Few modern cities have been able to be redeveloped citywide, at once, just as Christchurch is experiencing following the earthquakes.
It’s a unique platform from which new opportunities are being explored, and the understanding of what constitutes a grand design has developed a whole new meaning.
Designs that were considered grand previously often looked backwards to the past for inspiration. English stately homes, French Chateaus and Italian Tuscan Villas were examples of buildings that evoked earlier golden ages of imagined grandeur.
Replicas of these designs popped up as their owners appeared to want to live in the past in these pretend grand designs strangely divorced from their original time and place.
Yet post-quake in Christchurch the understanding of what constitutes a grand design appears to be shifting.
Whether it is a desire for more authenticity rather than fakery after the traumas of the quake and its aftermath, or whether it’s partly the influence of the successful television series Grand Designs, or a combination of many factors, there is a noticeable shift in taste.
Now, more modern, contemporary styled buildings that look forward rather than back are in vogue.
Sustainable principles in design are becoming more main stream – a reflection of today’s heightened environmental awareness.
There is a movement towards smaller houses, signalling a step away from the conspicuous overconsumption of houses that are too large.
There is a sense that an authentic place somehow should relate to where it is at a deep level and be of its time.
No longer should a grand design be the grandeur of somewhere else and from another age, but instead it can be found from our place and our age.
Cues can be taken from where the dwelling is placed to make it feel it is rooted to its site in New Zealand.
Also it should somehow reflect the concerns and issues of our current age and zeitgeist. True authentic grand designs will emerge from this deep understanding, rather than imposed from the outside via a foreign image.
A house designed by Sheppard & Rout is an example of this approach. A house overlooking Lyttelton harbour on a dramatic steep hillside site attempts to manifest its condition of being in this stunning place.
It is a house that appears to fold out of the land forming a roof to inhabit beneath.
The curving roof shape reflects the form of the headland and bays and islands all around.
The necessity of having to dig into the steep slope of the site to play down the impact of the building on the beautiful setting has been treated as an opportunity.
The stone that has been excavated has not wastefully been removed and dumped, but instead it has been reapplied to the base of the house, forming a reconstituted stone outcrop that was there previously housing the cave like bedrooms.
These design decisions, and others, attempt to ensure the house could only have come from that particular spot with an appreciation of today’s environmental understanding.
It becomes grand by being an authentic place that finds its grandeur from the context all around it, rather than imposed from elsewhere.
The earthquakes in Christchurch made those of us who lived through it aware of the transience of things, the fragility of life and possessions, and the pain of loss.
It appears to have awakened an understandable desire for security, safety and real, meaningful things.
At the end, a design that is truly grand, one could say, discovers this from the situation it finds itself in – no longer about fakery and falsehood pretending to be from somewhere else.
Sheppard & Rout Architects, 104 Salisbury Street, Christchurch
(03) 366 1562 / firstname.lastname@example.org / www.sheprout.com
By Jasper van der Lingen