Thursday, 7 June 2012

Earthquake aftermath ~ Cathedrals & Controversy

Christchurch's Catholic Basilica, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament suffered severe damage in the earthquakes, an architectural tragedy, and its future has yet to be decided.  It is one of the few buildings in Christchurch I feel strongly about; that and the Arts Centre, each for different reasons.  

For me the Catholic Basilica is simply beautiful and a remarkable piece of architecture.  I was taken on a tour through it once and loved every minute of it.  Here is what it looked like in March:


It's sad to see it without its beautiful pale green domes and bell towers, so I was pleased to find a collection of photographs of it here:
The same website has a synopsis and link to the excellent documentary about restoration and curatorial work that was carried out on the Basilica prior to the June 2011 quake:
  • Battle at the Basilica - a 30 minute documentary.  It can be watched on-line in its entirety.
  • If for some reason that link fails the TVNZ 'On Demand' link is here.
There is also a comprehensive article about it in Wikipedia.  The article contains quite a bit about its design and construction as well as its history.  I was surprised to read that a large portion of its construction is concrete which is faced with stone, an innovative construction method back in the early 1900s. 
It was designed by Francis Petre, who designed many distinguished buildings including Timaru's Sacred Heart Basilica, which bears some resemblance to it: 

 
To see more of my photographs of that church click on the link below:
Churches are privately owned so decisions about their maintenance or futures would not normally be considered a civic matter, and the Catholics are being left to make their own decisions unimpeded by public debate.

It is quite a different matter with Christchurch's Anglican Cathedral, which, being placed in the very centre of the city, has become emblematic of the city's identity.  Citywide debate has been considerable: a lot of citizens regard it as part of the city's heritage and think it should be restored, while the Anglican authorities have dug in their heels and made up their own minds that it will come down and not be rebuilt.  It doesn't interest me particularly.  I'm familiar with how it used to look, and went into it a handful of times, but it isn't essential to me, and I don't consider it an especially valuable piece of architecture.  In Christchurch there is so much else that needs to be done!  

For the sake of those who do take an interest I provide the following links:
Of much greater interest to me is the so-called cardboard or transitional cathedral which has been commissioned as a temporary structure while a permanent cathedral is planned and built.  It's the concept of it that is special.  Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, has gifted the design to the church and the city, an extraordinarily generous gesture by a most unusual man.  In this article on Campbell Live (TV3) he shares some of his thoughts about architecture and what constitutes sacred space.
You can read more about him here:
Links to articles about the cardboard cathedral are here: 
A complete list of my earthquake articles can be found on the following page:

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