The Cathedral.

The battle for the Cathedral marches on. It struck me late last year how incredibly sad it will be if the current cathedral is destroyed because the idea of an empty flat site right in the heart of the city fills me with dread. So my preferences for the Cathedral are:

1. I love public debate, but any sane city would have never seriously considered knocking a central icon and landmark such as this down. The church should never have given it up so quickly, and the government should never have given it ‘demolish it or we will orders’. In any normal city it would have been utilized by the church and the state as a symbol of strength, resistance and renewal.

2. If substantial parts of it are to be demolished, then I think there is a reasonable argument that these can be reinvented. If this is so, then there should be a public discussion around this, and a large international competition to find the best designers and the best ideas. The process where Warren and Mahoney designers flew around the world with some church people to look at great cathedrals, and then draw a new design to entirely rebuild the church, is about as offensive as the designs they came up with.

3. My personal favourite of new ideas is the one developed by Sir Miles Warren (independently of his old firm) to construct Gilbert Scott’s original timber design on the site, using parts of existing building and contemporary timber technology. This idea seamlessly combines:

  • a: The history of the site. It was originally a timber design but this wasn’t considered formal enough for a cathedral at the time.
  • b: Demands contemporary innovation, and timber technology is what we are getting good at.
  • c: Allows the Church to resolve some of the problems the old church had
  • d: it would utilise the very real skill of one of the few great NZ Architects.

4 – 98. Anything else.

99. The current option to get Warren and Mahoney to do the new church with no competition is about the worst move the church could have made, and hopefully they show some sense to move on from this.

The recent announcement by the historic places trust (HPT) is interesting and clever. Like many other organisations post-quake the HPT have, I think, found themselves overwhelmed and without enough resources or heroes at central government to help them do their jobs properly (it would be nice if the Minister for Heritage showed some interest into the biggest lost of building fabric and heritage buildings in NZ history). So the HPT is trying to make up for lost ground with this, and good on them for showing some political guile by offering to broker talks between the Great Christchurch Building Trust and the Anglicans.

The GCBT has struggled to make it publicly known that they have offered to pay immediately for the make safe works on the cathedral and to take all responsibility for fundraising if the church chooses a restoration project. This is an extraordinary offer which should remove most of the fair concerns the church might have about financial doom (I struggle to understand the position of the church. If they really don’t care about buildings or status then they should use all the insurance money to build a series of small community support, health, and spiritual centres around the city to directly support parishes, and sell the land back to the crown. Now that would be brave. But don’t claim community and then spend the money on a new expensive centre for worship.)

What I find funny about this recent initiative and the Mayor’s quick support for it is I think it has gained momentum because the Bishop is currently out of the country and not able to comment. So while the cat is away the mice will play and hopefully some quite real political momentum has developed towards a form of beneficial compromise (I still hold out hope for options 2 or 3 at least).

Those are my thoughts on the river and the cathedral. They are both amazing forms that hold their own place in the city, and yet point to other larger entities – the church towards the sky, the heavens, and Rangi, while the river runs out to the ocean and Moana. It will be interesting to see how these two projects unfold this year.

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