While the Christchurch earthquakes and aftershocks laid waste to so much of the region, they also opened up glimpses of the city that many residents had never before encountered.
The inside of Knox Church, built in 1902, is one example. The magnificent Gothic Revival timber interior of the church was exposed when the exterior brick walls came down. In fact, the interior was virtually the only part of the church left standing.
Architect Alun Wilkie says it was possible to stand inside the building after the earthquake and look up to see everything intact, with the beautiful vaulted ceiling with its heart rimu sarking still supported on matai timber posts. The brick exterior, on the other hand, was little more than a pile of rubble, and the walls still standing were highly unstable.
"For many people, this was the first time they had seen the magnificence of the interior, which was lit up during the rebuilding. Previously the windows were too high for people to see inside."
The architect says the rebuilding project, carried out by Higgs Construction, was unique in that it involved building a brand new exoskeleton around, under and over the remnant timber structure.
"We were acutely aware that this is a prominent site, on the main road leading into Christchurch," he says. "Prior to the rebuild, the exterior presented a pleasant, but unremarkable heritage building. Choosing how we would replace this part of the building was a significant challenge, but very early on it was decided that the materials had to be dignified. And the cladding of the high gables needed to be a lightweight, durable material."
These considerations led to the choice of copper that is low maintenance and will last for the next several hundred years.
"The copper drapes the church like a cloak. It is also reminiscent of hanging banners. We used this material to bring a distinctive asymmetry to the exterior, which is in contrast to the conventional triptych approach to church gables. We wanted to break with the orthodoxy of a traditional Neo Gothic facade. This building was never meant to be a replica of what went before. It needed to read as an entirely new, contemporary building, albeit with a heritage structure inside."