Archives for category: heritage

Warwick Isaacs has finally responded to the council’s questions about the Majestic, but I can’t help but feel he is being less than truthful:

In a letter to the city council, Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) director Warwick Isaacs said he had not made the decision to demolish the theatre lightly or in haste. He went onto strongly reject the council’s assertion the planned widening of Manchester St was the main driver for his decision.

This final sentence seems to contradict the letter (Majestic CERA Section 38 full demolition) he wrote to Jane Parfitt, the CEO of the CCC just a month ago. I’ve attached the full letter, but here is the relevant part:

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 8.51.34 AM“Accessible City” is the CERA jargon for “transport plan”. So in this letter, from less than a month ago, he sited the transport plan as the first reason for knocking down the Majestic. The council then tried to respond to this, by ameliorating his concerns about transport. Isaacs then responded by claiming it wasn’t anything to do with transport. Unfortunately for him, the paper trail proves otherwise.

Given his predilection for massaging the truth, I think there is little reason to trust his claim that it would cost $18 million to restore. He provides no evidence for this, and will not release the engineering report which would allow for independent verification of the damage to the building. He also says:

“I am unable to halt the demolition as you have requested”

Unable? I find it hard to believe that someone with almost unlimited powers to destroy, acquire and re-zone can’t pick up the phone and tell someone that he has contracted to stop. No, I think he is completely able to stop the demolition, but totally unwilling.

 

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Govt heritage fight snub - Christchurch Star, 9/4/14

Govt heritage fight snub – Christchurch Star, 9/4/14

I had been wondering where the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage had been through all the destruction in Christchurch. Turns out he’s just “too busy”. I was trying to remember when I had last seen him say anything about Heritage in the city – but instead of relying on my dodgy memory, I checked the releases from his Ministry. In the 3 years since the quake, Finlayson has issued three Ministerial releases about heritage – two of which are about the Airforce Museum in Wigram. There have also been two official press releases from the Ministry – neither of which feature a quote from the Minister himself.

The guy has clearly been busy. In the same time, he has released no fewer than 8 statements about the National War Memorial. He stopped to announce the Avatar films, and congratulate Bret McKenzie, Top of the Lake and Peter Jackson.

There is no question that the state of many of the heritage buildings in the city in 2010 meant that a significant number of them would have to be pulled down due to the quakes. However, Finlayson has been the Minister of Heritage in a government that has facilitated the greatest heritage destruction in New Zealand’s history, and during that time has made more press releases about Hollywood than he has about heritage. That’s not because he’s too busy, but because he – and the government he is proud to be a part of – simply don’t care that our rich cultural history is being being wiped out at the end of a wrecking ball. Welcome to the #goldenage.

 

I’ve covered the travesty that is the impending demolition of the Majestic on the blog a few times, but as I was walking past yesterday, realised that most people won’t be as familiar with the area as I am. The more you know about the area, the madder the decision becomes. I’ve made up a couple of maps, with three buildings highlighted on them: The Majestic, The Excelsior and Shooters.

2D majestic

The Majestic is on the corner of Lichfield and Manchester St. I and others have written about the history of the building itself. It is currently in the process of being prepared for demolition, with the main reason given being that the land is required for the “accessible city” part of the CCDU Blueprint. In other words, they want to knock down the building to widen the road by 9 metres. You could argue that in a 21st century city, creating a 20 metre wide road actually makes a barrier that is less accessible to the pedestrians who are meant to be living in the frame on the east of Manchester St. You could argue that, and you’d be making a good argument, but it would be an argument that would be ignored by the powers that be.

You could also argue that CERA seems to have an irrational grudge against the Majestic. For example, just 25 metres south of the Majestic is the facade of what was the Excelsior hotel. This building is now literally just a facade, propped up by stacks of shipping containers which stick right out into the eastern lane of Manchester St. As you can see from the photo, this is a current impedance to traffic on Manchester St, but CERA would rather concentrate their energy and wrecking ball on the Majestic, which poses a theoretical, future impedance to traffic.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to see the Excelsior retained and rebuilt. It was a lovely old building, and the corner of High St in front of it was a pleasant, under-utilised part of town. However, I think it shows the lie of the CCDU’s actions; it is both a higher safety risk, and a bigger traffic problem than the Majestic, and yet there seems to be none of the hastiness to have its future resolved.

