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What Was the Architect Thinking?

What Was the Architect Thinking?


Richard Dalman
gives Cantabrians an architectural challenge for the holidays.

Stranges-LaneWhen we see and experience a building we are often moved positively or negatively, and sometimes we just don’t know what to think: “I love it”, “I hate it”, “what was the architect thinking?” Buildings have the ability to create an emotional response. Often this response is based on our upbringing, what we are used to or what we expect a building to be. Buildings can challenge us, and this is good.
No doubt people have had these responses about the rebuild. Over the summer holidays, I encourage Cantabrians and visitors alike to explore the city’s new buildings with fresh eyes. Rather than just go “love it”, “hate it”, “what the…”, look a bit closer and try to determine “Why?” – Why is the building designed like that? Why does it create the response I’m feeling?



Perhaps ask yourself these questions:

• Is the building fit for purpose?
• Does it function well for its intended use?
• Does it sit well in its local environment?
• Is it a good neighbour, either by fitting or contrasting with the adjacent building or space?
• Does it make sense in its natural landscape
and the local climate?
• Does the building appear to be environmentally sustainable? This can be hard to determine on the first inspection, but look for local or recycled materials, excessive heating/cooling systems versus natural heating and ventilation, wasteful space, or could the building take on another use in 20 years’ time once its current use has become redundant?
• Does the building help create positive
outdoor spaces such as the Stranges Lane buildings? Rather than being a standalone object, a building can best serve its community when it works to create or positively enhance public spaces such as streets, squares and laneways.
• Has it been constructed within a tight
budget? Sometimes this will compromise a building, but often cost constraints open the door for innovative thinking and use of materials. Re:START container mall and other post-earthquake pop-up structures are great examples.
• Does the building speak of its time utilising
current and appropriate technology such as the Young Hunter House office building in Victoria Street that uses flexible joints to move with earthquakes, or is it just old technology or merely a resurrected style from a previous era.
• And lastly, does it delight you? Vitruvius in his Ten Books on Architecture wrote buildings should offer commodity (usefulness and function), firmness (they should stand up and not leak!) and delight (style, proportion, beauty). Does the building make your heart race or relax you, surprise you, make you feel good? Does it sing?

I have been delighted many times by various buildings around the world and in Christchurch including the Great Hall at the Arts Centre, the College House Chapel in Ilam, Seascape Retreat on Banks Peninsula, and even architect David Hill’s living room in his sea-side house. In every case, I know “why”. At the end of the holidays after your inquisitive observations will you also know why? I will test you.