Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Not the slightest bit of sympathy

We live in a world on the verge of economic collapse, in which people continue to starve in countries far away while nearby citizens of Christchurch live in despair of their personal futures. Yet other citizens of our fair city are bemoaning the loss of heritage buildings, gaining publicity from our irresponsible local newspaper for their views on saving stones and restoring crumbling buildings. Thus we have a headline in this morning's Press "Church's hasty demolition 'absolute sacrilege'" promoting the views of a critic of the demolition of Holy Trinity Avonside. +Victoria Matthews has defended the moves,

"Bishop Matthews, however, said the church had been a "very, very perilous building".

"It was a beautiful building, but my priority has to be humans and the safety of the community. It wasn't a time to take chances." "
+Victoria is absolutely right. So why not a headline such as "Bishop saves lives with courageous wisdom" or "Life more important than art, says bishop"?

The Press is working a bit of theme today as the front page lead article is headed, "Historic Places Trust is 'gutless' in the face of Cera [Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority]"

Again, because some people feel buildings should be saved and because an overseas expert flew in and out of the city saying they could be saved, a local politician joins in with a refrain about gutlessness. The issues have nothing to do with courage and a lot to do with safety and with money. Of course any damaged building can be repaired (especially if internal walls are made of steel girders, and then stones are rebuilt with steel rods) but who is going to pay for it, and who is going to risk life and limb in deconstruction stone by stone? It is not courage to stand beneath a stone wall in a shaky city, it's foolishness.

Driving around Christchurch, seeing these damaged heritage buildings, one can see the complex nature of old stone construction. There is nothing simple and therefore nothing inexpensive about deconstruction, and any reconstruction is not going to be via the old techniques such as internal and external walls made of stone and filled with rubble. At best we will have rebuilt buildings that look like the old ones but in reality are modern buildings filled with steel.

Taxes and rates are going to be high enough contributing to the transitioning of people from red zoned land and rebuilding infrastructure and facilities, to say nothing of paying new high insurance premiums on government and council buildings, without paying for restoring hundreds of heritage buildings. It is reasonable to save a select few buildings with public money such as our Arts Centre and the Provincial Chambers, partly as a snapshot of our past and partly as tourist attractions, but beyond that I see no reason to save old hotels and shops on the taxpayers compulsory donations.

As for the likes of Holy Trinity Avonside, if we are fortunate as a diocese we may be able to save one or two of our lovely stone churches, but they will be the least damaged ones not the most damaged. The gospel does not demand the preservation of old buildings no matter how beautiful and historic they are. Our funds (such as we have) are best invested in the future of the kingdom, not in the past.

So, not the slightest bit of sympathy from me re our heritage as bemoaned in these articles. I am with +Victoria 100%.


Kurt said...

It’s always sad when a heritage building is destroyed. I’m the type of person who supports restoration if it is possible. This always assumes that there is enough left to restore.

From what I could tell from web photographs, Holy Trinity could have had the damage from 2010 repaired, but was pretty well flattened by the 2011 quake. Flattened is flattened.

One could, with ample funds, reconstruct the building with the original stones (following the original plans if available). But how much are people willing to spend to do this; is this the best use of available resources? It might be more worthwhile to construct a new building in the spirit of the old, using and highlighting salvaged materials where possible (stained glass, pews, original stonework, etc.)Incorporate as much of the old into the new as possible.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

liturgy said...

I am not going to and cannot comment on the issue of whether the Avonside church building could have been dealt with differently and how that might have been done, (I think there is an ongoing reluctance to acknowledge our NZ real financial and community size) but I would add a note of caution about replicating and re-using. I have seen some dreadful examples of “treasures” salvaged from one old church building being reused in another context. Contemporary architecture has been constrained by its incorporation. Liturgical renewal has been hampered by their ongoing use. We can retain and re-use when it fits with the rest of what we are hoping to achieve – and let us do so. But let us be imaginative with what we are doing. With so much of our heritage destroyed I am also concerned an unhealthy inability to move forward in other places may hamper renewal.



Father Ron Smith said...

A good and helpful post, Peter. Sad though it is to have to say farewell to venerable buildings, I believe Bishop Victoria is talking sense - about the fact that safety is the most important factor at the moment in our city. If a building is unsafe, then the longer it is left the more unusable and useless it becomes.

With Bosco, I believe the financial implications in Christchurch, at the moment, for the restoration of badly-damaged buildings - of any provenance - are horrendous. Lives today are more important than any reverence for the past structures.

As the Church is already painfully discovering, we can no longer cling to the past, we must learn to live in the present and plan for our viable future.

I'm also for the temporary Cardboard Cathedral - if we can find somewhere to anchor it.

Kurt said...

“I would add a note of caution about replicating and re-using. I have seen some dreadful examples of “treasures” salvaged from one old church building being reused in another context.”—Fr. Bosco

Quite true. St. Thomas Dupont Circle in Washington, DC is a good example of how to do it, I think.


Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY