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Ōtautahi Christchurch Architecture: A Walking Guide by John Walsh

This Christchurch walking guide by well-known architectural writer John Walsh covers Christchurch’s architectural history over the last 150 years. He tells many fascinating stories about the buildings and the eminent architects who designed them. The stunning full-page photographs were taken by Patrick Reynolds.

Seventy-nine notable buildings are showcased. Those which survived the 2010 earthquake are and have now been restored, as well as some which were built after the earthquake. It is an expanded edition of the popular walking guide which came out just 2 years ago and includes 19 new buildings. Although there is still a long way to go this is an indication of just how much progress has been made in the renewal of the city.

Pocket-sized, it is a gem of a little book for locals or tourists to take with them on one or more of 6 self-guided walking tours. Each walk takes just a couple of hours. Colour-coded maps are included, and the grid layout of the CBD makes it easy to find one’s way around. Here are just some of the highlights:

Walk One:

A must see: The Arts Centre complex and the buildings at Christ’s College. Its impressive solid stone buildings are in the Gothic Revival style.

On this walk, some exciting contemporary new buildings will also be encountered, including the Christchurch Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre (2014) which Walsh describes as a rhythmic march of modular units and saw-tooth roofs adapted from a Dutch commercial greenhouse construction system.

And in the botanic Gardens, the very recently completed small Ravenscourt House Museum ( 2021) can be found.

Route 2

A wide variety of buildings and architectural styles is evident on this walk, among them: Gothic Revival, Italianate, Brutalist, Scandinavian modernist, and Queen Anne style.

The walk starts at the Christchurch Art Gallery ( 2003) which was used as the Emergency Operating Centre after the earthquake before being closed for extensive repairs. It was reopened in 2015.

This is followed by the Toi Moroki Centre of Contemporary Art (CoCa) Gallery (1968). A brutalist design but its rooftop cluster of pyramidal skylights is a small nod to Christchurch’s tradition of pointy architecture.

Included also is the Manawa Canterbury Earthquake Memorial (2017), built to commemorate the 185 people who were killed during the earthquake. The 111 metres long curved riverside wall encourages visitors to search for and touch the names inscribed into the stone walls. It is a place for quiet contemplation.

Route 4

This takes in ‘The Cardboard Cathedral’( 2013) by the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, a highly original building and a monument to his generosity and goodwill.

There is also the Tākaro ā Poi ( 2010) Margaret Mahy family playground named after one of our most loved children’s authors where adults are allowed to join in the fun too.

The Christchurch Cathedral is the only building featured in this book which is still in a damaged state. After a lengthy vitriolic exchange between savers and scrappers the local Anglican Synod has now resolved to restore it which is expected to take more than a decade.

Tūranga ( 2018) the new Central City Library is one of the anchor projects in the Central City Recovery Plan which was devised to reshape the post-earthquake city. It would be well worth going inside to view its dramatic and generous central stairway which acknowledges local iwi. It embodies the concept of whakamanuhiri, the welcoming of visitors.

Over the years we have been on many city walks overseas, both guided and self-guided. This guide, although small in size, packs in a lot of fascinating information and is right up there with the best of these. When in Christchurch next we’ll most certainly want to take it with us and do some of these walks!

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Massey University Press


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