Even as dead bodies have yet to be removed from Christchurch's Anglican cathedral, the first murmurings of what will be a great debate are beginning. Damaged historic buildings will be torn down. Gerry Brownlie, government minister in charge of the post-earthquake response, is very clear in today's Press about that. After three people were killed in Durham St Methodist church attempting to remove organ parts there is a 'never again' approach to restoring the past by way of repair. So the great debate will not be about to demolish or not but about whether to replicate or not, and how much to replicate. Gerry Brownlie also spoke sensibly on the TV news a few minutes ago: consideration could reasonably be given to restoring through replication the historic precinct running from the museum down Worcestor St to the Anglican cathedral.
There is a lovely vista down Worcestor St, no question, and restoration to former glory and safe futures is laudable. But many questions would then remain. What cost and who would pay? Would some kind of facade of stone encasing (say) solid steel internal girders be aesthetically acceptable over (say) a brilliant 21st century architectural and engineering gem?
Why the Anglican cathedral and not the Roman Catholic cathedral? There are definitely arguments in favour of the splendour of the latter over the former: George Bernard Shaw visiting here in the 1930s acclaimed the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament as the most beautiful building in the Southern Hemisphere!
And, very, very importantly, as Bishop Victoria Matthews observed on a BBC radio interview, there are many other churches damaged in Christchurch and its surrounds, and they are important too. Bishop Victoria said there were 25 other Anglican churches alone which are damaged. I imagine that if all the other churches were added the total would be around 75. That would not account for halls and church houses.
I sense that, in the end, the (full, safe, rebuilt from scratch) restoration of the Anglican cathedral, or its replacement with a magnificent 21st century edifice, will be a matter for the people of Christchurch to determine as a whole community. It will take time to discern the will of the people. Emotions are running too high at the moment to make any reasonable decisions other than to proceed with demolition on the grounds of safety. I find it hard to take seriously those voices saying our Anglican cathedral can be repaired if that means putting the visible broken bits back together again 'back to what it looked like, without and within'. Rebuilt from scratch, stone by stone, around a solid steel framework, presumably is possible and able to be approved by building authorities. Repaired? Would I be the only one dubious about that solution?
Such questions will be part of a wider and greater debate about what kind of Christchurch we wish to see arise from the rubble of the earthquakes. One irony in considering the course of that debate is that nearly every TV interview these days of the great and good of our city and country takes place in front of our relatively new Art Gallery, an amazing structure which looks brilliant and has survived the earthquakes. Perhaps it is acting as a signpost to the future?