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It doesn’t have to be love at first sight

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Architect Cymon Allfrey reflects on why one day we will look back and recognise that what we have achieved is a unique style of architecture, just for us.

There are a number of varying opinions around the aesthetic quality of the architecture that is emerging in our post quake commercial environment. Love it or hate it, it is a developing cityscape that tells a unique story. And is shaping an architectural style that is ours, and ours alone.

In Christchurch, we have several factors influencing our built landscape, factors which go beyond the traditional drivers of budget and time. While many could argue that both domestically and internationally, the same architectural fashion can be found being played out, it is here we are seeing that fashion being driven, and underlined, by a set of unique conditions; that of our disaster recovery.

For Cantabrians one of the most influencing factors is structure. We are acutely more aware of the structural behaviour of our buildings and how this is managed. Structural detailing, such as K brace systems have become more exposed and dominant, as the way in which our buildings are built is being expressed on the outside for all to see, rather than hidden away.

Then there are the emotive responses. The first, being the desire by the general public to achieve beauty. Yet what is so often missed in this response is recognition that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is subjective and when it comes to architecture a building that generates interest and discussion, be it positive or negative, discussion it’s self can be regarded as a success.

The second driving emotion is fear. There are many in Canterbury who never want to go into a tall building again, who through emotion are also introducing constraints on our architecture.

As our architectural personality emerges, despite your personal feelings towards it, it is our own. I believe if the general public can endear themselves to it, we, as a city, will be able to find a sense of pride in what we are creating. A sense of ownership over our new city through ownership of our unique conditions that shapes it.

Love at first sight belongs in a beautiful fairytale and we need to remember this. It may take us a while to build a bond with our cityscape, but that bond is important. It is one that the next generation will instantly feel as they will grow up with our new-new. The new Christchurch will be their city. They won’t have to re-learn to live in the city as we have. This will be instinctive and they will be as fiercely passionate about it as we were about ours, and our fathers about theirs.

While this new Christchurch cityscape may not reference the two built periods that Christchurch once boasted such great examples of – Gothic Revival and Modernism – the reality is that we have something special. While we can’t yet reflect on it, one day we will, and then we will celebrate the architectural feats, love them or hate them, that shaped our city following a period of disaster.

Published in Metropol Magazine

Published on Thursday, May 19th, 2016