Monday, 27 May 2013

The future of Christchurch's heritage

I have been meaning to write a piece on the overall state of heritage in Christchurch and where this has left the city and country regarding its relationship with heritage buildings. However, when I was waiting for a friend in a supermarket yesterday, I came across this article in NZ and Oz’s National Geographic (issue 121, May/June 2013) by Sally Blundell, and I think she phrases it far better than I ever could. This is just a little peak, and if you are kiwi, then I please ask that you go out and buy the article (there are some really awesome images), as this is more for those in the northern hemisphere. Thanks.

What will become of Christchurch’s Fallen Glory?

“In Christchurch, there is now bare land aplenty. What was once a masterclass in this country’s architectural history, from the much-vaunted neo-Gothic structures through to the distinctive “Canterbury school” of mid-twentieth century modernism, is now a checkerboard of leveled sites. Some buildings damaged by the city’s earthquakes, such as the fine collection of Gothic Revival buildings that make up the Arts Centre, are quietly getting on with long-term and costly restoration programmes. Some, including the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament (c.1910), the Christchurch Cathedral (1881-1904) and the Provincial Council Buildings (1858 – 1865), still await a decision as to their fate.

Cathedral of Blessed Sacrament 

Christchurch Cathedral 

Provincial Council Chambers 

(all of the above images are from Google)

                But as of March 2013, over 220 of the city’s heritage buildings, including 102 buildings on the NZHPT register, have been demolished, as well as many partial losses. The 1875 Lyttleton Post Office, the 1876 Cramner Court, the 1894 Librarian’s House, the 1903 Horse Bazaar, the 1905 Manchester Courts and former Royal Exchange – Christchurch’s roll call of lost heritage is long [and rising].
                “it’s just that desire to demolish” says Haliiday, “to ignore the fact that there are a whole lot of cultural, social and historic values embedded in the fabric of this city. Why? Is it because we don’t tell our stories, because we think we are too young? It’s astonishing that we aren’t so moved to want to acknowledge, protect, celebrate and discuss the work of our ancestors.”
                It is astonishing. New Zealand is a signatory to the 1972 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which requires states to protect and conserve cultural and natural heritage.
                In New Zealand, state and local government policies extol the importance of heritage in defining individual and communal identity, providing continuity and stimulating economic revitalization.
                Empty words? Although the majority of Christchurch’s earthquake fatalities occurred in 1960s and 70s buildings, heritage has paid a high price for the tectonic upheavals. In the immediate aftermath of the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes, buildings considered a threat to public safety were demolished under emergency powers, with no opportunity for controlled deconstruction and salvage and little discussion with owners. Legislation in the new Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) suspended the heritage protection measures enacted under the Resource Management Act and further reduced the role of the Historic Places Trust in relation to historic buildings to an advisory function. In the meantime, red-stickers and a cordon around the no-go red zone of the inner city left owners of historic buildings watching on in frustration as their properties succumbed to the onslaught of rain, snow, fire, (some 11,000) on-going aftershocks and a Government-led resolve to restore the economic life of the city as quickly as possible. Under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act, owners of damaged buildings can be issued with a “Section 38” letter, effectively giving them 10 days to come up with a make-safe or demolish plan."

10 days to come up with any form of plan for a historic building is a daunting prospect and this excerpt reveals the level of work that Christchurch has had to bear to in order to deal with the results of the earthquakes a few years ago. And this is purely from a heritage point of view, not counting anything later than 1920.  At home, the worst natural disasters are floods and fires, and whilst these can cause huge issues and devastation regarding the survival of historic buildings, working here has really highlighted how tame the geology of the United Kingdom technically is. 

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