Christchurch Cathedral and the City’s British Past   24 Jul 2012

Anna Blair

 

It seems certain now, for most New Zealanders living overseas, that George Gilbert Scott’s Christchurch Cathedral won’t be there when they return. While protests over the decision continue, work to demolish the building began in March. The Cathedral’s loss, however, marks the reshaping of a new identity for Christchurch.

George Gilbert Scott, the UK and NZ

Since the 19th century, Christchurch Cathedral has been one of New Zealand’s foremost architectural links to the United Kingdom. The building was designed by George Gilbert Scott, a British architect, in 1864. The Cathedral was completed in 1904, Scott’s design having been modified slightly by Benjamin Mountford.

George Gilbert Scott was one of the most prolific architects of his day, with scholars unsure even today exactly how many buildings he worked on. Richard Butler, an architectural historian at the University of Cambridge, notes that Scott was, in the nineteenth century, “arguably the most famous architect in the world”. Christchurch Cathedral is Scott’s only building in New Zealand.

Those in the UK will likely be familiar with Scott’s work, which includes the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station and Glasgow University. The architect played a central role in the restoration of Westminster Abbey, where he is now buried.

Christchurch Cathedral, however, is not particularly significant within Scott’s oeuvre, largely because the building itself was a small project compared to many others. Butler claims that “were the building put up in Hull or Tunbridge Wells it would hardly rank as a first-rate example of Scott’s architecture”. Scott himself never visited New Zealand.

Those in the UK will likely be familiar with Scott’s work, which includes the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station and Glasgow University. Scott played a central role in the restoration of Westminster Abbey, where he is now buried.

Scott’s Cathedral as Symbol

With its very English style, Christchurch Cathedral is a mark of New Zealand’s colonial past. Despite this, some have argued that Scott’s original design, with wooden interior, drew from Maori traditions, albeit as they appeared to one who had not set foot in New Zealand. This aspect of Scott’s design was, however, replaced with a stone interior.

The significance of Christchurch Cathedral comes from the role it plays in the city’s urban landscape and the connection it offers to Christchurch’s past. Illustrations from the 1850s show Christchurch as merely a few houses and a bridge. Since the 1860s, the Cathedral has dominated the landscape and provided a symbol for the city.

It is for this reason that the building’s fate has attracted so much attention. The decision to restore or demolish the Cathedral marks a greater turning point for Christchurch’s future.

Christchurch is often described as a very English city. It is flat, with a large park and a river on which one can punt, and urban planning comparable to that of a Garden City. Benjamin Mountford and William Armson, prominent architects in the city’s early development, were both born and educated in Britain.

The Cathedral, however, isn’t simply a connection to England and to the past, but a symbol of Christchurch’s resilience. George Gilbert Scott’s building survived five earthquakes from 1881 to 2010.

In February 2011, however, the spire and part of the tower were destroyed and the rest of the building severely damaged. While most agree on Christchurch Cathedral’s importance to the city, the cost has been deemed too high to save it. For many, the building is a symbol of the city’s survival that should not be compromised.

The Future of Christchurch Cathedral

Others feel a new cathedral would fit well alongside the city’s art gallery, which opened to some fanfare in 2003. The decision on the future of Christchurch Cathedral offers an opportunity to renew the city’s urban identity.

Christchurch Cathedral’s permanent replacement has not yet been determined. The temporary replacement, however, is arguably a greater draw than Scott’s building. Designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, Christchurch’s transitional cathedral will be finished by the end of this year.

Ban is best known for his innovative use of paper as a construction material, allowing for more affordable and environmentally sustainable buildings. Ban has often worked in disaster relief situations, creating homes for refugees across the world, including in Rwanda in 1994 and in Kobe, Japan. Ban also designed a paper church for Kobe, standing from 1995 until 2005, when it was fully recycled.

Ban’s Cathedral for Christchurch is to be constructed out of cardboard tubes, in a triangular shape stepping progressively inward toward the altar. The transitional cathedral, located at Latimer Square, will seat 700. It has a lifespan of twenty to thirty years. The Cathedral will glow welcomingly when lit at night.

While Scott’s Cathedral provided Christchurch with a strong architectural link to England, those living in the UK cannot see examples of Ban’s work so easily. Ban was responsible for the Barbican’s Alvar Aalto exhibition in 2007, but the closest of his buildings currently standing is the France’s Centre Pompidou in Metz.

