Rushed rebuild a recipe for regret

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 08:53 03/11/2012

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Martin van Beynen

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One perhaps unheralded burden of living in a recovering disaster zone is the need to have an unprecedented number of opinions on all manner of subjects.

If called upon, we need, as engaged and contributing citizens, to be able to pontificate on the new city blueprint plan, the urban village which is attracting design proposals from around the world, which heritage buildings are worth a fight and whether we want to see a new cricket ground in the sacrosanct Hagley Park.

The issues are coming at us thick and fast and the mantra of consultation - yes, it's the people - puts a new obligation on us all.

Exhaustion is setting in and it is tempting to leave it all to the experts. But experts have a way of making a mess of things and if we take a back seat now we will lose the moral right to complain later, although that shouldn't stop us.

However, we do need to choose carefully before we invest our critical faculties.

Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of being able to sit back and reach our views in our own good time. It has only taken me two years to firm up my view on what should happen to the Anglican Cathedral in Cathedral Square.

You will have noted the church hierarchy wants to largely demolish the cathedral while another faction has turned to the courts to stop the destruction.

I have mostly been ambivalent about the cathedral, thinking an effort by a dwindling church to reconstruct the building was a waste of money.

But I have had the advantage, in latter months, of looking over the cathedral from the sixth floor of The Press building and have many times been struck by its still intact and straight ridge lines. I have slowly come to the view it's madness to destroy a classic building, part of which still looks in pretty good shape.

It is no great work of architecture and its style is well represented around the city, but I can't think of any other building that is as important to the image and feel of the city.

An architect once described the cathedral to me as the "number one building" in the city's "number one urban place", and, perhaps it is my new vantage point, but I am beginning to see why.

Once we agree to protect what is left, an engineering and architectural solution can be found and many precedents are available.

For example, we should look at St Mary's Cathedral in Perth where a spectacular and sensitive new front and clever landscaping have produced a wonderful building.

The old part of St Mary's loses none of its grandeur and atmosphere from the modern extension and roof line tacked on the front. Many examples of such workable combinations are in evidence around the world.

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I get the feeling some decisions are being unnecessarily rushed. Perhaps we need to secure and buttress certain buildings, fence them off and leave the final decision to another day. In years to come, will we no doubt mourn how easily we signed the death knell of certain important buildings in this town. I would have liked to see Cranmer Courts fenced off and given a few years for a decision to be made.

The future of Lancaster Park also needs some very clear and forward-thinking heads. The current debate seems a little bizarre. We have the insurance company prepared to fund a repair of a massive stadium, which was built at great effort and expense to provide a premier sports facility.

Now we hear the stadium no longer meets our long-term needs, or the city blueprint.

We now want a covered stadium that can host large music events as well as sports fixtures. So we will take the insurance money and fund the preferred stadium in its new preferred location, leaving a massive white elephant to the east of the city centre.

We cannot always have what we want and it seems crazy to be building a huge, dominating stadium just off the edge of the new centre while we have a workable site.

Again, we need to park this one until we get a clearer idea of the ramifications. I'm all for making decisions, but sometimes doing nothing much is the best one.

As an aside, it's interesting to watch the demolition of the inner city and note how much better some buildings look when you take a few storeys off.

If you are in town in the next few weeks have a look at the demolition of Clarendon Tower on the corner of Worcester St and Oxford Tce.

The tower has been painstakingly removed storey by storey and it's striking how its reduced scale works much better with surrounding buildings and the river.

A great advertisement for a limit on the height of buildings stares us in the face. That's an opinion blessedly easy to come to.

- Fairfax Media

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