Reviews, News and Commentary

Ōtautahi Christchurch Architecture – a gem of a guide

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Ōtautahi Christchurch Architecture: A Walking Guide 

By John Walsh and Patrick Reynolds

Massey University Press

RRP $30

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Its not often that books on architecture are best sellers but architectural writer John Walsh and photographer Patrick Reynolds have just brought out the second edition of Ōtautahi Christchurch Architecture: A Walking Guide , an update of their guide published in 2020. This follows on from their successful publication of Auckland Architecture a Walking Guide which came out in its second edition last year.

This new edition of Ōtautahi Christchurch Architecture includes twenty-five additional buildings constructed since the 2010 earthquake.

Walsh notes that “although many buildings in the central city had been destroyed in the quakes, or demolished after them, a number of important buildings had survived sufficiently intact to be saved and restored. … There have been definite losses, such as the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament (1905), which was a nationally significant building, but there have been some impressive heritage wins. Miles Warren’s Town Hall from the 1970s, for example, has been beautifully restored”.

There is an increasing awareness of the  place of architecture in our environment and in our personal, cultural and social history. A city’s buildings are important in defining the nature of a place and we map a city through its buildings. The forms, materials, the orientation, the colours, and  decoration all help create the visual language of the way the city is perceived.

The image of some cities such as Paris and New York are strongly linked to their architecture. So too is Christchurch which has managed to retain many of his historic buildings and the book is not just the basis for  several walking tours but also a history of the development of the city.

Benjamin Mountfort, Canterbury Museum Image: Patrick Reynolds

One of the unique aspects of Christchurch’s architecture is the importance of local architects who have designed buildings for the city over 150 years.

Benjamin Mountfort was Christchurch’s leading architect from the time of European settlement in the 1850s until the end of the nineteenth century designing many buildings in the Gothic Revival style which set the architectural style for the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century. One of his notable buildings which has always been symbolic of the city was Christchurch Cathedral which was originally designed by the leading British architect George Gilbert Scott but substantially modified by Mountford.  He used the Gothic style in several other buildings such as The Great Hall and Tower Block of Canterbury College, The Victoria Clock Tower and the Canterbury Museum.

Warren and Mahoney, 65 Cambridge Terrace Image: Patrick Reynolds

He was succeeded by architects of similar calibre such as  John Collins and Richard Harman, Samuel Hurst Seager and Cecil Wood. Then in the middle part of the twentieth century Miles Warren and the firm of Warren and Mahoney dominated the architectural designing many of the city’s Modernist architecture including the Dorset Street Flats. The Christchurch Town Hall and the recent  John Britten Building at the lIam Campus.

Shigeru Ban, Transitional Cathedral Image: Patrick Reynolds

More recently there have been several buildings which have pushed the boundaries of Contemporary architecture with buildings such as the  Cardboard Cathedral (Shigeru Ban), Te Pae, the Convention Centre (Woods Bagot – with Warren and Mahoney) and the innovative Boxed Quarter (Field Studio of Architecture +Urbanism).

Walsh includes some of the city’s little architectural gems such as the old Robert McDougall  Art Gallery designed by Edward Armstrong in 1932 ,Warren and Mahoney’s offices and apartments at 65 Cambridge Terrace and the more recent Ravenscar House Museum (Patterson Associates).

Patterson Associates, Ravenscar House Museum Image: Patrick Reynolds

The book which is a gem in itself offers six guided walking tours around different areas of the city with Walsh’s text providing valuable information. He managed to link ideas about architectures, the role and purpose of individual buildings along with a history of Christchurch which gives an insight into the importance of architecture in the environment.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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