3D majestic

Just one block further up the street, on the corner of Cashel and Manchester, is the lamentable Shooters bar. Unlike either the Majestic or the Excelsior, Shooters has very few, if any, redeeming features. It is a fairly horrible tilt-slab building that used to be the home of one of Christchurch’s more notorious booze barns.

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I can’t imagine anyone will be chaining themselves to the fake cattle skull on the front of this building anytime soon. However, I have heard nothing from CERA regarding their intentions for this building. Perhaps they are planning to widen the road by 9m where the Majestic is, then run a chicane down past Shooters? Or maybe they have some sort of grudge against heritage buildings, and they are using whatever excuse is convenient at the time to pursue their agenda?

At this point, it’s hard to argue that the Minister doesn’t have some sort of grudge against he he famously termed “old dungers”. There is a comprehensive list of Christchurch’s heritage buildings here, of which over 235 have now been destroyed. CCDU acquired the building, and then CERA used the section 38 provision to request demolition, which means that there is no recourse through legal means to object to this process. CERA have also refused to release the engineering report for the building, despite saying they would when asked by the CCC in December. An OIA request has now been lodged to try and access this information. The reason given for the building’s destruction – which I’d argue is a spurious one – is that it is required to implement the “accessible city” part of the Blueprint plan, but at this rate, one has to wonder whether there will be any city left to access when Gerry and his mates are done.

 

 

 

There have been some very good, and very interesting, pieces about the rebuild in the last week or so, which I’ve collected up here. Peter Robb’s Total Rebuild, from the Sydney Morning Herald, gives a necessarily detached look at the rebuild from an Australian perspective. His insights into what happens behind closed doors are illuminating:

Don Miskell, a retired Christchurch landscape designer who is now CERA’s head of design, seemed nonplussed by my questions. He rattled off a summary of replies received in the city council’s “Share An Idea” survey. They showed that people wanted a compact, low-rise and green city – trees and grass, rather than renewable energy – with good public transport, bike paths, arts and sports facilities. He said he’d bought a bike himself a week earlier, and had really enjoyed riding home in the rain the night before.

Slightly closer to home, but again with a little distance, Charlotte Grimshaw writes about visiting the city from Auckland:

Broken-hearted Christchurch: you could certainly say it’s got more interesting. The residential red zone was poignantly beautiful in late summer sun, the wrecked houses by the pretty river weed-choked and overgrown. Past the keeled-over pillars of the Holiday Inn, you could look at whole streets sinking and decaying, returning to the earth. There was something to see here all right: after the natural disaster, a disaster of neglect.

You could only wander through it and marvel. How can those in charge justify this mess? What on earth does the Government think it’s doing?

The Press editorial from Saturday’s paper also weighs in on the growing feeling that there is a lack of vision in the rebuild at the moment:

The city must now combine ambitions and the collective aims expressed through Share an Idea and come up with a simple bold, defining vision. A new small-city vision that makes the most of what we have in our stunning South Island location.

Also from the Saturday paper, Philip Matthews’ has written an excellent summary of where the battle over the Cathedral is at. It ends with a tantalising political prospect, which could see the symbol of the rebuild forced back into the national political discussion where it belongs:

The political equation is quite simple, Anderton says. Whether it is National or Labour that needs Peters in September, a stable government could be purchased for $15m. Anderton’s line indicates just how small the sum is in the greater scheme of things.

“If it can be saved, why wouldn’t you?” he says. “The amount of money is relatively modest.”

Finally, a post that I wrote last Friday when everyone had clocked out for the week.

if New Zealand’s economy is a “rock star”, it is one that has drunk the contents of the minibar, soiled the bed, and thrown the TV through the ranch slider and into the pool. Now the hotel is getting new sheets and some double-glazed windows on insurance, but that isn’t the structural change that it needs.

