Sunday, 6 March 2011

Off with their heads!

Yesterday it was announced that the New Zealand government has taken over the management of the Christchurch earthquake disaster from the local city council.

This is not a reflection on the sterling efforts of the Mayor and his elected officials but it does show that the time has come to move on to the larger infrastructure issues that face the city.

More than 60,000 locals have decided not to wait for this decision and have voted with their feet, many vowing never to return.  I can't blame them as just last night there was yet another significant aftershock which will have further jangled already frayed nerves.

There is another battle looming; between those conservationists who are determined to see as much of Christchurch's historic architecture rebuilt as possible and the Minister now responsible for Christchurch (known with distaste by some as "Bulldozer Brownlee") who only sees the Cathedral, Catholic basilica, Provincial Chambers and Art Centre as worthy of a rebuild.

He is quoted as saying that other old buildings would be demolished tomorrow if it was up to him. "While they are part of our past history, they have no place in our future history."

This appears at first glance to a remarkably short-sighted observation given that Christchurch's appeal is its architecture.

While human lives and accommodation must be the main priority it is true that the citizens of the future city need to be protected from heritage buildings that are hazardous.  However this does not mean that all 19th and early 20th century buildings should be bowled over with the exception of the aforementioned.

The defined heritage precincts of Christchurch have taken a battering and many buildings are totally destroyed.  Unlike a medieval town such as Girona in Spain, which has survived natural disasters largely in tact, Christchurch needs to rebuild its core infrastructure and quickly.

Singapore's removed many of the old and largely derelict heritage quarters in its drove for modernisation but if you visit the city you can still see many examples of classic architecture that have been faithfully restored or retained. A makeover of Muscat Street is one of their latest projects.

This is the balance that Christchurch needs to retain.  One can't keep everything but save the best; and the best is more than four buildings.

I see a huge opportunity arising out of the ashes of Christchurch.  In a city known for its architecture why not use the spaces where buildings have had to be demolished for a new wave of New Zealand architecture. Demonstrate what is best about the country's architectural style in the 21st century.

Invite leading NZ architects to participate and turn the city once again into an architectural showcase, this time for the future.

No comments: