OPINION - rebuilding heritage buildings

Posted 18 Aug 2011 by Swiggs Popular
Posted in Heritage , Rebuild

 

MARK ROBBERDS makes a case for rebuilding heritage buildings, and not leaving them in ruins.

 

In his Perspective piece (August 9), Colin Meurk proposes a number of future directions for our city.

Among the central themes of his argument are some elements that few of us would argue with, and these generally make the case for a greener more people-friendly city.

Meurk makes another claim that needs much more serious debate: the assertion that many of our important historic buildings should not be re-built but instead should be left in ruins.

On behalf of many of Christchurch's craftspeople I would like to argue against this proposal, and present an alternative vision of what rebuilding some of these buildings could mean for our city.

Meurk suggests that by leaving iconic buildings like our cathedrals in ruins they would serve as memorials to the events that our city and our people have suffered.

I argue that by restoring and re-inhabiting our iconic buildings we would honour the past and revitalise the future.

Ruins speak to us of cultural loss and destruction, and while we have suffered, we do have the ability to rebuild what is culturally important to us. To leave our past in ruins suggests that nothing of that past persists beyond the events of the last year.

It was also suggested that our ruins might serve as an attraction for tourists in the same way that other ruins do around the world.

The problem with this argument is that the ruins of our 19th century Gothic Revival buildings don't reflect a unique historical moment that tourists would want to come and see anyway. One of the things that attracted tourists to Christchurch in the past was its beautiful surroundings and well-crafted buildings.

The Arts Centre was a prime example of this. Tourists flooded the centre to be surrounded by well-crafted architecture and to see actual craftspeople continuing to practise their crafts - including the ongoing restoration of the stonework.

Tourists don't want to see a Disney-style ruin of "Old Christchurch", they want to see a living craft culture that preserves these unique skills within and alongside our locally specific architecture.

Christchurch's IConIC group made the point in their submission to the city plan that: "International studies on the economics of heritage restoration and the adaptive reuse of buildings show that it creates more jobs and contributes more to the economy than new construction."

By rebuilding our historic buildings we reinvest in an ongoing skill-set and a living cultural heritage.

If we leave our buildings in ruins we will put them "under glass" along with the skills that built them.

The draft city plan has rightly recognised the need to revitalise and accommodate Christchurch's arts community in the reconstruction. Support for our crafts must go hand-in-hand with this.

One of the main points that has been made in the debate about rebuilding is the redundancy of rebuilding in "replica" style.

I would like to propose an alternative vision of how we might rebuild with more honesty and integrity.

As a model take a look at the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem. The building which houses this amazing museum is over 2000 years old.

As you cast your eye over the building from top to bottom you can see the style of the stonemasonry change reflecting the rulers of the time from Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman through to its modern-day inhabitants.

At no stage was it ever conceivable that this important site would be left in ruins.

Although the style of architecture changes, the use of the local limestone remains the same, making the structure a cohesive whole.

Surely the skills of our craftspeople, architects and designers can be focused on creating a subtle resolution for our historic buildings; one that maintains the use of our local stone, and one that maintains the skills and crafts that Christchurch is well known for.

The danger in creating the contrived ruins that Meurk is proposing is that we will end up with something dead and soulless.

We should breathe new life into our architectural icons or risk feeling like Shelley's traveller in his poem Ozymandias, who came upon the ruined statue of an ancient dictator, surrounded by nothing but "the lone and level sands stretch(ing) far away".

Original article from here

Discussion