CHRISTCHURCH // NEW ZEALAND
Walker Community Architects presents ‘A Third Way’ design concept, a proposition to leave the earthquake-damaged cathedral as a preserved ruin and which would allow for a new purpose built Cathedral to suit the modern requirements of the Anglican Church on another site. This option would add a valuable historical ruin to the few that exist today in New Zealand, a physical, raw reminder of the architecture of a previous time and a lasting reminder of the natural disaster that struck the heart of Christchurch.
Christchurch Cathedral has fulfilled its purpose, not only for the Anglican Church but also for the people and community of this garden city from its beginning. The 2011 earthquake has left this building derelict for over six years. The ongoing debate among the many parties involved over the fate of the cathedral appears to swing between the two extreme proposals of demolition or complete restoration. Demolition would result in a sad loss of a major player in the history, heritage and memory of what Christchurch once was – a beautiful, thriving, Gothic-revival garden city. Restoration is an expensive and risky option that will inflict a heavy financial burden on the people and organisations of Christchurch.
We propose ‘A Third Way’ as an alternative approach to both the current proposals, the showcasing of the cathedral as a preserved, archaeological ruin. Symbolic buildings that have fallen into ruin are rare in New Zealand, dissimilar to the many elsewhere in the world that has become a major tourist and cultural attractions, such as the Tintern Abbey in Wales. Neither demolishing or restoring in full; this concept leaves the cathedral in its decaying state as a physical and everlasting reminder of what this building and city has endured.
To illustrate this proposal, we include concept imagery for the cathedral as a perpetual ruin amongst an ever-changing and evolving city. The purpose of this proposition is not to present a fully resolved architectural design. Instead, we hope this will become a catalyst for further discussion on how the cathedral can be utilised in a way that will benefit the Anglican Church, the people of Christchurch and the wider nation.
‘A Third Way’ The Options
We have illustrated two separate options for ‘A Third Way’, which can be developed further, in isolation or together, to achieve the appropriately considered interaction with the cathedral against the safety of the visitor and the available funds.
‘Part One: Glowing Cross’ is a cross-shaped reinforced glazed passageway that ascends through the west wall void, the nave and up to and above the transept crossing, reinforcing the medieval ecclesiastical ‘journey to infinity’.
‘Part Two: Image of the Past’, is a glazed western wall as an engraved glass screen that depicts what was once there. Both of these options include the removal of the remains of the tower, the porch, the western wall and excess debris inside the cathedral. Both include a reflection pool to surround the cathedral, acting as a buffer between the square and the cathedral remains. This is both for safety precautions and to encapsulate the cathedral with a body of water, forming an island of magnificent ruins in the square. The fallen tower and porch’s foundations will rise to the surface of the reflection pool in memory of what once stood in that place.
‘Part One’ allows people to experience the interior of the cathedral while remaining sympathetic to the history, significance and religious affiliations of the Anglican Church. A reinforced glass/acrylic enclosed passageway in the shape of a cross ascends from the subterranean in the square, up through the nave and to the altar – offering unprecedented views of the post-earthquake cathedral. This new structure would be designed to withstand earthquakes and falling debris. The northern part of this cross is elongated to allow egress through the northern door out to the square. The western end can extend under ground to incorporate a sunken memorial path and subterranean memorial display. The glowing cross embodies the divinity of the church while remaining as a public amenity to be used for tourism, education and science. The new passageway hopes to not only reconnect the people with the cathedral but also to the square; allowing it to become the lively heart of the city that it formerly was.
Image of the Past
‘Part Two’, treats the cathedral more as a spectacle to view, rather than interactively experience. The glass passageway from the previous concept is not included. Instead, the western wall is completely glazed with a lattice of steel structure and glass; engraved with the facade details of the original western wall and porch. The interior of the cathedral will be well lit, with up-lights that silhouette the many columns, arches and stone detailing; displaying the glowing interior like a lantern in the night. Although this option does not allow for people to get the same experience as the glass cross concept – it does offer a potentially more cost-efficient solution that provides an exceptional view of the preserved cathedral remains.
In light of the conflicting opinions and the difficult situation the church finds itself in, we hope that these concepts provide a reasonable compromise that could be reached between the opposing options. ‘A Third Way’ would maintain the essence of this historical site in its existing form – freeing the Anglican Church to build a new, tailored church elsewhere that will serve the religious community in the future. It appeases those who are against demolition, as it retains the intact remnants of a by-gone era, through preservation and the ability to view and experience it safely. And finally, it respects the history of New Zealand by exhibiting this rare piece of heritage architecture as an artefact symbolising the impact of a natural disaster and how it has shaped Christchurch city today.