OPINION: Christchurch has been told it will lose its Anglican cathedral. But MARCUS BRANDT writes that the building has been condemned for reasons other than ease of restoration.
There seems to be a great deal of heat, much puzzling information and many conflicting statements about the Anglican cathedral in Christchurch. For more than a year, I have been carefully following events in Christchurch. I'd like to offer my perspective and experience as a caretaker of historic timber and stone buildings.
First, I am very empathetic with Bishop Victoria Matthews and the Church Property Trust's reality regarding the cathedral. The old cathedral, by its very nature, was expensive to maintain and operate. Space for offices and fellowship and all the other amenities a functioning church needs was limited.
While it was a national treasure, enjoyed by all, and an asset to tourism and the city, the expenses were born mostly by the Church (with notable contributions toward upgrade and operating costs by the city).
The cathedral had become an expensive white elephant.
I can certainly see that having the old cathedral back after the quake was not a particularly attractive outcome to the Church from an operations and fiscal perspective.
I also understand the value of keeping the old and familiar landmark. Saving and restoring would keep the old heritage values and add new ones from our sweat and effort as a legacy for future generations
Recently, on Close Up, Mark Sainsbury asked a very good and pointed question about the $20 million price tag quoted by world-renowned structural engineer Kit Miyamoto compared with the astronomical figure of $100 million quoted by the bishop.
Ironically, both numbers are probably pretty close. The difference is that they are pricing out two very different approaches. It's a classic case of apples and oranges.
The bishop's numbers are quoting the price to build a "replica cathedral" after the original had been taken completely down.
That's like telling your wife that it'll cost $100,000 to fix your car after the front end was smashed in . . . and not mention that that number is predicated on meticulously taking it apart, melting it down and rebuilding it from scratch. Of course, she wouldn't want to explore that option. And it makes a new car for $50,000 seem like such a bargain, as you send the old car to the crusher before she asks questions.
Miyamoto's numbers reflect the approach that has been taken on every earthquake damaged or war-torn cathedral around the world. Stabilise the structure, replace what is lost, repair the damaged and displaced stone, strengthen the building to the "nth" degree while it's structurally accessible, clean up the site, re-consecrate the building and get on with life. It's a lot of work, but $20 million is a lot of money and it's a pretty reasonable estimate.
I did an independent assessment and I came up with a range from $18 million to $25 million to repair, restore and strengthen. Based on the experience of restoration efforts like Ypres, I figure the work would take five to seven years.
Being an independent structure, the belltower could be repaired and rebuilt in an earthquake-resistant version and have the bells ringing in two years (see website thePeoplesSteeple.org).
The belltower would cost about $2 million to rebuild with that plan, as all the prefabrication labour has already been offered as a donation.
The Church has declined to consider any repair option. Months ago they took that off the table and never considered it (see page 406 of the Cera cathedral file). The only thing that passes for "rebuilding" is their very expensive from-scratch option.
Why would the Church want reject and refuse to consider reasonable repair options that have worked so well on other cathedrals, and why they would suggest such an extremely involved and expensive alternate?
I think the short answer is that they knew that repairing/restoring/ strengthening would be a reasonable and affordable option . . . and they didn't want that result. Like a barrister in open court, they did not want the answer to be made public.
Agatha Christie's mystery novels often had a "red herring" in the plot: a ruse to draw attention away from the reality of the situation. The $100 million "replica cathedral" is a red herring.
The other classic manipulation used by building committees that wish to kill a project is to exaggerate the perils. This is rather like claiming that you cannot find your way out of the forest because there are trees and rocks in the way.
The bishop, in her many interviews and writings, has repeatedly stressed the damage to the cathedral and the danger it poses. Let us put that in perspective.
We have all seen the damage to the west wall and belltower. But how many have seen what the rest of the building looks like? With more representative photographs, you would have also seen this.
Let us be clear: compared to so many cathedrals that have been damaged and restored, the damage to Christchurch Cathedral is modest. We have lost a belltower, one wall and its lovely rose window, a bit of aisle roof and the west porch has sustained impact damage and is looking a bit sorry.
In addition, there has been some cracking in the walls and some stones displaced. Other stones have been battered by falling debris.
The damage might look horrific and hopeless, like a face smashed and bloodied in a car accident. But to a skilled surgeon who knows his craft, it really isn't so bad. To those of us who restore stone and timber buildings, the damage we see in those photographs and especially the high-definition photographs taken in January inside the cordoned fence is pretty normal and very fixable safely.
