'Floating' canopy vision serious

21:03, Oct 18 2013
Christchurch 'living cathedral' plans
FUTURISTIC: New concept plans for a "living cathedral" in Christchurch will feature chapels, gardens and a place for civic gatherings, all under a "floating" canopy.

The grand vision for Cathedral Square unveiled this week is a serious proposal which was developed by some of the world's leading consultants and architects, says the ex-pat New Zealander behind the pitch.

London-based Euan Harkness approached designers and development strategists Beyond Green in March 2013 with the idea for a "living cathedral" in his home city.

Harkness, speaking to The Press from London, said he believed a new cathedral should be "both a compelling symbol of new life and a resource in which the spiritual and civic lives of the people of the city could be celebrated".

Beyond Green invited Danish designers Shulze plus Grassov and internationally renowned architects Grimshaw, best known for the Eden Project in England, to turn their eye to the idea.

The emerging concept for the living cathedral would house the central cathedral space, chapels, gardens, a place for civic gatherings, all under a "floating" canopy.

Harkness, the vice-chairman of Barclays Capital, helped set up the British branch of the Christchurch quake appeal in 2011.


He said New Zealand had moved on from the "slightly elitist" way that cathedrals and churches were built in the 19th century as a way to show the wealth of a community.

"Now spirituality is more akin to the environment and nature. I felt it should be something that is special for New Zealand and that people would relate to."

Harkness had shown the design to Finance Minister Bill English, Ngai Tahu and Bishop Victoria Matthews, with whom he had left a 20kg architectural model of the design.

He said she was not "discouraging nor committal".

However, this week Matthews said the concept was not one of the designs the Anglican Diocese was looking at.

Harkness said the reaction to the concept had been "knee jerk" as he did not intend it to be released to the public this week.

"The timing was slightly unfortunate."

He wanted to wait until the newly formed Christchurch City Council was settled before unveiling it.

"Most definitely though this is a very solid proposal."

He envisioned greenery throughout the space, looking back to the old cathedral. In summer there could be weddings and christenings there, he said.

Harkness said the consultants and architects had put more than a £100,000 (NZ$191,000) free work into the project: "They were inspired."

He did not stand to make financial gain from the project. The Square had been an area of debate for the last 40 years, but people were now getting fed up with debate and politics around its future. All he wanted was something that Christchurch and New Zealand could be proud of.

"A restored cathedral does not do that," he said. "As a cathedral it is not just in the heart of the city but after the earthquakes it must put the heart back into the city."


Preserving the foundations and footprint of the former cathedral; turning it into a beautiful memorial garden, partly sheltered by the lip of the canopy and overlooked via a glass wall to the rear of the relocated cathedral altar.

Chapels built into earth berms that define the side walls of the cathedral.

The re-use of stones and other material from the former cathedral in the new structures.

The timber canopy will be built from and supported by the finest South Island timber.

The canopy rises to a circular aperture from which the rose window may be hung, diffusing light into the cathedral core.

Processional avenues and lines of majestic trees spiral out under the canopy.

Pocket gardens associated with the trees in the square provide additional spaces for rest and contemplation.

A gateway celebrating Christchurch's cultural diversity and Maori tradition.

The Press