 

10004040_701109969912283_803152500_nLast week, CERA made the decision to bowl over the historic Majestic Theatre. Given that we’ve lost so much heritage, it can sometimes be hard to muster any more outrage about the bulldozing of our cultural memory. However, this is a building worth fighting for, and a story that hasn’t really been done justice. In December last year, the CCDU acquired the Majestic. The CCC asked for an engineering report into the building, which CERA are still yet to supply. The Mayor, and certainly Councillor Yani Johanson, have strongly advocated for saving the building.

This week the Christchurch City Council vowed to help save the historic Majestic Theatre in Manchester St and Mayor Lianne Dalziel agreed the council should meet with Cera to emphasise the importance of retaining it. Historic Places Canterbury wanted the council to seek a moratorium on the demolition while a thorough engineering assessment was done.

The demolition will be carried out under a section 38 notice, which has been used (and many would say, abused) by CERA since the CER Act was passed.

If the chief executive gives written notice to an owner of a building, structure, or other erection on or under land that demolition work is to be carried out there,—
(a)   the owner must give notice to the chief executive within 10 days after the chief executive’s notice is given stating whether or not the owner intends to carry out the works and, if the owner intends to do so, specifying a time within which the works will be carried out

Can anyone see the issue here? In December, CCDU acquired the building (I’m not sure whether it was a compulsory acquisition or not). So CERA is now sending a demolition notice to the owner of the Majestic – i.e. the CCDU. It’s effectively Gerry’s left hand – Roger Sutton – telling his right hand – Warwick Isaacs – what to do. Clearly, the owner isn’t going to try and stop this demolition. Surely we have some sort of legal avenue to pursue, as this is a listed heritage building? Well, no. This, from an email I was provided from someone within CERA:

using s38 in this way means the work does not require resource and building consents from council. This is able to be done because the Minister used the CER Act in July last year to amend the council’s annual plan, and is a process that has been used numerous times in the past year.

Labour’s Heritage spokesperson put out a statement, but I fear it is too little, too late. With one hand, King Gerry is taking the building from the us, and with the other, he’s swinging his silver hammer. If you want to stop the destruction, come along to the protest, this Saturday at 11am.

 

 

 

On Thursday, there was a very passionate, vocal protest to save the Majestic Theatre. Probably thanks to the presence of the Wizard, and two of his acolytes, it got good media attention – CTV news covers it here, and the Press has a video at the top of it’s piece as well. I gave a short speech in front of the Majestic, in which I covered off the main tenets of Those Left Standing: Repair, Reuse and Rethink.

Repair. These buildings, still standing, clearly aren’t an immediate risk of falling down and causing harm to people. They can be repaired, if there is the will and the money to do so. Reuse. The rebuild thus far has been a huge waste – both of materials, and buildings. We need to ask ourselves where that mass of concrete, glass and steel will end up if we pull it down. We can reuse – by repairing buildings and putting them back into circulation, we can reclaim the built environment whilst protecting the natural one.

Rethink. The CCDU want to pull down the Majestic Theatre to widen a road by 9m. It’s 2014, and we’re knocking down buildings to accommodate more cars. This is madness, and shows that parts of the Blueprint plan need to be completely re-thought. Instead of reassessing how the plan has worked in the almost 2 years since it was released, Brownlee and Isaacs are doubling down on the Blueprint, betting that it’s failures can be glossed over by putting the house on red. It’s a high-risk play, with a potentially disastrous legacy if it all goes wrong. This is planning by bluster and stubbornness, and now is the time to admit that we need a rethink, before everything is bulldozed by an outdated plan.

From the Save the Majestic facebook page:

ATTENTION ALL MAJESTIC SUPPORTERS: We are planning a demonstration for THIS THURSDAY AT 1PM, in response to the news of CCDU’s decision to demolish the Majestic. We will be stationing ourselves outside the Majestic Theatre, banners and placards in hand, ready to show that Christchurch wants to save the Majestic. Please come and show your support, your presence will make a huge impact, and spread the word as much as you can. The more people we can get along on the day, the more we can show that we will not take this decision lying down, and that the Majestic needs to be saved for the benefit of Christchurch! More details to follow soon.

