Paul King | Freelance Architect

Christchurch Cathedral Rebuilding

In May 2012, and again in December 2013, I had the privilege of working once more with Sir Miles Warren (I was an employee of his at Warren & Mahoney in the 90’s), on a very low cost ($18m) strategy for reinstating the Christchurch cathedral.

In essence, the original masonry base would be salvaged & made safe to a height of a few meters, while everything above this would be rebuilt in lightweight & earthquake resilient timber, adopting a contemporary implementation of Gothic principles (expression of load paths, verticality etc.), and honouring something of the original architect George Gilbert Scott’s intention, who had actually designed the cathedral in timber, not stone – for fear of earthquakes! (sadly he was overruled when the project was subsequently taken over by Benjamin Mountfort).

With Sir Miles’ approach we sit quite unashamedly between the strong desire of many for the comfort of complete and verbatim reinstatement of the original building, and the equally strong desire of others to do something a little more intellectually challenging with the site that acknowledges our own time and place in history – such as the idea championed (claimed?) by mayor Bob Parker for a variation on Norway’s Hedmark Museum, where the original building is retained as ruins encased within a contemporary glass shell.

Of course there is almost no money to do either of those, and amid all the politics and legal squabbling, the Anglican church faces the dilemma of dwindling congregations (and incomes) who have different priorities and practices than those of the Victorian settlers who built the original cathedral, and a pressing need to address the many other damaged and underinsured churches throughout the region that must also compete for funding.

So it may be that while our approach pleases few completely, it takes something from the aspirations of most parties, and of all the proposals put forward to date, it does offer the outstanding benefit of being feasible.