Drawing from an Indigenous Tradition? George Gilbert Scott’s First Design for Christchurch Cathedral, 1861-62
|Published in:||Architectural History, 2010, v. 53|
In 1861 Scott designed an innovative hybrid for Christchurch Cathedral, New Zealand, combining a stone exterior with an independent wooden interior, at once expression of the primitive ruggedness of what he imagined to be the Maori wood tradition and an experimental response for this earthquake-prone colony.
Commissioning George Gilbert Scott (1811-78) to design a cathedral for the relatively new settlement at Christchurch, in the province of Canterbury, New Zealand, was an ambitious undertaking by a predominantly Anglican community that had been established only eleven years earlier. The cathedral, which was constructed between late 1864 and 1904, was a conventional stone building, designed by Scott and executed locally by B. W. Mountfort. However, in an unusually experimental move, Scott had earlier proposed a structure that incorporated a stone exterior with an interior frame made of a series of high piers of New Zealand native timber, each almost 50 feet tall. The dramatic interior of this proposal referenced a wide variety of timber- and church-building traditions; had it been constructed, its tall wooden structure would have been ‘unique amongst colonial cathedrals’. After examining previously discussed sources for his design, this paper speculates upon further influences, testing — in particular — Barry Bergdoll’s assertion that the design was an expression of the ‘primitive ruggedness’ that Scott imagined derived from Maori work in wood, examples of which had been known in Europe since the 1770s.
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