Christchurch Cathedral Rebuilding

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Published on: March 16, 2013
Cathedral Render
An updated rendering, December 2013, with able assistance from Sam Fastier & Bernard Farrant


In May 2012, and again in December 2013, I had the privilege of working once more with Sir Miles Warren (I was an employee of his at Warren & Mahoney in the 90’s), and we prepared a model & some images to illustrate his proposed very low cost ($18m) strategy for reinstating the cathedral.

In essence, the original masonry base would be salvaged & made safe to a height of a few meters, while everything above this would be rebuilt in lightweight & earthquake resilient timber, adopting a contemporary implementation of Gothic principles (expression of load paths, verticality etc.), and honouring something of the original architect George Gilbert Scott’s intention, who had actually designed the cathedral in timber, not stone – for fear of earthquakes! (sadly he was overruled when the project was subsequently taken over by Benjamin Mountfort).

Cathedral cutaway
Cathedral cutaway

With Sir Miles’ approach we sit quite unashamedly between the strong desire of many for the comfort of complete and verbatim reinstatement of the original building, and the equally strong desire of others to do something a little more intellectually challenging with the site that acknowledges our own time and place in history – such as the idea championed (claimed?) by mayor Bob Parker for a variation on Norway’s Hedmark Museum, where the original building is retained as ruins encased within a contemporary glass shell.

Of course there is almost no money to do either of those, and amid all the politics and legal squabbling, the Anglican church faces the dilemma of dwindling congregations (and incomes) who have different priorities and practices than those of the Victorian settlers who built the original cathedral, and a pressing need to address the many other damaged and underinsured churches throughout the region that must also compete for funding.

So it may be that while our approach pleases few completely, it takes something from the aspirations of most parties, and of all the proposals put forward to date, it does offer the outstanding benefit of being feasible.

Cathedral transcept looking up
Cathedral transcept looking up

Paul King Architect | Christchurch | New Zealand | (03) 383 4592 |

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  1. Of course another even more feasible option might be to leave the site as a picturesque open air ruin & memorial for a few generations, and use the cardboard cathedral (which is already being built) in the medium term, while the dust settles and necessary funding to do anything of significance well is accumulated. This alternative accepts that the meaning (and public funding) invested in the old cathedral site has for many years not been solely about serving or advancing religious purposes – though of course many active in the church would disagree, and would view re-establishing on this key site as symbolically critical.

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