christchurch cathedral: issues in historical renovation
christchurch cathedral: issues in historical renovation
apr 05, 2013

christchurch cathedral: issues in historical renovation

‘christchurch cathedral’ by the cathedral project group, christchurch, new zealand(above) option 1, strict restorationimage © andrew collinsall images courtesy of cathedral conversations




the renovation project illustrates a problem that is facing many architects in a day and age when faced with the question of what to do with an existing building. often, the time constraint, budget, or client’s desires may suggest the direction a project will take, but when none of these issues are present,is it best to restore the historical structure, renew it in a similar vernacular, or completely redefine it into the contemporary era?  this is exactlythe issue around the earthquake-devastated cathedral in christchurch. a new look would suggest continuity with the city and its people while retaining vestiges of the original memory of the building. on the other hand, a cut-and-dry restoration would fully retain the nature of the spiritual and civic building of worship that would ultimately remain a historic gem in a growing city. what has been set from the beginning is that the cathedral’s renovation should embody a ‘renewed ancient vision’, and should revisit a sense of scale and quality of light while referencing new zealand’s culture in the massing and materials.



christchurch cathedral: issues in historical renovationcurrent state of the cathedralimage courtesy of playback theatre



christchurch cathedral: issues in historical renovation(left to right) option 1: historical restoration/  option 2: traditional renovation/  option 3: contemporary reinterpretation



over the past 18 months, the anglican diocese of christchurch, the church property trustees, and the cathedral project group have taken severalconsiderations into account when deciding the future of the spiritual house of worship. they acknowledged many factors, from the practical structuralintegrity of the existing construction, to its heritage legacy, to the church’s actual mission within the community. so far they have refined three different options, as highlighted previously, and are now asking the community for their input. three public forums will be held on april 10th, 16th, and 24thin auckland and christchurch  all proposals retain the memory of the building to varying degrees, it’s the appropriateness of each scheme that is in question. how far can we – and should we – stray from history before losing the very nature of place?


if you would like to take part in the global conversation, give feedback on any of the proposals, or even vote on your preferred project, click here; every vote will be taken into consideration!



christchurch cathedral: issues in historical renovationoption 1: historical restoration



option one carries out the most faithful renovation although it will prove to be the most expensive and time-consuming. the structure will be restored to comply with modern building codes and provide a reinforced seismic resilience. experts will be needed to restore the various intricate materials and designs inside to their original states, which will also add to the higher cost. the flow through the building can be improved, but byadhering to a strict restoration, the city will be returned one of the most important historical icons.



christchurch cathedral: issues in historical renovationinterior of the nave preserving original design and materials



christchurch cathedral: issues in historical renovationview of the apse



christchurch cathedral: issues in historical renovationoption 2: traditional renovation



option two reinterprets the original gothic forms and massing through timber members and a lighter construction with improved accessibility.clad in contemporary materials, the proposal also improves the seismic resistance of the structure and many internal characteristics such as acoustics, circulation, scale for different groups, and quality of light. some of the original structure will be replaced with new construction due to safety and/or design issues and will result in an admitted loss of certain heritage characteristics, in exchange for a renewed space suitable for the21st century.



christchurch cathedral: issues in historical renovationreconstructed nave with wooden members and more natural light



christchurch cathedral: issues in historical renovationre-designed ceiling structure



christchurch cathedral: issues in historical renovationoption 3: contemporary redefinition



the last option, designed by local practice warren & mahoney, will result in an almost complete reinvention of the structure. as in option two, a lightweight timber framing system will provide the new skeleton of the project. the gothic nature of the cathedral will be retained but reinterpreted as sculptural contemporary spaces. it is the least costly and will take a fraction of the time to build, with an up-to-date structure and improved organization of spaces with technological amenities. although the scheme makes the most economic sense, very little of the original structure is actually retained; most of the existing cathedral will only be referenced in terms of scale and the locations of the major programmatic elements.



christchurch cathedral: issues in historical renovationnew sculptural nave and contemporary materials



christchurch cathedral: issues in historical renovationroof structure

  • The only option that stands the test of time is option 1., the other two are rubbish. The Christchurch Cathedral was one of the best historic buildings in NZ (and one of the few really nice buildings in Christchurch all together), it’d be ridiculous to not restore it to its original state. I hope its not the costs that will decide in the end.

  • Oh sorry Lyn, I mean Andrews point! I just now notice the name comes up under your comment! 🙂

  • Agree with Lyn, traditional, just built using modern technology and advancements we’ve made in production since it’s original creation. This may change some of the aesthetic slightly, e.g. maybe some aspects are actually cleaner and nicer made compared to the original (and safer!), but it will just add to it’s story and history in years to come.

  • Option 4 – Perhaps rebuild the main structure and belltower using traditional, previously existing vernacular, with the exception of maybe a memorial contemporary glass spire designed and detailed to complement the traditional.

  • 1. Traditional Renovation, whenever they try to completely revamp an icon,they always choose a style that won’t stand the test of time. People in 20 years will look back and wonder why they demolished an icon of the city to build a horrendous modern “redefinition”. If they choose choice 3, people will look back on the cathedral, the same way they look back on Pennsylvania Station in NYC, a complete disaster.

  • Two things I don’t like in modern design is that thing at the side of the cathedral, a spire????? looks to be like a fancified chimney. Seems to be in a different era to the cathedral design. Sort of design you see in childrens comics of cities on other planets – science fiction. Inside the large image of madona and child it is overpowering and I feel not appropriate. Is it not the adult Jesus from which Christianity came? Also the second arch inner that holds the image of madonna and child pulls the eyes from the magnificent arches and also window behind it. What would it be constructed of inside. Glowing timbers would be wonderful, showing their grains and showing a wonder of creation and excude a feeling of warmth in such a big space. Why not have a stained glass image of Christ in the middle of a “window” that takes up the whole area? I love the sweeping arches especially if in timber. They draw your eyes upward. Exterior doesn’t look particularly Churchlike, more like an exhiibition centre, however with appropriate materials and a little tweeking i am sure it could be remedied to look more Churchlike. The other two are so much more expensive for same old same old the modern materials for similiar design of original cathedral is hideous. Wonder how much of people wanting orgiinal restored is sentimental, rather than practical. Strangely i agree with Bishop Victoria in that the focus of the Cathedral should be on people and their spiritual life. However the Cathedral is the icon of the city i.e. Cathedral City. A little tongue in cheek “Oh dear what ever we have the Businesses who feature the Cathedral on their letterheads will have to change them. Early days that was one outcry. No matter what is decided everybody won’t be happy, so best of luck powers that be in the Cathedral.

    Lyn McHarg

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