The ‘Christchurch Style’ or ‘Christchurch School’ are frequently used to describe the modernist architecture movement that exploded in Christchurch in the middle of last century. It’s hard to grasp how a small, conservative city in the South Island became the centre of architectural attention during the 1960s and we’re lucky to have so many great houses of the period surviving.
The modern Christchurch style was formed by a loose group of architects – some young, others well-practised – all using contemporary materials and techniques to create houses that sat comfortably with the strong geography.
No longer did Christchurch look North to Auckland and Wellington; or West to Sydney and Melbourne, for inspiration; they had their own style. In construction, concrete blocks replaced timber cladding. Placement on the site was emphatic. Chimneys were tall and assertive. Windows and doors seemed to have been punched through solid masses. The result looked sculptural, abstract and emphatically anchored in the landscape.
It was a new architectural style, not simply an evolution or adaptation, and the city embraced it with vigour.
At the centre of the movement was Miles Warren and his partner Maurice Mahoney. Returning from England in the mid 50s Miles brought with him the principles of Brutalism: ‘the form should derive from, or at least be generated by, what took place in the building, its function; and, that how the building was built, and with what materials, be demonstrated’.
These principles heavily evidenced in their early, and best known, work: Dorset St Flats, College House, Harewood Crematorium and culminating in the Christchurch Town Hall: arguably New Zealand’s finest building and the youngest with heritage listing.
However not all Christchurch architects of the time had Warren & Mahoney’s Brutalist leanings. Holger Henning-Hansen and Don Donnithorne, for example, utilised strong Scandinavian cues. Peter Beaven built modest, modern cottages. Nonetheless, a distinct Christchurch style of house appeared that arguably defined New Zealand Architecture until the 70s when Roger Walker and Ian Athfield started attracting attention in Wellington.