Warren and Mahoney are responsible for detailed design for Ban’s Cathedral, and are drawing up a blueprint for Christchurch’s development in the future. As one of New Zealand’s top architectural firms, Warren and Mahoney’s involvement suggests that Christchurch’s urban environment in the future will draw strength through links to contemporary New Zealand, not its English past.

Anna Blair is a freelance writer and architectural historian studying hotels from the 1920s. She currently divides her time between Paris and East London. Further work can be found at her blogDispatches from Europe.

Photos: Edwin.11 - Flickr CC

Add a comment

Bookmark and Share

News

NZ Election 2017: Labour’s plan to unlock Canterbury’s potential

28 Aug 2017 News
Jacinda Ardern on August 28, 2017 Christchurch’s rebuild will be fast-... more

Updated plan to address Auckland’s growth

11 Aug 2017 News
11 August 2017 Transport Minister Simon Bridges has released a joint report by the Government and Auckland Council, which updates work... more

Business

Rocket launch a huge step for New Zealand’s space industry

25 May 2017 Business News
25 May 2017 Minister for Economic Development Simon Bridges has congratulated the team at Rocket Lab on the successful launch of... more

Increased investor confidence welcomed

29 May 2017 Business News
29 May 2017 Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Jacqui Dean today welcomed the Financial Markets Authority annual survey results... more

Living

Austen vs Ashton - NZ's Penny Ashton is back with "Promise and Promiscuity"

17 Sep 2017 Arts By Penny Ashton
In 2016 all my Jane Austen dreams came true when I married my own personal Mr Darcy. I say that not because he had a universally... more

Straight out of Edinburgh - NZ's Modern Maori Quartet heading back to London - interview

28 Aug 2017 Entertainment By Charlotte Everett
Fresh from their critically acclaimed debut season at the Edinburgh Festival, Auckland’s Modern Maori Quartet are heading back... more

Property

New Zealand Housing Affordability Measure released

10 May 2017 Property
10 May 2017 The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) new Housing Affordability Measure will allow the market... more

NZ house prices gain 11% in October

14 Nov 2016 Property
Article - BusinessDesk Monday 14 November 2016 10:28 AM NZ house prices gain 11% in October, driven by sales of higher value homes By... more

Migration

Suspension of decision making authority

25 Apr 2017 Migration
24 April 2017Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse is taking steps to improve Immigration New Zealand’s decision making... more

Recognised Seasonal Employers employ more Kiwis

8 Feb 2017 Migration
7 Feb 2017 Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse welcomes a report showing the vast majority of employers who take on seasonal... more

Travel

NZ Election 2017: Tourism fund for infrastructure and conservation

28 Aug 2017 Travel & Tourism
Tourism fund for infrastructure and conservation Posted by Kris Faafoi on August 28, 2017 more

International visitors projected to spend $15 billion

12 May 2017 Travel & Tourism
12 May 2017 New Zealand’s tourism sector is forecast to grow significantly over the next seven years, with international... more

Sport

OPINION | Wallabies came out firing and didn’t wilt

27 Aug 2017 Opinion By Jim Kayes
27 August 2017 @JIMKAYES   Jim Kayes has been covering rugby since the late 1990... more

Praise flows for world champion Black Ferns

26 Aug 2017 Rugby
New Zealand's winning of the Women's Rugby World Cup has been hailed as one of the great women's games as the Black Ferns' powerful... more

Columns

Gordon Campbell on the Gareth Morgan crusade

11 Nov 2016 Opinion
Column - Gordon Campbell   Gordon Campbell on the Gareth Morgan crusade First published on Werewolf more

Gordon Campbell on the US election outcome

10 Nov 2016 Opinion
Column - Gordon Campbell   Gordon Campbell on the US election outcome more

Kiwi Success

Law Commissioner appointed

29 May 2017 Appointments
29 May 2017 Former Secretary for Justice Belinda Clark has been appointed as Law Commissioner, Justice Minister Amy Adams announced... more

Spencer to be Acting Governor of Reserve Bank

8 Feb 2017 Appointments
7 Feb 2017 Finance Minister Steven Joyce will appoint current Deputy Reserve Bank Governor Grant Spencer as the Acting Governor of... more

Recruitment

Online job ads continue growing strongly

26 Jun 2017 Recruitment
23 June 2017 Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Paul Goldsmith says the latest Jobs Online report shows strong growth... more

New employment resource for young people

1 Mar 2017 Recruitment
28 Feb 2017 Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Paul Goldsmith and Associate Education Minister Louise Upston have... more

s