Originally published in late 2011 and accidentally republished (and jumped back to the head of the queue) in March 2018. There is still room for movement in this direction, in the rebuild yet to come, so I have let it stay here.
NZ in Tranzit pontificates on architectural style!
I attended a City Council hearing on Monday to put forward my suggestions that no light rail project or similar without a referendum or council elections to ensure it really does have a mandate.
I distrust this post quake jolly jolly populism, we are all in this together and the people's will supposedly says light rail!
Jarrett Walker in his "Human Transit" blog makes the observation that submissions solicited, or public meetings held to evaluate new proposals, are often tilted by the profile of many of those attending - retired people or those not working, students etc, rather than a true cross section of the whole community. Many of those raising families and/or working full time or in executive positions just do not have time to attend such meetings or to put in the time assembling a criticism or a counter proposal.
A very sloppy form of democracy, a classic way to hide pre-determined agendas and well organised self interested cliques.
In this loose feedback system, where participants could make multiple suggestions, less than 15% of those of an age eligible to vote may have put forward light rail, most of them possibly unaware of the sizeable rise in property taxes (rates) that would be needed to support such an expensive project.
Also I attended to speak to a my written submission, my suggestion the city look at the effect of building a rail link between Redwood and Islington [2017 upgrade of same concept] and using this to create a solid resilient embryonic commuter rail network, in my opinion a wiser option for spending $400 million.
I heard about five speak to their submissions before me and stayed for about three speakers after me. Although each speaker was only granted about 5 minutes, I was mentally exhausted before the end and left. My utmost admiration for all the City Council members who had to sit through eight days of this from morning to 8pm. Extraordinary!!!
One of the speakers - apologies I did not note her name - suggested Christchurch needed a signature architecture style in its rebuild, much as Napier has (After NZ's last big killer earthquake in 1931 the then fairly small city of Napier rebuilt itself in the Art Deco style of the period and is now a world icon of this style).
I think Christchurch already has a style, it just needs updating.
This is the neo-gothic style beloved by the early settlers.
In its own funny way Christchurch usually considered the most conservative of cities actually had a bit of a hippy-like new-age start, for its era, back in the late 1840s. As a young person's response to the horrors of the industrial revolution, some of Britain's educated young aristocracy and upper middle class resurrected the fantasy of Medieval England as a more pure and innocent time, mythical past paradises always popular with idealists and those seek spiritual escape.
The neo-Gothic movement was an attempt to get away from the "dark satanic mills" and return to a supposed rural paradise of squire and tradesman, farmer and tenant and labourer, all in their right place and thankful to be so. The Church (High Anglican) gave sanctity to this divine vision and ample land in New Zealand offered a chance for these (relatively young, relatively wealthy) idealists to try out the fantasy. Christchurch did not just spring up - it was started by idealists to prove a point, to stake a claim, to proclaim a vision.
Unfortunately there was too much land (cheap enough for potential tradesmen to flick off and buy an acre or two) and massive grasslands irresistible to Australian (read Scottish born) graziers. The labourers too were bolshie; the servant girls (14 hours a day on call, seven days a week and only Wednesday afternoon off) all ran off with sailors or with farm workers who could provide meat three times a week - the perfect world of ancient idealised hierarchy fell somewhat to bits. Except that in the first few decades arts, culture and education were promoted as in no other prairie town! And many beautiful pseudo Medieval buildings were built in Christchurch, the majority (and by far the most quirky and interesting) designed by Benjamin Mountfort.
The massive earthquakes of September, February and June and the thousands of smaller ones in between took out some of these buildings, most survived though will cost millions of dollars to repair.
Even so I believe we should maintain this vision, stay consistent as a city, by creating a style which could be termed "New Colonial Gothick" (the k just for kool with the vampire kids). This would take the many artifices used by Mountfort and mid Victorian era ilk and convert them into new formats when designing new buildings, probably in slab tilt but gothic shapes and decorative elements
This includes an accent on verticality in medium rise buildings, pointed gables, oriel windows, veranda entrances, heavy timber porches etc all with a great mix of curves and flat planes, in a gothic peaked setting. Mountford's work had an intimacy about it, no large forbidding bland planes, no boringly large texture patterns. It would good to create a visual dynamic city with these human scale and asymmetrical, but harmonious, compositions.
A lovely example of "Gothick revival-revival" - pre-earthquake addition to Knox Church (original ceiling of this church shown in the poor quality photo below). Much ornamentation originally carved in stone could achieved in pre-cast concrete or steel structural elements, with an updated Gothic ambience.
Christchurch YMCA (accommodation, gyms etc) designed to maintain Gothic theme, near Arts Centre in background as it appears on Wotif booking Agency
Not sure what this building is!! Certainly a landmark but, over-all,an exterior unconvincing in form, very poorly related to shape or purpose, It appears also, to keep it obscure to visitors, tourists etc. (despite its pretensions) it was deliberately built by the City Council without a reasonable size name and function anywhere displayed on its exterior.!Image -Wikipedia
Click here for Another "Gothic" posting from around 2012