of like the ‘covered market’. Not quite as naff as Krier’s efforts even…

  5. Guy Says:

    m-d : “Not quite as naff as Krier” is almost a complement really, isn’t it…?

    But more importantly – it’s a difficult thing to do, mixing architectural styles. Wilkie and Bruce are accomplished architects of the modern idiom, but a take on repeating modern in a gothic idiom is evidently quite tricky. Something that, arguably, Beaven and WaM have achieved at various points in their careers – perhaps as much to do with the detail and the proportions as well as the more obvious things like angles and pointy roof forms.

  6. m-d Says:

    I wonder if it hasn’t a lot more to do with ‘truth’ in construction, as opposed to the ‘surfaceness’ of the redesign?

    Could be just the modernist within me though (I’ve been accused of that once before)…

  7. bronwyn Says:

    this plan looks awful – take the opportunity presented for more wow factor – let the timber speak – just glass in the walls to reveal the roof from outside and let light in.

  8. Jennifer Isle Says:

    I like the proposed rebuild for the Knox church,I wouldn’t worry too much about it being “a pale pastiche”, since the original building was a copy of a copy of a long dead style! Not saying it wasn’t nice, I loved it, and I like the new dsign too.To me, it looks more Art Deco than Neo Gothic – have you hit upon Decogothic? Having said that, it would be a shame to block the view of the magnificent roof from the outside…maybe it’s bigger windows you need?

  9. Guy Says:

    Thanks Bronwyn and Jennifer. I’m intrigued by the idea of Deco-Gothic, which sounds like as much of a bad mash-up as mock-tudor was. Failing to see where the Deco bit is though – perhaps you are thinking of Mod-Goth, otherwise known as Emo ? Sigh. Yes, it is a copy of a copy of a long-dead style, but surely if it is an almost total rebuild, there is a chance to make it better, rather than equally as ghastly?

  10. Steve Says:

    Good lord this looks like a barn conversion. Like a tilt-slab, brutalist barn conversion that Warren & Mahoney might have come up with if sombody had physically MADE them do gables. And what’s that bay window all about? Looks like a cafe from an industrial estate. All it needs is a poster in the window advertising ‘HOT CHUPS’.

  11. Steve Says:

    Also, the side entrance, once beautifully ornate, now resembles an emergency exit from a multi-screen cinema in a suburban mall.

  12. Richard Says:

    I agree with Bronwyn #7. While it looked good before, Knox looks absolutely stunning now, especially at night, with such graceful curves, intricate patterns of wooden beams and the golden wood. Just take Mother Nature’s hint and glass it in and don’t hide that beautiful craftsmanship under a bushel.

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