The roof is intact and straight as an arrow. This is not a candidate for demolition.
Even the interior shots, intended to scare people, recently posted in a Church advertisement in The Press, are heartening. Yes, it's a mess, but all the damage there is pretty straightforward and fixable.
I'm pleasantly surprised that the inside of the west wall that remains intact is in such good shape. I would not have predicted that it would look so good. The arch that looks so horrible at the crossing has only lost its plaster veneer, the brick arch holding the load is intact.
Much has been made about the ongoing damage to the cathedral from successive quakes. The bishop has declared that they were forced to demolish due to the damage caused in the December 23 quake.
Frankly, the December 23 quake was a godsend that made the building infinitely safer. The June 13 quake took the rose window but left behind a mass of stone at the roof peak and the south side. It was hanging there precariously, a dangerous impediment that would have to be stabilised or removed before anything else could happen anywhere near the west wall.
The December quake removed that danger and now presents the west wall as a blank canvas inviting us to clear away the rubble and rebuild a new west wall - just as lovely but stronger.
The current demolition plan is deconstruction and controlled demolition without wrecking balls and bulldozers. Having been involved in several projects like that, I have to say that they are some of the trickiest and inherently dangerous projects, particularly in a compromised building.
Every step takes another piece of the building down and further compromises the building. It can be done safely, but there are always hidden dangers.
If the cathedral is safe enough to be approached to disassemble it, weakening it at every step, it certainly is safe to be approached to shore it up, stabilising and strengthening it in every successive step. There is a shoring scheme that allows the cathedral to be safely stabilised without anyone having to set foot inside of the cathedral. Each step makes the building safer and stronger.
It'll take about four to five months and a bit less than a $1 million to secure the building against future shocks and make it feasible to restore and strengthen the walls safely and effectively.
So, let us assume that experience with other wounded cathedrals and the opinion of restoration specialists around the world is correct and the cathedral can be restored safely at a reasonable cost. That does not address the issue of dealing with a white elephant: an expensive old cathedral that doesn't meet all the needs of a modern church.
There would have to be a commitment, from all who seek to save the cathedral, to fund an endowment for the cathedral's operations and maintenance. The Government would have to increase its contribution to this community asset. A worldwide appeal could be made, especially tying into the announcement that the cathedral would be restored, and the raising of the spire.
This dedicated funding for the cathedral would free up money to go to the rest of the diocese that otherwise might have gone to the cathedral. Alternately, a portion of funds raised for the endowment could be dedicated to the repair and strengthening of the other churches of the diocese.
With the loss of so many buildings around Cathedral Square, certainly room can be found or made to allow the cathedral space to expand. The north side of the cathedral is a likely spot. If the war memorial could be moved to a more prominent spot in Cathedral Square, it would allow plenty of room for a "bishop's hall" with all the amenities and space lacking in the current cathedral.
Without going into tedious details, the work might progress something like this: in six months, the building would be safely stabilised and the heritage items recovered for safe keeping.
In two years, the belltower and spire could be up and the bells ringing, and the best party in Cathedral Square since the end of WWII. The repair and strengthening of the north and south walls would be nearly complete and the rebuilding of the new reinforced west wall and repair of the west porch well underway. The first two years' work would go through about $5 million.
By year three, the crew would be ramped up to speed and moving along smartly. Depending on the condition of the remaining stones of the rose window and the skill of the stone carvers, the rose window could be reset into its position in the reinforced west wall sometime in the third year.
You can figure on a budget of $4m to $5m a year for labour and materials for about three years and $2m a year as the project winds down. All up, roughly $20m would do, but it never hurts to have a bit more raised for contingencies.
Five to seven years of dedicated work should see the old girl back to her old self, only stronger - a beacon to the church and city she serves.
The real tragedy is the missed opportunity to use the restoration of the cathedral to draw the whole church and city and community together.
It really is about the people. Repairing, restoring and strengthening the cathedral could be a huge catalyst and fitting metaphor for rebuilding the community of faith and the community at large.
* Marcus Brandt is a United States master carpenter and stone mason. He has been restoring historic stone and timber buildings for 30 years, mostly in southeastern Pennsylvania. Most of the historic buildings he works on are 150 to 300 years old.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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