Christchurch cathedral: issues in historical renovation


first image
‘christchurch cathedral’ by the cathedral project group, christchurch, new zealand
(above) option 1, strict restoration
image © andrew collins
all images courtesy of cathedral conversations


the renovation project illustrates a problem that is facing many architects in a day and age when faced with the question of what to do with an existing building.
often, the time constraint, budget, or client’s desires may suggest the direction a project will take, but when none of these issues are present,
is it best to restore the historical structure, renew it in a similar vernacular, or completely redefine it into the contemporary era?  this is exactly
the issue around the earthquake-devastated cathedral in christchurch. a new look would suggest continuity with the city and its people while
retaining vestiges of the original memory of the building. on the other hand, a cut-and-dry restoration would fully retain the nature of the spiritual
and civic building of worship that would ultimately remain a historic gem in a growing city. what has been set from the beginning is that the
cathedral’s renovation should embody a ‘renewed ancient vision’, and should revisit a sense of scale and quality of light while referencing new
zealand’s culture in the massing and materials.

christchurch_15current state of the cathedral
image courtesy of playback theatre


(left to right) option 1: historical restoration/  option 2: traditional renovation/  option 3: contemporary reinterpretation

over the past 18 months, the anglican diocese of christchurch, the church property trustees, and the cathedral project group have taken several considerations into account when deciding the future of the spiritual house of worship. they acknowledged many factors, from the practical structural integrity of the existing construction, to its heritage legacy, to the church’s actual mission within the community. so far they have refined three different options, as highlighted previously, and are now asking the community for their input. three public forums will be held on april 10th, 16th, and 24th in auckland and christchurch  all proposals retain the memory of the building to varying degrees, it’s the appropriateness of each scheme that is in question.

how far can we – and should we – stray from history before losing the very nature of place?

if you would like to take part in the global conversation, give feedback on any of the proposals, or even vote on your preferred project, click hereevery vote will be taken into consideration!


view of the apsechristchurch_04

interior of the nave preserving original design and materials



option 1: historical restoration

option one carries out the most faithful renovation although it will prove to be the most expensive and time-consuming. the structure will be restored to comply with modern building codes and provide a reinforced seismic resilience. experts will be needed to restore the various intricate materials and designs inside to their original states, which will also add to the higher cost. the flow through the building can be improved, but by adhering to a strict restoration, the city will be returned one of the most important historical icons.


interior of the nave preserving original design and materials


option 2: traditional renovation

option two reinterprets the original gothic forms and massing through timber members and a lighter construction with improved accessibility. clad in contemporary materials, the proposal also improves the seismic resistance of the structure and many internal characteristics such as acoustics, circulation, scale for different groups, and quality of light. some of the original structure will be replaced with new construction due to safety and/or design issues and will result in an admitted loss of certain heritage characteristics, in exchange for a renewed space suitable for the

21st century.


roof structure


option 3: contemporary redefinition

the last option, designed by local practice warren & mahoney, will result in an almost complete reinvention of the structure. as in option two, a lightweight timber framing system will provide the new skeleton of the project. the gothic nature of the cathedral will be retained but reinterpreted as sculptural contemporary spaces. it is the least costly and will take a fraction of the time to build, with an up-to-date structure and improved organization of spaces with technological amenities. although the scheme makes the most economic sense, very little of the original structure is actually retained; most of the existing cathedral will only be referenced in terms of scale and the locations of the major programmatic elements.


new sculptural nave and contemporary materials


view of the apse


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