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Christchurch’s Best Recent Building?

Christchurch’s Best Recent Building?

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Architect Richard Dalman gives us his insight into Christchurch’s best post-quake buildings.

So, what is Christchurch’s best new building post the earthquakes? Is it the Transitional Cathedral, ilex in the Botanic Gardens, the Bus Exchange, the Deloitte’s Building, or even the Fridge Library? While all of the above buildings add to the Christchurch architectural environment, the Fridge Library is a personal favourite of mine. It’s a cracker. An old glass-fronted fridge and an abandoned couch that somehow just arrived, on an empty site on the corner of Barbadoes and Kilmore streets. Originally stocked with a few books, the collection has grown over the years as people have taken or borrowed some to read and replaced with others. This is a ‘pop-up’ that truly speaks of the Christchurch community spirit post earthquakes. But is it architecture? I guess that depends on your definition. A structure with a useful outdoor space in front, considered and appropriate in its location, privately funded for community use. It offers function and delight.
My vote would be yes, but I know many of my colleagues would disagree.

But for Architecture with a capital A, the best recent building is surely the Transitional (Cardboard) Cathedral. And this is probably New Zealand’s most well-known building internationally. It was designed by world-renown Japanese architect Shigeru Ban who won the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize (the top world
architecture award). He is perhaps the most famous architect to have ever worked in New Zealand. I have heard Shigeru Ban talk on several occasions. His practice is split between post-disaster work which he doesn’t charge for, and other more standard commissions.

Christchurch is very fortunate to have this building. It ticks many of the “Great Architecture” boxes.
• It responds to the site. Its location is on the site of an old church opposite one of Christchurch’s four main squares, and also opposite the CTV building site where many of the architect’s countrymen were killed.
• It responds to the Christchurch Cathedral that it temporarily replaces. Triangular proportions of each end of the Cathedral were studied, and the ends of the Transitional Cathedral responds to these. The new building morphs between the two different-shaped ends, creating an interesting exterior form, but more importantly a wonderful interior space. The glass window to the north also responds to the original rose window of the Christchurch Cathedral.
• It responds to the situation. Christchurch needed a new central worship space, and we needed it quickly. The simple construction system enabled a fast construction process.
• The plan is simple and rational. The building is easy to understand and use as a visitor.
• It is for public use. Shigeru Ban said he would only be involved if the building would be for public use, not just for church use. This is the case, and it appears to be well used by many different groups and organisations throughout Christchurch.
• People love it. I always enjoy being inside, and I always take my New Zealand and overseas guests to see the building, and they are always impressed!

While the building was designed to be temporary, my hope is that it becomes permanent.