Thinking outside the box

Christchurch has been on my mind a lot lately as I progress work on our development of our scheme for the Breathe Urban Village project.

Now that the rebuild of Christchurch is shifting up a gear, Joe Bennett (he who challenged an official order to leave his beloved home of 25 years in the Port Hills because he felt he should be in charge of his own mortality) has had this timely poke at the what he perceives to be the design response of the architecture profession.

Positive thinkers after the awful quakes, saw a Napier-esque opportunity to build an even more beautiful city than the one that had been near destroyed.

But before that can ever happen, we need to repair where possible, the identified surviving examples of outstanding modern architecture.

Sadly, in the case of both Peter Beaven’s Lyttleton Tunnel Authority building and Warren & Mahoney’s town hall, the bean counters seem to have the upper hand.

The cost of the repair of these modern heritage treasures must surely be less than the replacement cost of buildings of equivalent architectural significance. Last week, in Wellington, there seemed public and local body unanimity in the need to spend $43 M to earthquake strengthen our own town hall, because it is a ‘beloved icon‘ and nobody really wants to lose it.

My worry is that new Christchurch buildings will be mundane and be accepted as such.

David Hill’s unfortunate response to Joe Bennett’s piece, suggests that satire could become reality.

In my view, one of the major problems in building design, is the perception of architecture in the common mind.  That it’s a vaguely elitist and luxury activity which is neither particularly functional nor cost effective. This situation is partly of our own making , in that we are too reticent in promoting our skills, but we really need to be listened to in Christchurch if that city is to grasp the opportunity.

The ‘garden city’ image should be augmented by equally beautiful buildings : flowers in themselves; neither weeds nor David Hill’s box hedges. Structural engineering only exists to support the architecture.

The ‘cardboard cathedral ‘ on the opposite side of Latimer Square to our Breathe site, is a really good beginning of the necessary new mentality.

It was Winston Churchill who said ‘we make our buildings and then afterwards they make us’

Architects have proposed many positive and realistic ideas, for the imaginative reconstruction of Christchurch. A lot of their ideas are not listened to.

Design and Design/Build Competitions, such as the Breathe Urban Village, are one very cost effective way for the new city to benefit from the enthusiasm and energy of those to whom Napier is still a valid vision of the future.