Direction for Christchurch Cathedral at last

Finally we have a direction for the ChristChurch Cathedral – in early September the Christchurch Anglican Diocesan Synod decided to “reinstate” the Cathedral.

The main body of the Cathedral, the tower and spire, and the ancillary buildings will all be reinstated, in that order of priority.

Now we have a decision and direction, let’s get on with it.

For too long the impact of the ruin in the centre of the city has hindered adjacent development. The building left to disintegrate through weather and aftershocks has come to represent the slowness of our city rebuild.

The key question for me is what does the Synod mean by “reinstatement”? This word suggests returning the Cathedral to exactly the way it was before, in all of its neo-Gothic glory, but also with all of its 19th century issues that could be seen as compromises in its use.

No doubt there will be new structure and services provided to bring the building up to a more modern and comfortable standard.

And that is where my issue lies. If all we want to do is “reinstate”, then these things surely won’t be done. But if we “conserve” then we can incorporate these necessities, and other “upgrades” as well.

I would prefer a conservation approach over a reinstatement approach, and perhaps this is what the Synod plans, but just haven’t articulated it very well to date.

A conservation approach starts with a conservation plan that outlines the history and identifies all the values that the Cathedral possesses, such as architectural, cultural, urban design, historic, amenity, spiritual etc. These values will drive the approach as to how to repair and rebuild the building. They will also enable us to consider changes to the original building as well as possible new contemporary “interventions”.

And what would we reinstate back to? Take the spire, for example: is it to be reinstated to Sir Gilbert Scott’s original design, or Benjamin Mountfort’s altered design (as built)? And if the latter, is it to the original that was built, or the firebricks and copper repair after the 1888 earthquake, or the timber and copper repair after the 1901 earthquake?

If we accept a 1901 non-original spire design brought about by earthquake structural requirements, what similar structural changes could we accept now for the same reasons? And what changes would be accepted to allow for more modern liturgical approaches, or to allow for the tourists, or whatever becomes important in the future? There are many decisions that will require careful thought.

Buildings need to change over time in order to remain relevant, even cathedrals (hence the addition of a visitor’s centre a number of years ago). What other changes need to be made at this stage and how can we take this opportunity to incorporate them in a clever, appropriate and perhaps contemporary way?

I trust the synod and its architects will be looking at how the building can be conserved and not merely reinstated. I look forward to seeing the proposed drawings and final built result.