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Beca Heritage Week celebrates dynamic era

2 July 2008


Christchurch is planning to celebrate one of its zingiest eras with the Beca Heritage Week in October.

Beca Heritage Week 2008 theme – Retrospective: Christchurch Life, Architecture and Design 1940s-1970s - will take you through the 40 years following the end of World War II, from immediate post – war times, to the Rock and Roll of the 50s and the Rockers and Mods of the swinging Sixties through to the disco decade of the ‘70s.  

The goal of the Retrospective theme is to celebrate the innovation, achievement and milestones of this period drawing on aspects of popular culture, music, transport, fashion, interior design and architecture. 

For New Zealand, the 1940s-1970s was a time when milk was delivered to our homes in glass bottles, the start of the move to the suburbs, of the second family car, of ironing your hair straight. The slide rule ruled in the classroom, TV arrived and gained colour, the Beatles (they came to Christchurch!) and the Beetle became famous, the Mini romped into many a garage and the British royals came calling (frequently). Cool was in, feminism bloomed and pop art and music evolved frenetically, all the way through to disco music, bell bottoms, tie-dying and polyester.

A number of significant events occurred in Christchurch in this period.  Canterbury celebrated its centennial, the Ballantynes’ fire (1947) made national headlines, the planes of the last great international air race touched down at Harewood in 1953, 6,000 people marched against the Vietnam War, we took pride in hosting the 1974 Commonwealth Games and we doubled our population. It is the era of the "baby boom," as the birth rate set records between 1946 and 1964.

Christchurch also opened its heart to ‘displaced persons’ from around the world in that time, gaining a cosmopolitan outlook. The first mall was built in the 60s, more public parks and community centres were developed, and some of our iconic buildings, including the Government Life Building, the BNZ building and the Town Hall, changed the silhouette of the City.

A particular focus of the Retrospective theme will be the architecture of the 1940s-70s.  Beca Heritage Week is a great opportunity to celebrate our surviving buildings of this era which represent a ‘Christchurch style’ of architecture that fired up the nation’s imagination at the time (yes, even Aucklanders were impressed at what our architects were producing in the 1960s), and which have shaped the City, contributing to its uniqueness and character that we appreciate today. 

“With Retrospective we particularly want to highlight our unique built heritage of the period, much of which remains highly intact, including some interiors,” says Amanda Ohs, Heritage Policy Planner with the Christchurch City Council. 

“Buildings of the 1960s and 70s characterise Christchurch today, just as much as our colonial, Victorian and Edwardian buildings that we commonly think of as heritage,” says Ms Ohs. 

“These buildings are characterised by the extensive use of concrete, such as the former Postal Centre in Hereford Street (to be the new Civic Offices), and the Christchurch Law Courts.  

“The events of the Week are designed to bring about an increase in the understanding that such buildings are a product of their time, that they reflect technological advances, and do in fact have architectural and aesthetic value and are worthy of retaining and conserving, even though some consider them to be concrete monstrosities,” she says.

The work of Christchurch architects created a buzz in the 60s with what was called an exciting and unique development in the Modern Movement. The ‘Christchurch style’ of architecture was considered to be of a comparatively high standard, and unique in the country. 

It is a style that historian John Wilson believes needs to be more widely appreciated. “The early big buildings around The Square (Government Life and BNZ in particular) marked a decisive change in Christchurch, not just for their design but for their scale,” says Mr Wilson. “But it is architects like Peter Beavan (QEII) and Miles Warren (Town Hall) who stamped a distinctive Christchurch style.”

Richard Dalman, Chairman, Canterbury Branch of the New Zealand Institute of Architects says that in the 1950s and 1960s Christchurch architects were leading New Zealand into modernism.  “In 1952 Don Donnithorne’s own house brought a simple Scandinavian modern style to Christchurch with a clean lines gable form. This approach was then developed further by Donnithorne, Warren and Mahoney, Peter Beaven, Don Cowie and many others to form a model that has been much copied throughout the city,” says Mr Dalman. 

“Paul Pascoe was one of the first architects to introduce modernist architecture to Christchurch on a large scale. His Christchurch International Airport building of 1956 and the Drainage Board Building of 1967 are both fine examples of modernist architecture on a commercial scale,” he says.

But it will not all be about architecture: there will also be scope for events marking important anniversaries in the City’s history.  This year’s anniversaries include 150 years since the laying of the foundation stone of the Canterbury Provincial Council Chambers; 125 years since the Belfast Freezing works was established and the first shipment of frozen ‘Canterbury lamb’ from Lyttelton to the United Kingdom was sent; 100 years since Shackleton sailed for Antarctica on the “Nimrod”; 100 years since work began on the Summit Road; 75 years since daffodil plantings began in Hagley Park.

“Beca Heritage Week is about increasing awareness, understanding and appreciation of our local heritage, telling our stories and celebrating our milestones,” says Ms Ohs.  “We hope the Retrospective theme will attract new audiences to this long running event (Heritage Week is in its 15th year) and that Christchurch is ready to have some Retro Christchurch fun and entertainment with Beca Heritage Week in 2008.”

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