Architects 'shattered' by Christchurch's loss

The life's work of two of New Zealand's most important architects has been largely destroyed in the Canterbury earthquakes.

Modernist architect Sir Miles Warren says the destruction of his built legacy is "dismal", while Peter Beaven is "shattered" by the loss.

Christchurch is renowned for developing a distinctive form of modernist architecture in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Warren and Beaven were two of the leading exponents of what became known as the Christchurch School, designing many groundbreaking buildings that have now been lost.

Beaven lost the SBS building and the Holiday Inn building in central Christchurch, among others.

Warren's major developments in the city included the Canterbury Savings Bank and the Crowne Plaza buildings.

Beaven lost his central-city office in the February quake and has moved to Blenheim.

"I feel shattered really. It is just a huge, shattering loss," he said.

"I have moved to Blenheim. We couldn't cope with Christchurch.

"I just feel profoundly sad at what has happened. We lost the inner city, which was our life, and we lost my office in the Provincial Chambers.

"A great number of the buildings of that period of modernism are in trouble and being pulled down. The whole of Christchurch has been lost anyway. You can't isolate any particular work.

"It is not just my buildings; it is the whole Christchurch City character. All those Victorian streets and buildings; it has been torn away from us."

Warren said he was "very sad" to see so much of his legacy destroyed but hoped that many of his significant buildings could be saved.

"It is dismal to see one after the other come down," he said.

"The Town Hall should absolutely be saved. The auditorium, the James Hay theatre and the central portion can be fixed, but it is now a question of cost.

''It will almost certainly cost more than the insurance. It could be said it is the most significant building built since the war in New Zealand."

Warren said city councillors would consider the future of the building next month.

He was hopeful about the future of the Christchurch Central Library.

"The future of the building is only uncertain because of the Farmers building alongside that has to come down. Otherwise, I have heard it is OK,'' he said.

"A library is the heaviest load you can have in a modern building, so it was a very strong structure."

Architectural historian Jessica Halliday said the loss of so many modernist buildings was "devastating".

She said post-war Christchurch architects were "the most important generation since Benjamin Mountfort", the 19th-century architect who designed the Canterbury Museum and Canterbury College and supervised the building of Christ Church Cathedral.

"From my point of view, it is devastating. It is a significant cultural loss," she said.

"Too often, architecture is seen as real estate and property, but it is a cultural product. All of these buildings that we have lost, they are our history and have informed our identity and our understanding of what it is to be Christchurch.

"If we lose the Town Hall, that will be abominable. It is one of the most important buildings in the country. 

"We should all stand up and say we want to keep it. It could be an intergenerational project. We should take a long view with this."

The chairman of heritage campaign group Iconic, Ian Lochhead, said the loss of a whole generation of modernist buildings was a "tragedy".

"It must be terribly hard to see what you would have regarded as your legacy to the city being systematically taken apart. You have to feel for them," he said.

"It is incredibly unfortunate, not just for Christchurch and Canterbury, but for New Zealand's architectural heritage. There will be a really big gap."

The Press