Monday, July 2, 2012

A toast to the Gothic Revival-Revival in Christchurch

Photo Wikimedia Commons

I recently suggested that the former NZR goods shed between Colombo St overbridge and Durham Street overbridge, in Sydenham, could provide the raw form and huge space capable of being adapted for a spectacular rail and bus centre, and much else besides. 

In an idle moment I recently spent an hour or so touring bus stations on Google images. Apart from the amazing King George bus station and the inner northern busway tunnel under central Brisbane I found most of them relatively mundane. 

This bus station, above, at Harrowgate in the United kingdom, however took my fancy. Ok, the "Victoriana" is a bit "late Victoria" (overly heavy and too ornate) for my taste. But it certainly gives it a memorable character and style. 

In a fantasy of adapting the No3 Goods Shed scenario part of the shed might have an island, such as the one above, straight up the middle, with sawtooth bus ranks either side, and the island which could incorporate replica, abstract or actual arched beams removed from demolished buildings. As well it might feature other "depth" features such as bluestone walls. in places. Obviously with a whole vast building to play around with a mezzanine floor or lifts and escalators could ensure no one ever had to walk on a bus lane. Buses could circle around the central platform from either end and exit either side of the building and feed back into the central city, Sydenham and world from multiple exits and points. Such as via the back street underpass under Durham St below.

Photo NZ in Tranzit

If electric buses have not fully replaced diesel by this stage, suction systems could maintain air quality, only specific waiting lounges being fully glassed in. Being under an over-arching roof, refining sky-lighting of the sawtooth roof of the original structure, would allow large electrically powered louvres to be open or close, according the the weather and the direction of sunlight and winds, blocking out cold weather but allowing natural sunlight into the waiting areas on fine days. Christchurch has much more enjoyable sunny weather if cold hard winds are blocked! 

I guess I like the Victorian touch above because I think Christchurch has got to stay with its roots, even in a modern city rebuild.

As Art Deco is to part of Miami and Napier New Zealand, so is the Gothic Revival style to Christchurch; a rare small city -  about as far from England as one can get - yet containing an unusually high number of buildings in the Gothic style. 

And still so.

These were built, very deliberately so, as an expression of the ideology that underpinned the first settlement, the romanticised dream of recreating a sort of earlier, supposedly simpler, England. New Zealand was seen by the leading Canterbury settlers as a chance to turn the clock back, start again, go back to before the ugly, smokey, riotous industrial revolution that had so ruined England.  A "conservative utopia" as one writer once described it. Everything in its place and the peasant farmer tugs his forelock. Ironically despite the fine old buildings, the spirit of democracy came out as unseen ballast with the labourers and servants in steerage.  This joined with more liberal spirit of fourth sons of wealthy families and flourished with the shortage of unskilled labour and the readiness of maids to run off with sailors and shearers earning reasonable money, all making such degrees of old fashion servitude and class stricture impossible to maintain. 

Nonetheless the Gothic legacy remained, though even this slightly tainted by the free spirit of a special architect. An added interest to the Gothic Revival style in Christchurch is the quirky mastery of the leading colonial architect of that era and designer of so many of the city's Gothic buildings, Benjamin Mountfort. He was a real "musician", a composer of complex designs who had such an eye for details and asymmetrical design, some how balancing in harmonious ways diversely and oddly placed windows, turrets, different sized gables and the like. Adding the most interesting bits to the Cathedral in the Square, he cut through any Victorian pomposity. A classic example is the now damaged (but saveable) Trinity Congregational Church 

The Trinity Congregational Church (de-consecrated) an absolute Mountfort charmer. Not diminished in any sense by its big brother neighbour,  1930s style public service building, which appears likely to survive as well, it so suits this corner sight. If you like this building and want to see repaired, restored and strengthened you can specifically donate on=line to it via the Canterbury Earthquake Heritage Building Fund Trust website   Photo Wikimedia Commons

Despite the complete loss of St Johns, St Lukes, the Methodist Church, the Sydenham Methodist Church  [photo] and others there is still hope for various other Gothic buildings remaining, notably of course those around the Arts Centre.  With additional concrete reinforcing and allowing many years of patient reconstruction it seems possible the Trinity Centre, The Provincial Government Building, and even the Cathedral in the Square can also be rebuilt (after all many Cathedrals took hundreds if years) - good things take time. 

The Sydenham Church originally called The Colombo Street Wesleyan Chapel photographed before the Feb 22 earthquake severely damaged this building. It was subsequently demolished without agreement or even knowledge of the Trust which owned it. Other Gothic buildings remain and Canterbury Earthquake Heritage Building Trust is campaigning to raise funds for these, with Government offering to double donation amounts (though only up to $10 million, a very small amount in terms of the number of buildings loved by many in Christchurch that are also key factors in the city's image image branding and tourist attraction). Photo NZ in Tranzit

The relevance of all this? 

The Gothic revival theme could be incorporated into the structure of this "Cathedral" like railway station, giving it a unique Christchurch flavour and de facto make a strong introductory statement to tourists coming into the (arched!) "doorway to Christchurch" This would be so whether arriving by long distance coach;  or arriving by rail or bus from the International Airport; or from Lyttelton (port).  

This is ironic given this building's current style couldn't be further from Gothic and left exposed the sawtooth skylight windows would create a stylistic clash. However plating across the ceiling in translucent carbon sheets (even having shifting electronic lighting patterns) in the relevant sections could allow a whole central corridor of oversize Gothic arches, either literal and saved from demolished churches, or abstract and stylised.

A huge central atrium tower might incorporate traditional gothic ceilings such as that below  - interestingly enough these seem to be one of the most earthquake resistant and stable designs of any (those medieval engineers were certainly not fools!).

Knox Church in Christchurch where walls fell in major earthquakes but the traditional 
wooden structure stayed staunch. Photo NZ in Tranzit

Another part of Knox Church might be termed Gothic Revival-Revival, this is the abstraction of  Gothic forms into steel pillar and archways installed as verandas above entrances a few years ago. And to me this gives Christchurch a good clue where we can go, even in the midst of building hundreds of modern buildings. Not only could parts of the suggested bus/rail station - similar  to those in the top photo - be built in an abstracted Gothic style using pre-cast steel forms - as in the photo below on an even grander scale. Also the suburban bus transfer stations and some of the larger bus stops could also be built with similar elements. a sort of toy-box of building blocks, capable of being assembled in different patterns but a common Gothic Revival-Revival motif and design elements. This would create a very distinctive public transport major stop location consistency that increases the presence and status and accessibility of public transport across the whole city. To my mind it also has this effect, of  creating a sort of glue between our reduced but still large stock of Gothic style buildings and a deeply embedded connecting rod between Christchurch's past and its new modern self. 

Photo NZ in Tranzit

Also, they don't fall down in earthquakes or collapse under snow if climate change dictates increasing snow storms in Christchurch as might prove to be the case!

1 comment:

  1. Some of those gothic features really are divine, it's good to see them still alive and well in Christchurch!