Dr Ian Lochhead has written about the importance of the Majestic. Almost 50 years ago, on June the 27th, 1964, the Beatles played the last show of their one and only New Zealand tour at the Majestic. While “the Beatles played there” may not be the best excuse to save a building, it’s a million times better than “making the road 9m wider” – which is the reason being given to bowl the building. If you’re in the vicinity, I hope you’ll join me and others at the theatre, this Thursday at 1pm.

One of the government’s main anchor projects, is increasingly looking like a farce. The Press reports that there is now a grand total of one company bidding to build the convention centre:

Five groups, out of 23 initial responses, were asked to submit proposals for the $284 million precinct – one of the Government’s key blueprint anchor projects – to the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) … The Press understands (Australia-based infrastructure business Plenary Group) Plenary is the only bidder left.

The CCDU have repeatedly stressed the importance of a convention centre. The tourism industry has described it as “pivotal”. The shortlist of five was drawn up in late 2012, and reported on in early 2013. That is well over a year ago – which seems like a pretty long time to be on a “shortlist”. In June of last year, Alan Trotter said he expected an announcement on the convention centre “soon“. The CCDU aimed to have the first sod turned on the site in 2013. After that deadline whizzed by, the viability of project is increasingly being questioned. If they read reports from the US, they might question whether they should be building convention centres at all.

The big problem around the convention centre – and this is one of the main criticisms of the Blueprint plan as a whole – is that it is intricately linked to a number of other projects. The money-spinning part of the convention centre was to be the associated hotels. However, these became a less viable proposition when the council refused to bowl the Town Hall in favour of the “performing arts precinct”. With a smaller arts precinct, and potentially a smaller convention centre, there is likely to be less demand for hotel rooms. The developer of the hotels were going to be offered an advantage, by being permitted to build without the 7-storey height limit. Christchurch’s richest man, Philip Carter, expressed an interest in being said developer. It’s also worth remembering that the mega-convention centre is the reason why the central library is to be demolished and built somewhere else, for almost 10 times the cost of simply repairing it.

Which brings me to my main point: I have a suggestion for Minister Brownlee. It’s a solution that can save money, save a building, save time, and save face. What we should be doing is converting the old Government Life building into a convention centre.

IMG_1890The Government Life building isn’t many people’s favourite building. I kind of have a soft spot for it, and as the new City Council building has shown, mid-century modernist buildings can be successfully re-purposed. Before the quake it was in a state of disuse, home to pigeons and artist studios for Tony De Lautour and Mike Hewson, amongst others. Hewson did this fantastic work on the back-side of the building:

Hewson Government Life

What do we need in a convention centre? The old one on Kilmore St wasn’t much more than a two-storey tilt-slab barn, with adjustable partitions on the ground floor and some small rooms on the first floor. It cost $15 million to build in 1997. I’m no big-city architect, but surely it would be possible to fit out the Government Life building so that it can host a couple of thousand people, house some smaller rooms and maybe the offices for VBase (the company who runs conferences for the Council.) It may not be the most glamourous building, but it does have the best location in town. And on top of that, the guy who owns it – Philip Carter – happens to be one of the people the government wants to build hotels. This would save not one, but two buildings, as it would spare the old Central Library from the wreckers ball. It would save time, and would prevent a building-sized load of waste going to the landfill.

 

 

Some of you that still have a subscription to Dead Tree will have seen a story about me in the Press this morning. It’s about a campaign I’m starting that I’m calling “Those Left Standing”. The aim is to lobby for some of the remaining buildings that exist in the CBD – especially those within the frame – to be saved, renovated, and incorporated into the frame, rather than needlessly demolished. Here is the Those Left Standing manifesto:

Safety

In the immediate aftermath of the quakes, and then the June aftershocks, a number of buildings needed to be cordoned off because they were hazardous to people nearby. Now, more than 3 years later, and with the cordon fences largely down, it is clear that these buildings don’t pose an immediate danger to human life. That means that any argument to demolish them is likely to be economic, rather than safety.

