Critics slate 'bizarre' new cathedral

Prominent British and Australian architecture critics have ridiculed plans for a modern Christ Church Cathedral, labelling one of the options "vulgar" and "bizarre".

Kieran Long, senior curator of contemporary architecture at the Victoria & Albert Museum and critic for The Evening Standard in London, is among a chorus of critics from around the world rubbishing two of the three proposals, favouring restoration of the cathedral.

Anglican leaders this week revealed three designs, including restoration, a reinterpretation of the original cathedral in modern materials, and a completely new building.

An Anglican diocese spokesman said they welcomed the debate, but were more interested in feedback from people who "work and live around the city".

Long said: "The modern gothic reconstruction [traditional] is architecturally illiterate and looks from the image like something from the wild west - a kind of stage set or screen . . . If built, it would be a travesty," he wrote.

"If I had to choose now, though, I would strongly advocate rebuilding the original cathedral. It is the only piece of architecture of these three that will have enduring meaning. It would speak of continuity, which is surely something valuable in a city like Christchurch today."

The modern designs for the cathedral by New Zealand practice Warren & Mahoney were also dismissed by other British and Australian critics as "painfully voguish", "derivative" and "outright Salt Lake City vulgarity".

Ellis Woodman, architecture critic for British newspaper the Daily Telegraph, said: "My hunch would be that the straight restoration would be the most appropriate route, not least because the other alternatives on offer look painfully voguish."

Australian architecture critic Elizabeth Farrelly, who writes a column for The Sydney Morning Herald, backed restoration. She said the modern designs ranged from "cold architectural cleverness to outright Salt Lake City vulgarity".

"To my mind, a sense of history is fundamental to any sense of place. This is especially true for Christchurch, which has always treasured its past, and most especially after such appalling trauma. The best way is therefore unquestionably the faithful restoration of that ancient gothicness - making only improvements that would intensify that experience," she wrote.

A joint statement written by Professor Paul Walker, of the University of Melbourne, and architecture critic Justine Clark said restoration should "be given serious consideration".

"This is a historically significant building by a great architect. The building has been very important in the cultural and spiritual life of the city," they wrote.

They also criticised the modern scheme.

"It looks derivative and a much lesser project than the original. Rebuild to a fresh design should be seriously considered, but in a much more rigorous manner than seems to be the case here.

"These three alternatives are not the only options. There are a whole range of approaches that could be adopted, but none should erase entirely the physical memory of the original building and its fate in the earthquake."

Christchurch architect Jasper van der Lingen, of Sheppard & Rout Architects, said he would "reserve judgment" on the modern schemes.

"The devil is in the detail and from what I have seen it doesn't give much away. A modern scheme is fine, providing it's done absolutely superbly," he said.

"There is a lot of merit in restoration, but it shouldn't be a totally straight restoration. There should be some twist that would show what the cathedral has been through."

He said of the overseas critics' opinions: "New Zealand still hasn't got that sense of the value of history and depth of tradition that European countries have. We are a bit quicker to say just build something new. We are a young country and don't have a sense of the importance of traditions."

Christchurch architect Ian Cumberpatch liked the contemporary scheme.

"I am reasonably ambivalent about whether the cathedral should be kept, but I like the completely new building. It makes a nice statement about it being time to move on."

Warren & Mahoney managing director Peter Marshall said he was keen to debate the options with the architectural community.

He said the context of cathedral designs was important.

"There is a lot of validity to restoration, but you have to look at the situation and context the diocese finds itself in. We understand it's important to restore our buildings, but we also understand how extremely complex and expensive that is."


A Press online poll on the three designs for the Christ Church Cathedral has attracted nearly 12,000 votes, making it the most popular poll published on the website. The vote was evenly split between the three options on the first day of polling, but the contemporary option edged ahead on Friday. The contemporary option has won just under 40 per cent support, or about 4700 votes. Restoration has attracted about 29 per cent of votes and the traditional design has won about 27 per cent. Five per cent of the voters wanted something else, rather than the three schemes presented. At time of press, 11,984 people had voted in the poll.

The Press