Christchurch quake-ravaged cathedral deadlock broken?

Bishop commends wood, stone, copper design as possible way to rebuild

Posted Mar 26, 2015

[Anglican Taonga] Diocese of Christchurch Bishop Victoria Matthews has encouraged her diocese to consider a design by New Zealand architect Sir Miles Warren to rebuild the diocesan cathedral in the city’s Cathedral Square.

Matthews has drawn the attention of her diocese to the lead story in the March 18 edition of The Press newspaper, which confirms that the Diocese of Christchurch has been talking again with Warren about his restoration scheme, as a way of breaking the four-year legal deadlock over the future of the ruined cathedral.

Two years ago Warren, who is Christchurch’s most celebrated architect, had proposed that the iconic cathedral be rebuilt in lightweight modern materials – with a rebuilt, earthquake-strengthened stone base (to window sill height), wooden walls above that, and a copper-clad roof and spire.

In essence, Warren’s scheme – which he had first proposed in late 2012 – is back on the table again.

Compromise sought
Christchurch’s Church Property Trustees began talking with him again last December, as a way of seeking a compromise that might break the deadlock.

In an email sent to diocesan members, Matthews writes that “the Church Property Trustees have not made a commitment to this or any other design for the Cathedral at this stage, so we are eager to know what people’s thoughts are.”

The Press story says the Warren option would cost about $35 million and take three years to complete – though the Church Property Trustees estimate that when the costs of demolition and escalation are taken into account, the costs of the Warren scheme would be about the same as building a new cathedral from scratch.

In May 2013, Warren had said that one of the “valid criticisms” of the ruined stone cathedral was that the congregation in the side aisles “was visually and acoustically separated from the nave by large, closely-spaced stone columns and arches.”

Matthews pointed out that the sight-lines in the cathedral envisaged Warren would be much better – because the stone columns would be replaced by fewer slender wooden columns – and the floor would be on one level.

The way it was supposed to be?
“The ability to re-arrange the chairs in the Transitional Cathedral,” she wrote this morning “has convinced us that multiple seating options are essential for new builds and re-builds…  It is also worth noting that (by) using new materials, the weight of the Cathedral would be less than a tenth of what the Cathedral in the Square weighed.”

Ironically, Warren’s vision for the cathedral is to rebuild as it was supposed to be, but never was.

When he was commissioned to design the cathedral in 1858, George Gilbert Scott had proposed that it should be built in wood – as  Auckland’s St Mary’s pro-cathedral and Wellington’s Old St Paul’s were.

But Scott’s first design was vetoed by church authorities, who insisted that the entire building be built in stone.

A March 2013 Press article in which Warren outlines his design more fully, click here .