Christchurch Modernist Architecture

– By Jane Paul, NZFA Manager, Outreach Services

On February 1st the Travelling Film Show was in Christchurch, at the Pallet Pavillion. The Pavillion was built on the former Crowne Plaza site in central Christchurch in 2012. One of the many Gap Filler projects (check this video out), it was built by the community, for the community. The Pavillion is made from 3,000 blue wooden pallets and is a centre of music, theatre and film events.

The Pallet Pavilion. Image by Jessica Slattery, 2012.
The Pallet Pavilion. Image by Jessica Slattery, 2012.

 

Our programme on the Saturday night was Christchurch Modernist Architecture on Film, presented by Zoe Roland (filmmaker and New Zealand Historic Places Trust Coordinator for Canterbury and the West Coast) and myself. It was a programme we’d shown back in 2008, during Christchurch Heritage Week, and it seemed timely to show it again. Many of the buildings in the films had not survived the earthquakes.

CHCH architecture poster for email

It was a beautiful warm night, and by 8pm there was a small crowd watching a singer (busking to pay her Jazz Music fee). I helped Rosaria from the Pallet set up the projector, PA and screen. Zoe was anxious that no one was going to come – cause you never really know whether the word is out and whether it will entice people along. But people drifted in and parked up at the tables with a beer and exotic food bought from the caravans.

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Just before start time and out of the darkness came more and more people. Young and old people – students and lots of architects, including two tables from architecture firm Warren and Mahoney (whose buildings – including the Christchurch Town Hall, the Dorset Street Flats and the Ballantyne House – featured in the programme). I knew this because one of the Warren and Mahoney crew was a cricketer who came over for a chat with my (fellow cricketer) partner, Alex. Some people came because their house was in the films, or they had lived in the house, or their parents had lived there. I counted 69 people before the film show began and 73 afterwards.

We did a sound test and started the digifile. First up was a long interview with architect Peter Beaven, showing a NZBC reporter around Christchurch and giving her a lesson on architecture from Mountford to Modernism. Beaven is unashamably parochial – the only good NZ architecture comes out of Christchurch, make no mistake about it! The Warren and Mahoney architects laughed out loud and Alex’s friend kept repeating it after the screening and chuckling. Other pieces included clips from Douglas Lloyd Jenkin’s great television series, New Zealand at Home, which sets architecture within the social context of the time with nicely chosen archival footage.

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The next part of the programme was the New Zealand Historic Places Trust film, Four Houses from Four Decades (2008). Poignant to see it again, many of those interviewed had passed on and one of the houses had been demolished post-quake. People watched really intently, the film is a slow, nicely filmed look inside each house combined with a soundtrack reminiscence by the house owners. Very simple and very engrossing, Alex was going to leave, but got hooked and stayed on.

Just into the first few minutes there was loud bang and I looked around and the sky was alight with fireworks. Some people left, others swivelled to watch (the advantage of a roofless building), but most craned into the screen to hear better. We let it run, then paused for the crescendo finale going off in nearby Hagley Park. More people arrived in this unplanned intermission and on we went.

Jane CHCH5

There was a round of applause at the end and we took the hat around (lots of loose change!). It was great to have the opportunity after the screening to talk to audience members about their own architectural practice and their connection to the buildings and people in the films. One of the highlights for Zoe was catching up on news of Christchurch Modernist architect Don Donnithorne via his son, Martin Donnithorne. The Donnithorne house that featured in Four Houses from Four Decades had been sold that day – hopefully to a family who will cherish it as much as Don and Dawn Donnithorne.

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