Proposed Music Conservatorium at Arts Centre
Provided by Heritage Alert
An examination of the the impact of this building against the criteria set down in the Venice Charter 1964 (the founding international charter for historic preservation) the ICOMOS New Zealand Charter 1992, the Christchurch City Plan and the principles set out in the Salmond Reed document shows serious problems.
Article 6 of the The Venice Charter states that “the conservation of a monument implies preserving a setting which is not out of scale. Wherever the traditional setting exists, it must be kept. No new construction, demolition or modification which would alter the relations of mass and colour must be allowed.” The importance of setting is affirmed in Article 6 of the ICOMOS Charter and is the first broad principle set out in the Salmond Reed Document. The New Zealand Historic Places guidelines state clearly new buildings should not dominate an area.
Even a cursory look at the footprint of the buildings with the new building included shows that it is much larger and wider than any of the heritage buildings it adjoins on Hereford Street.
The footprint may appear superficially similar in scale to the block of buildings directly opposite towards Worcester Boulevard but this is in fact two separate heritage buildings, Old Boys High and the smaller former Gymnasium (Academy Cinema) which has been linked by low modern infill of no great distinction. The isometric view establishes beyond doubt that it is also much more dominant than this grouping of buildings.
Just how much it dominates them is even more graphically illustrated in the elevation.
This clearly reveals that the building fails to deal adequately with one of the key design challenges of the site, the transition from the Physics/Botany building at one end of the site to the domestic scale of the Student Union building (Dux de Lux) at the opposite end. Despite the step down in roof height at the eastern end, and the wing of smaller buildings, the new building still completely dominates the Dux de Lux. This is exacerbated by the minimal gap between the old and new, a situation repeated at the west end on Hereford St and adjoining the Academy. It will no doubt be claimed that the gaps between buildings are similar to those already existing on the site. This may be so, the difference being that they were conceived as part of an overall plan for the site, continued in the same architectural language as the first buildings. To intrude new buildings in a modern style, a much greater breathing space is required between builidings.
Even more objectionable is the fact that the scale of the new building is considerably in excess of the scale of the Great Hall diagonally opposite it on the site. The Great Hall is the pinnacle of the site architecturally and symbolically. It is the neo-gothic equivalent of the medieval Great Hall, the centre of the collegiate community. It was intended to be the largest and grandest building on the site. The new building turns the hierarchy of the site upside down by placing a larger building on the opposite axis, almost, one could say, a deliberate attempt to upstage the Great Hall, achieving through sheer size what it is unable to achieve through architectural quality.
Although the building undoubtedly complies literally with the height limits in the city plan it almost certainly fails to comply with the spirit of the limits which was surely set in the expectation that any new building on the site would reflect the gabled rooflines of the original buildings. In order to maximise space within the building while still complying with height restrictions the roof of the main range of buildings along Hereford St does not have a gable ridge but has a large flattened central section, somewhat like a Mansard roof. From a more distant perspective (particularly the south west view along Hereford St) the flattened gable end creates a discordant element. The effect of this truncated gable is to emphasise the bulk of the proposed building.
South-west view - Hereford St
Colour, materials and rhythm
The characteristic feature of the original buildings of the Arts Centre is a restrained palette of basalt with lighter dressings for decorative effect. The new building introduces a mish-mash of materials combined in a manner which is totally unsympathetic to the heritage buildings. The new building calls attention to itself by using extensive wall areas of cream Oamaru stone. This completely alters the colour and texture balance from a predominant tonal range of sombre grey stonework with a rough hewn surface with dressed highlights in Oamaru stone to a bland, smooth-cut light-reflecting surface.
These problems are compounded by the large areas of horizontal striping on both main facades , but particularly on the Hereford St façade. Not only is the colour range of these stripes inappropriate but they also give the building a strong horizontal emphasis which is totally out of keeping with the strong verticality of the heritage buildings and the vertical half-timbering of the Dux de Lux. Once again the new building ostentatiously calls attention to itself.
Ultimately, the building fails not simply because of its bulk or its inappropriate combination of materials, but because it is designed with a complete lack of understanding of the rhythm and architectural language of the early buildings. These are all firmly grounded, load-bearing masonry structures. The extensive use of floor to ceiling glazing at the ground floor level, with a heavy overhanging second and third floor level, gives the new building a top-heavy feeling.
The incompatibility of the building is evident from the cross section which shows the large overhang which fails to ground the building and also clearly illustrates the flattened roof profile which is inconsistent with the strong gables of the heritage buildings. Contrast this with the solidity of the Great Hall and the Clock Tower entrance which are firmly anchored to the ground. Even the science buildings with basement labs are firmly grounded with buttresses
The lack of groundedness is exacerbated by the large carpark entry on Hereford St (disguised in the drawing presented to the Press by
placing of a car over the entrance).
The angled walls of the practise rooms also introduce an element of faceting which is at odds with the flat planes of the wall surfaces
throughout the site.
The design gives scant recognition to the pattern of fenestration and the rhythm of solid and void characteristic of the other buildings.Of necessity there is a large unglazed area without windows for the auditorium. On the Hereford St facade there is a large area of stone with a series of narrow windows which helps to create a sense of heaviness. This is overtopped by large horizontal strips of glazing which have no precedent in the complex. The large dominant glazed gables at the east end of the building are a travesty of the solid gable ends of the neo-gothic buildings. The stepped rectangular circulation and lift tower, which is intended to break up the mass of the building, is a completely inappropriate form. It is a discordant, overtly modernist element in a building which attempts to imitate gothic forms, albeit unsuccessfully. It also fails to significantly reduce the impact of the bulk.
This building is unacceptable because of its dominance, its subversion of the order of importance of the site and its failure to comply with several broad principles which the document by Salmond Reed state to be overwhelming imperativesfor any further development of this part of the site - building scale, materials and colour, height and rhythm. Article 4 (iii) of the ICOMOS charter states that conservation should involve the least degree of intervention consistent with long term care. The placement of this building on this part of the site is far from being the least degree of intervention consistent with long term care.