When we talk about heritage in a broad sense, it is in regards to the pre-1900 building stock including the neo-gothic buildings that graced Christchurch.
While there is no denying the value and architectural beauty of these buildings,
they were built as homage to where we had been, not about who we, as a country, are
as an identity.
Internationally, the modernist movement began as early as late 20s/early 30s, when ornamentation was stripped back and new materials and technologies were embraced. A preference for concrete over stone saw materials become the driving force in what was being designed.
From the late 50s to the 70s New Zealand was at the forefront of the modernist movement and in Christchurch we were producing world class architecture which not only added value to the city, but was recognised internationally.
It was with this style of architecture that New Zealand and Christchurch began to discover its own architectural language and identity.
So why then, are we not as passionate and focused on saving these buildings as we are about those that pre-date them? Does the international standing and influence of the buildings become ignored in favour of age?
In many instances those buildings which are regarded as heritage and important to the city have fallen into this category based on looking good, rather than the value of the building as a whole. The fact that the building has been around for a long time is elevated beyond its original need and purpose.
We need to ask ourselves why we are spending so much money to keep some buildings, when we knew, pre-earthquakes, that they were not strong enough, or purposeful enough to utilise fully. Nothing was done about them, yet now there is unsurpassed value? What changed?
The decision to save a building needs to be made on the day it is built. Recognising the value of a structure earlier in its life offers the ability to prepare a conservation plan, ensuring the value is long lasting.
Designed and built well, a building should never wear out; it should simply be given a new purpose in which to retain its value. Internationally this has been happening for millennia, the Colosseum is one of the world’s most recognised buildings and has been repurposed many times – from gladiatorial contests to executions to housing and many more. Today it stays partially ruined due to damage caused by earthquakes and stone-robbers, yet attracts thousands of tourists a year.
Is the age of our modernist buildings not enough water under the bridge to make them worthy of preservation? At only 30 – 50 years old, historical value by the people hasn’t been placed on these buildings to the same extent as those which pre-date them.
We have tampered with them and modified them to suit the needs of the consumer age – in many ways destroying the architectural impact. Take the Lyttelton Administration Tunnel Building for example.
Within years of its 1964 construction the ‘fly over’ had been removed. Deemed to be serving no purpose a key element to the design of the building was taken down with no regard to the architectural story behind it.
It was this component of the structure which assisted in the building appearing as though it was anchored to the hill. With no ‘history’, the building wasn’t regarded as important enough to have people fighting for it.
We need to consider the value our modernist buildings will have on the next generation of architects. By pulling down these buildings we are creating a void in our architectural landscape.
For this reason it is essential that we invest in, and save, the Town Hall. Not only is it an excellent example of modernist architecture, it is a building that was built with passion for and by the people of Christchurch.
In a council published record of the Town Hall the story of the building is described as a journey the city took. It is about the hundred year process that was undertaken to build a town hall.
The Christchurch Town Hall construction was not simply a design competition that resulted in an iconic building, it was a considered process driven by a passion to provide our city with a central meeting point. Funding and community needs were addressed over several decades to ensure what was built would serve the city well and long into the future.
While there is no doubt the Town Hall will need work undertaken to meet the city’s contemporary needs, the bottom line is that it was driven by the community a hundred years before it was conceived. Recognised both internationally and nationally, it is a building that we need to take pride in.
We need to ensure that how we are rebuilding our city will have value in 200 years. We need to learn from our mistakes and place value in what our buildings could add to our city and ensure we are rebuilding with architectural integrity and longevity.
With more than 20 years industry experience, Cymon Allfrey holds the Chair of the ADNZ National Board and has won the ADNZ National Supreme Award three times in the past five years.