The Christchurch vernacular

The Christchurch vernacular

Abode’s architectural expert, Greg Young, shares the defining characteristics of ‘Christchurch Style’.

Since the advent of the internet, architectural styles have transcended culture and place, resulting in a fusion of global influences that make the architectural vernacular of any one area almost impossible to pigeonhole.
However, our rich European history has borne some influence over our own unique architectural vernacular: a flavour which was loosely based on the European Brutalist movement has come to be known simply as ‘The Christchurch Style’.
Emerging in the 1950s, this architectural style was pioneered by Sir Miles Warren and Maurice Mahoney, expanded upon by their contemporaries, Don Cowey, Don Donnithorne, Paul Pascoe, Bill Royal and, arguably, Peter Beaven, among others throughout the sixties and seventies, and continues to remain popular and relevant many decades on.
First built in 1957, the Dorset Street Flats are the most well-known example. The stark, post-war style was openly condemned by conservative Christchurch inhabitants at the time. Derisively dubbed ‘Fort Dorset’ and openly belittled as Christchurch’s ‘ugliest’ group of buildings, this architectural vernacular continues to influence architects today.
By distilling the formula of this particular style, we can easily see why it is still so relevant, and why it has experienced a resurgence in popularity.
Materials commonly used in this Brutalist style are honest and unadorned. Unfinished or white concrete blockwork juxtaposed with the warmth of timber was originally used internally and externally, and these days there are plenty of examples where black timber is used externally.  
Form and proportion of these buildings are simple, symmetrical and well balanced, while the restrained use of concrete and timber allows the simplicity of the form to shine.
Windows are deliberately placed, determined by a strong sense of symmetry, and strips of glazing often extend from the floor to the ceiling or are perfectly square.
Chimneys within this style are very tall structures. Undeterred by the battering our chimneys suffered as a result of the earthquakes, I like to integrate this particular feature into designs wherever possible. 
With these buildings, site placement is always carefully considered in relation to views and the elements, like prevailing winds and the sun – a complete departure from the Colonial villas and bungalows that preceded them.
Today we are experiencing a strong revival of this particular ‘Christchurch Style’: many of our clients wish to emulate the defining characteristics in their own homes, and so continue this legacy of simplicity, honesty, quality and modesty.

03 384 7879  |  young.co.nz

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