Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Great Debate

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?


Brother David said...

Perhaps the real miracle was that they stood as long as they did, especially if they were constructed with no idea of earthquake proofing.

One thing that we oft times misunderstand about modern temblor-proof technology is that it is not so much to "save" the building from an earthquake, but the first principle is that it is survivable. The building was so constructed that in a major quake it did not collapse or great chunks fall off and kill folks inside or passing by. If a building can do that, then in some ways it served its purpose and in the end it may well need to be pulled down as no longer fit for purpose.

Yes, the pain is too recent to take a decision beyond pulling down what makes the city unsafe. Your nostalgia for the church of your wedding will always haunt and linger, but I hope in the end you folks view this as nature having provided a clean slate and that the current generation of folks in Christchurch take advantage of everything that is a fresh expression of who you are as citizens of your great city and as Anglicans.

BTW, I never saw photos of the RC cathedral inside, but I thought that the building outside was ugly. Was anyone lost in its fall also?

Father Ron Smith said...

Apparently - no lives lost in the RC Basilica. No-one inside at the time?
The building was already 'out of bounds' to the public. Providential?

One of the things that Bishop Victoria was careful to mention - about the Anglican Cathedral - was that it was an iconic building at the very heart of the City and a focus for the many heritage tourists.

BUT, it was not the only Church edifice that suffered - each of the main-line denominations had suffered the loss of their City churches. In any event, the main focus at today's nation-wide ocmmemoration is the lives that have been lost and grieved over. R.I.P.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David and Ron,

Thanks for good points made; and yes, Ron is right re the Basilica: no one died there.