Christchurch Earthquake 2011
The next challenge for a damaged historic 85-year-old hospital chapel is for it to be strengthened to meet new safety standards. SALLY BLUNDELL reports.
On Christmas Day 1927, a small congregation gathered inside the new, single-storey Nurses' Memorial Chapel to take part in its inaugural service. It was built to honour Nona Hildyard, Margaret Rogers and Lorna Rattray, three nurses from Christchurch Hospital who died when the troopship they were on, the Marquette, was sunk on its way to Salonika in Greece on 23 October 1915 by a German U-boat. It also commemorates nurses Grace Beswick and Hilda Hooker who died in the 1918 New Zealand influenza epidemic.
From that first Christmas service to the day of the first Canterbury earthquake on 4 September 2010 the interdenominational chapel, the only war memorial in New Zealand dedicated solely to women and the forerunner of the country's Hospital Chapel Movement, has been open every day for use by hospital staff, patients and their families and for weddings and other functions.
A quick inspection shows the registered Category 1 historic place has incurred only slight damage. There is cracking in the brick exterior, a few roof tiles have been displaced and the porch, added in the early 1990s, appears to be shying away from the main building. Inside the concrete columns in the basement have suffered minor damage and there has been some movement, historic and more recent, in the distinctive Oamaru stone arch separating the chancel from the nave.
Yet the nine windows, including four designed by leading British Arts and Crafts artist Veronica Whall, are intact (thanks in part to Perspex shielding put up to protect the glass from vandalism), the floor and altar appear undamaged and even the life- size nurse mannequin has remained suitably steadfast throughout the shakes.
'Each earthquake has produced a bit more damage, but it's not catastrophic and not beyond repair,' says heritage architect Dave Pearson.
As a precaution a truss arrangement of stained timber beams and concrete footings has been installed in the porch and the walls are propped along two sides.
The question now, says Pearson, is how to bring it up to at least 67 per cent of the building code.
'Sometimes you can strengthen a building by applying reinforced plaster over masonry, or epoxy-type bandages, then plaster on top. But here the brick is significant on the inside and the outside, and we don't want to compromise the building too much.'
Steel bracing is an option, though this would also be intrusive.
'Obviously there are heritage issues with that. But at the same time people may just say, yes, the building has been strengthened, and they will take comfort from that. And a steel frame is reversible, which is good conservation process - you can always undo it.'
Then there is the problem of holding the outer veneer and inner skin together.
'Originally they would have had ties between the skins, but over time they would have rusted out.'
While filling wall cavities with concrete has been adopted in several old stone buildings, there is the risk, particularly with brick walls, that this would carry moisture from the outside to the inside.
Such concerns would have been far from the minds of that first congregation gathered, hymn books in hand, for its first service 85 years ago.
The Nurses' Memorial Chapel was designed by Christchurch-born architect John Goddard Collins, also responsible for the Sign of the Takahe and Nazareth House Chapel. The building's detailed exterior brickwork and finely crafted interior - oregon panelling, blackwood and oak parquet floor, sanctuary carvings by Frederick Gurnsey and Jack Vivian (Gurnsey's work can also be seen on the Bridge of Remembrance and in Christ Church Cathedral) - are typical of churches built in the style of the Arts and Crafts movement and reflect both the experimental use of different materials,and the colonial preference for masonry.
'If [the architects and builders] had taken into account the likelihood of a serious earthquake they would have built in timber,' says Dave Margetts, heritage adviser for the NZ Historic Places Trust, but timber was seen as inferior in terms of prestige. The next best quality above timber was brick and above that was stone, which was expensive. Brick and stone required less maintenance, withstood the elements better and had that sense of permanence.'
It is because of that sense of permanence, both in its architecture and in its role in nursing history, that generations will continue to appreciate this small chapel overlooking Hagley Park.
'In the early days when you were training as a nurse it was your responsibility to take patients to services there,' says president of the Friends of the Chapel committee Ray Wootton. 'So it played a major role in the life of the hospital. When nursing groups have reunions, they always want to go there. It was an integral part of nursing life.'
- © Fairfax NZ News
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