I grew up with the commissioning, construction and early life of the Cashmere Community Centre (Ernst Plishke, 1952) in Khandallah. This building was a bold social experiment, combining the functions of a social centre – a place for concerts, drama, dances, weddings, play centre, table tennis and indoor bowls during the week – with those of worship, a Methodist church on Sunday.
It was a challenging brief, without significant precedent, and the architect charged with the design was the European modernist Ernst Plishke, later the designer of Massey House in Lambton Quay. The building was startlingly cubist in form, uncompromising in its simplicity, and in some respects – the natural lighting of the main space for instance – it was even beautiful. What is more, it worked.
The Centre opened in 1952 and served the community in various roles for 50 years. When changing social patterns led to the closing of the church in 1971, it still had a vigorous secular life as a performing centre for Khandallah Arts and the hall for nearby Cashmere School. That is, until its sudden demise when extensive rot in the timber frame led to its demolition in 2002. If kind to Plishke, one would say it was lack of maintenance; if less so, you would say the building was inappropriate in the context – a flat roof and downpipes set within timber-framed walls in a rainy climate and stucco cladding in an earthquake-prone city don’t make sense.
But I loved the fund-raising, especially the ‘bottle drive’ that saw the front lawn of a good Methodist family – mine – stacked six feet high in beer bottles, and the ‘metal drive’ that yielded untold treasures for the five year olds in the neighbourhood. I loved the endless discussions at dinner; I learnt the ways, and the trials, of an architect who would not compromise; I liked the man who whittled me a lettering pen from a piece of firewood, and finally, I saw something very special in the finished building. Perhaps it ultimately guided me towards a career in looking after other people’s buildings.
Chris Cochran, Conservation Architect
The “My favourite modernist building …” series is in support of Gordon Wilson Flats which is facing threat of demolition.