The rebuild of central Christchurch does not reflect the identity of the city, unless you think that identity is tied up with an international finance and accountancy firm.
WELL KNOWN ARCHITECT and former woodwork teacher Gerald Brownlee has taken exception to comments that the central Christchurch rebuild is heading directly to 'bland'. That comment was made by New Zealand Council of Infrastructure Development CEO Stephen Selwood.
Selwood said of the rebuild: "I hear words like 'what a disappointment', 'a fantastic opportunity lost."
Brownlee has retorted: "The planned and systematic approach we've taken is considered by many international experts to be peerless, so it was a little disappointing that the NZCID description was that the city was facing an opportunity lost and looking like it was building something a little bland."
Its not surprising that Brownlee is defensive. As the Minister for Earthquake Recovery he has been responsible for overseeing the obliteration of the city's distinct and unique identity. Central Christchurch has lost over fifty percent of its heritage buildings and many of them were bowled over in haste and without much thought. Many of those demolitions were unnecessary. Brownlee hasn't got blood on his hands but the dust of bricks and mortar from some fine architecture that was internationally recognised. In total, there have been over 1200 demolitions within the Four Avenues.
Many of these demolitions have occurred against a backdrop of local protest.
What has Christchurch's heritage been replaced with? Austere buildings of glass and metal, generic 'modernist' architecture that lack any sort of connection to the city and culture in which they reside. You can find similar buildings in hundreds of cities around the world.
According to Brownlee's cheerleaders like The Press the people of Christchurch are supposed to get excited about new buildings like Deloitte House and the Stranges Building. But what does these building say about Christchurch other than our identity is now apparently wedded to that of an international finance and accountancy firm?
The late Jonathan Mane-Wheoki expressed his concerns about the Christchurch rebuild last year, shortly before his death.
The former University of Auckland Professor of Fine Arts and architectural historian condemned the demolition blitzkrieg: "Bloody cowboys went in and bulldozed a whole lot of stuff that shouldn't have gone such as the Bell's Arcade [in city mall]."
He made the point that: "heritage anchors you in terms of identity.It gives you a sense of place. It's like looking in a mirror. It tells you who you are....What is happening now is that a whole lot of glass, concrete and steel boxes are being built that will be gleaming new for about 5 to 10 years but will start to look shabby at about the same time in 10 years....There is a "blankness, blandness" to many of the neo-modernist designs appearing that are "economical and compliant".
I look in the glass windows of these new and coldly severe buildings and simply see the wheels and cogs of commerce whirling around. They do not reflect the community in which I live.
While Brownlee might claim that 'international experts' have lauded his "planned and systematic approach ' to the rebuild, the reality is something else altogether. The top-down planning and the centralization of control has all but eliminated community voices. The central city is being rebuilt for the needs of capital and not for local people. To dress it up as something else is fooling nobody.