Monday, December 28, 2009

My submission opposing The National Conservatorium of Music Joint Venture Limited's application to establish, operate and maintain the University of Canterbury National Conservatorium of Music within the Christchurch Arts Centre.

The buildings of the Arts Centre were constructed over a period of more than fifty years starting in 1877 and designed by at least eight architects. However these buildings stand in harmony with each other, not by accident or good fortune but by a deliberate intent to achieve this goal of unity.

I have seen this group of buildings that make up the Arts Centre described as “magnificent” and as “gems“, and they are - without any doubt. These buildings are one of the precious icons of this city. Along with Christ Church Cathedral, the Provincial Council Buildings and the Canterbury Museum, the Art Centre helps to provide the people of Christchurch with an identity. These buildings of international quality are our great buildings, they help define us, like the great buildings of other cities help to define their people. These are our equivalents to London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House. If this city was hit by a disaster and these buildings damaged I believe every attempt would be made to restore them. What would this city be without this group of buildings? We should all be proud - they are part of our past and deserve the very best care.

The buildings of the Arts Centre are a monument to the architects Benjamin and Cyril Mountfort, Cane, Armson, Hurst Seager, Collins and Harman all of whom have designed buildings that intentionally harmonize with each other. They are also a monument to the builders, artists and craftsmen who created the architect’s vision in stone and wood.

Endless visitors and residents have wandered about and marvelled at their beauty, grandeur and history. Conduct an image search on Google for “Christchurch” and of the 4.5 million imagines located the sixth image shows the Art Centre. They are of the greatest importance to the fabric of our city. A new building has no right to intrude.

If the buildings of the Arts Centre are gems, to place this Music School building among them is akin to placing a lump of black coal in the crown of gems. It would dominate the site and bear no resemblance to the existing structures, there is no synergy with these buildings. It would detract from its legacy rather than add anything of value to them.

An example of conflicting visions can be seen in the mix of modern architecture by Warren and Mahoney garishly attached to the 1908 St Augustine’s Anglican Church in Cracroft Terrace. The external appearance of the 1970's extension conflicts with the older building and is now largely hidden from view by large trees on the road frontage.

below - St Augustine’s Anglican Church showing the 1970's
Warren and Mahoney extension just visible to the right.
Trees help to screen the view from the road of this unattractive addition.

Why is this the only inner city site for this building? Why does it need the prestige of the Arts Centre to operate? Does Canterbury University’s School of Law need a location on the site of the Provincial Council buildings? Does the College of Education or Science require a building in the Botanical Gardens adjacent to the Museum?

The skills and systems exist to construct a building in keeping with the existing style. An example of this can be seen in the Administration Building erected at Christ's College, created in the same style in stone.

below - At Christ's College the modern addition (in the right of this photograph) reflects the style of the adjoining buildings and is integrated with them to promote the site's heritage. Importance has been placed here to create this harmony between the new and old.

If this site was ever built on it needs a smaller building designed to sit in harmony in our precious Arts Centre. The same level of respect and attention to detail shown in the earlier buildings should be paramount should a new building ever be erected in the Arts Centre, regardless of its intent. If we are not now able to construct a building in harmony with those on this site any construction work must be left to another time when the skills and resources are available.

In summary, I ask the key stakeholders to pay attention to the common thread of the opposition. To erect a modern, garish intrusion on this much loved and cherished location offends not only the individual, but the very fabric of Christchurch's heritage. Think twice before destroying this part of our heritage.

below - The Centennial Memorial Wing of the nearby Canterbury Museum.
Importance is shown here to reflect the earlier design by Benjamin Mountfort and to integrate with similar style buildings at the Arts Centre and Christ's College.

below - Sydenham Heritage Church – an example where design from different periods collide in a garish and disrespectful manner.

below - windows from different buildings within the Arts Centre.
Architectural features such as the heads of these windows from older buildings were used to create a sense of unity with newer buildings as the College developed over a period of more than fifty years.

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