History

There are a number of buildings in the frame area that are heritage. The Majestic Church / Theatre is one of them. But there are other buildings here which has little or no interest from a “heritage” point of view – but are still critical to the history of the city. I want to work with the strong heritage advocacy groups, but also want to work to preserve buildings which don’t qualify due to their age, or lack of architectural pedigree.

Waste

One of the unspoken atrocities of the earthquake / rebuild has been the horrific amount of waste created by demolitions. Some of it has been poured into the harbor (illegally) at Lyttelton, most of the rest is now in a massive mound at the Burwood landfill. I believe that the true environmental cost of demolition is not being paid by the companies removing the rubble from the CBD – and that if this cost was presented to these organizations, then a much greater effort would have been made to retain a number of buildings. RE:Kindle, and it’s spin-off, the Whole House Re-Use, have raised important questions about our attitude to waste.

Speed

I don’t know if you’ve wandered around the CBD lately, but there isn’t a hell of a lot of building going on. Wouldn’t it be quicker for us to try and refurbish an existing building, which might take 3 or 6 months, than the government acquiring it, bowling it, flogging it off to a developer and then waiting for something to happen? This is the case with the Oak’s SmartStay, on the corner of Liverpool and Cashel Sts. This isn’t much of a building – and I say that from experience, having lived directly opposite it, I got to look out at it every morning. However, it is a building less than 10 years old that could be renovated and made safe – and that would bring 100’s of apartment rooms onto the market. This could help ease the housing crisis, by providing rooms for many of the workers who are coming in to help on the rebuild. It would also bring more people back into the centre of town, making it a safer, more vibrant place to live. Instead, the government are acquiring the building, demolishing it, then selling the land off to a developer so they can build … apartments. Madness.

Permanence

A lot of the discussion about the Blueprint and the buildings in it forgets that no building is permanent. The Oaks SmartStay may not be the nicest building, and may not fit the vision that the government has outlined. But if we did choose to save it, to reuse it, there is nothing to say that this is a permanent decision. It could be a short-to-medium term solution, for 10 years, to house people to work on the city until there are other places for them. By then, Gerry’s beloved market may be functioning better than it is now, and a developer may decide that they can think of something better to do with the site.

Vision

What ties this altogether is a vision for the city. Gerry has one vision – he wants to create a clean slate, to pull down all the “dungers” so he can stamp his own vision on the city. He wants to purify the frame, removing businesses he doesn’t like (strip clubs), even though they are perfectly legal. 18 months after the Blueprint came out, the only things happening in this city are outside of Gerry’s area of control. We, as a city and a country, don’t have enough money to build the city of Gerry’s dreams. We need to be more realistic. Why demolish a repairable swimming pool to build a children’s playground, when you could integrate the playground around the pool? Why not try and integrate the existing buildings into the vision of the frame? Not only would it save money – money that we don’t have – but it would say so much about who we are, and what we’ve been through. Instead of wiping all these buildings and all of their history off the map, let’s preserve some of them.

I’ve got some of my architect friends working on designs for what these buildings could look like. I’m keen to have people get involved, so if you have any ideas, drop me a line in the comments or via twitter. In the mean time, here are some brilliant photos of the Bicycle Thief by Doug Richardson, one of the buildings in the frame that I believe could have been saved, and would have been an asset to the area.

UPDATE: here is me talking about the campaign with Lucas on bFM:

An opinion piece in this morning’s Press advocates for retention of the Christ Church Cathedral. It comes from British writer and heritage adviser Richard Terry, and again highlights the folly of the position taken by the Bishop and others;

Christ Church Cathedral speaks directly to us with an irreplaceable authority. It gives a voice to the remarkable historical and cultural movements that gave birth to its city and to Canterbury province. To lose this unique and singular voice would be a great loss, felt ever more acutely in the long term, which would prove detrimental to Christchurch. It should be spared from total demolition.

My personal preference would be to see the Cathedral rebuilt on the current site, using the wooden frame that was initially proposed by George Gilbert Scott, then revived by Sir Miles Warren. This ticks all the boxes – sympathetic to the heritage of the building, a very reasonable cost, and seismic stability. The Cathedral is the symbol of Christchurch, and if we don’t rebuild it, I think that says something very symbolic – and very sad – about the recovery as a whole.