Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Scholar slates church over Chch Cathedral demolition

One of the proposed models for the new Cathedral.
One of the proposed models for the new Cathedral.

A UK scholar and expert on Gothic Imperial architecture has slated the Anglican Church decision to demolish quake-crippled ChristChurch Cathedral.

Academic Alex Bremner wrote extensively about the cathedral, built by famed English architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, in his book Imperial Gothic.

The senior lecturer in architectural history at the University of Edinburgh, and Gates Cambridge alumnus, has criticised Anglican Diocese of Christchurch plans to create a new cathedral after the original's spire was snapped in the February 2011 quake.

Dr Bremner says the cathedral is "far more than just a building" because it was originally built as a memorial to the city's establishment as a dedicated Anglican colony in the South Sea.

In a scathing commentary published yesterday, he compares the cathedral to St Peter's basilica in Rome: "Both buildings embodying the social, civic and architectural heritage and identity of their respective cities."

Anglican Bishop Victoria Matthews last year announced plans to deconstruct the damaged cathedral to a "safe level" of 2-3 metres above the ground.

The decision sparked public protests and a group, Great Christchurch Buildings Trust (GCBT), led by former MP Jim Anderton, have taken the church to the High Court to reverse the move.

Justice Lester Chisholm halted demolition work last November after ruling its future is "legitimately in the public arena" and "plainly a matter of intense public interest".

The Church Property Trustees released three design options for a future cathedral earlier this year, which included restoration, a timber replacement, or a contemporary design - which the church says it prefers.

The church's desire for a new building is "depressing", Dr Bremner writes.

He is especially amazed by the stance given that some engineering reports say it can be saved and rebuilt for "not much more than the proposed new building".

"For most civic authorities and governments around the world it would be a no-brainer as to what to do under these circumstances - saving an historic monument of this stature would not have required a second thought. Unfortunately, not so in New Zealand," he says.

"One can only hope that the short-termism, philistinism and, indeed, vandalism that have reigned supreme in Christchurch over these past few years are not allowed to continue in this very important task of preserving and rebuilding Christchurch cathedral."

Whether the 132-year-old building should remain standing is not entirely the decision of the present bishop of Christchurch, or the civic authorities, Dr Bremner says.

"They are merely custodians of this heritage, not arbiters of its fate.

"For them to assume that they have any such right as arbiters in this respect is arrogance in the extreme, and if they should choose to exercise that unfounded right then history will judge them harshly."

If the battle to save the building from demolition fails, and it does come down, it will be "a grim day for anyone who cares about the history and heritage of the built environment, the world over".

"If it does happen, then ignorance and cynicism will be seen to have won the day," he said.


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