Critics reject "clumsy" proposals for
earthquake-hit Christchurch cathedral


Critics back restoration of earthquake hit Christchurch Cathedral

News: architects and critics have called for the earthquake-damaged Christchurch Cathedral in New Zealand to be restored to its original gothic appearance after rejecting two contemporary proposals as "bizarre" and "architecturally illiterate".

Writing for the New Zealand news website The Press, British architecture critic Kieran Long said the proposals by New Zealand firm Warren & Mahoney, which were unveiled by Anglican leaders last week, offered "a fairly mediocre architectural choice."

If pressed to choose between the three options – a full restoration, a traditional redesign or an entirely new building – Long said he advocated the complete rebuilding of British architect George Gilbert Scott's gothic revival cathedral, which was constructed in the second half of the nineteenth century and suffered major structural damage during Christchurch's 2011 earthquake.

Critics back restoration of earthquake hit Christchurch Cathedral

Above: traditional redesign proposal
Top: new building proposal 

"It is the only piece of architecture of these three that will have enduring meaning. It would speak of continuity, which is surely something valuable in a city like Christchurch today," said Long, who was recently named senior curator of contemporary architecture at the V&A museum in London.

The traditional redesign proposed was "architecturally illiterate", he noted. "The hexagonal facade treatment is bizarre and at odds with the ornamental logic of the gothic - the pattern and the rose window jar horribly."

He also criticised the contemporary timber and glass proposal as "too generic to be interesting", adding: "Its clumsy modern gothic is a kind of euphemistic architectural language that wants to appear rooted in history but in fact doesn't take it very seriously."

Critics back restoration of earthquake hit Christchurch Cathedral

Above: original restoration proposal

Ellis Woodman, architecture critic for the Telegraph in London, also called for a straightforward restoration, dismissing the two alternatives as "painfully voguish", while Australian architecture critic Elizabeth Farrelly agreed that the "depth and mystery" of the original gothic cathedral should be preserved.

Professor Paul Walker from the University of Melbourne and Australian architectural writer Justine Clark added to the debate by saying reconstruction should be "given serious consideration", but called on Anglican leaders to think more carefully about their options.

An online poll conducted by The Press found that, as of this morning, 30.6 per cent back the restoration option, 24.2 per cent are for the traditional redesign and 39.6 per cent approve of the contemporary proposal, while 5.6 per cent of voters say they want something else.

Critics back restoration of earthquake hit Christchurch Cathedral, photo by Searlo

Above: photo by Searlo

Christchurch's mayor Bob Parker backed the contemporary option, saying it "points us to where we need to be thinking as a city" while its lower costs and shorter estimated completion time also worked in its favour.

"I love the idea of something new. I think it's about looking forward rather than looking back, and this design helps with that," he said.

Japanese architect Shigeru Ban has meanwhile designed a transitional cathedral for the city made from an A-shaped frame of cardboard tubes, which is due to be completed this spring.

Critics back restoration of earthquake hit Christchurch Cathedral

Above: Shigeru Ban's cardboard cathedral, photo by Shigeru Ban Architects

Earlier this year we featured a spiralling titanium-clad church completed in northern Norway and a proposal for a chapel in Miami shaped like a flowing gown – see all churches on Dezeen.

Images are by Warren & Mahoney except where stated.

  • south

    I agree, this whole "let's take what was solid and stone, and rebuild it in glass" thing has got to stop. Just because it worked once on the Reichstag doesn't mean we have to rebuild every city to look like Krypton.

  • Dan

    There are successful examples for all three proposals (Frauenkirche Dresden, Gedächtniskirche Berlin, etc.), but people have to identify with the building and I think this wouldn’t work as well with a new build. Why not having a poll among actual churchgoers rather than a generic internet poll? I bet the outcome would be totally different!

    • Munchman

      There has been a local poll and Christchurch residents have ovewhelmingly favoured a new design. Also, you mentioned asking churchgoers; the Christchurch cathedral was the absolute focal point of Christchurch pre 2011 and so this issue affects the entire city, not just churchgoers. One cannot underestimate the importance of this rebuild to the city of Christchurch and what it says about the mindset of a city still recovering from the effects of he 2011 quake.

  • Tim

    Given a decent part of the original church ruins remains intact, a strategy similar to the Kolumba Museum might be more compelling while still keeping the historical aspect alive without recreating it.

  • JayCee

    God clearly wanted this building to fall down. Let it stay down.

  • jammmy

    It is impractical to rebuild the original building, the time span for completion would be ‘ages’.

  • hmmmmmmmm

    Why not build on the ruins with a different coloured stone?

    • Donkey

      Coventry sort of did this in the 1950s (well, built right next door but left the ruin up for remembrance) when their Cathedral got bombed to bits in the war.

      It doesn’t look much from photos, but works pretty well in real life.

      • Kevin

        I have to disagree about it working well. The new building fails to reference the old in any way other than the alignment of their two entrances. And even with this, the structure over the walkway completely obliterates the entry to the older church. It was a good idea, but in my opinion it was very poorly executed.

  • Restoration architecture is practiced alongside preservation, most often the goal is to restore a historic building to its original appearance, or the way it appeared at a specific period in time. An example of restoration architecture took place in the 1980s as architects, historians and preservationists stripped 38 layers of paint from the White House to restore the iconic residence to its original appearance.

  • Rae Claire

    A World’s Fair pavillion vaguely Middle Eastern, or a fancy tiled restroom (loo) in same? Other choices, please.