Knox Church (Presbyterian)

28 Bealey Avenue And Victoria Street, Christchurch

  • Knox Church (Presbyterian), Christchurch.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Robyn Burgess. Date: 1/06/2018.
  • Knox Church (Presbyterian), Christchurch. Looking towards entrance on west wall, with stained glass window above.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Robyn Burgess. Date: 20/06/2018.
  • Knox Church (Presbyterian), Christchurch. Interior looking eastwards towards communion table and organ.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Robyn Burgess. Date: 20/06/2018.
  • Knox Church (Presbyterian), Christchurch. Image included in Field Record Form Collection.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand . Taken By: Ann McEwan. Date: 1/03/1991.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 3723 Date Entered 6th September 1984 Date of Effect 5th June 2019 Date of Last Review 16th May 2019

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Pt Sec 22 Town of Christchurch (RT CB31B/714), Canterbury Land District, and the building known as Knox Church (Presbyterian), thereon. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the List entry report for further information).

City/District Council

Christchurch City

Region

Canterbury Region

Legal description

Pt Sec 22 Town of Christchurch (RT CB31B/714), Canterbury Land District

Summaryopen/close

Located on the corner of 28 Bealey Avenue and Victoria Street in central Christchurch, Knox Church (Presbyterian), constructed in 1902 and dramatically remodelled on the exterior following severe earthquake damage in the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-2011, tells a story of ecclesiastical heritage improvisation in the Christchurch Rebuild. In 2011-2014, the badly damaged brick and stone Gothic Revival exterior of the 1902 building was deconstructed but remarkably the original internal timber roof form and columns remained. This interior and roof form was then incorporated within a striking new design and the church reopened in late 2014. Retention of significant parts of the building at a time when many historic buildings – not least masonry churches – were demolished has been much celebrated in the community.

Originally called the North Belt Presbyterian Church, the 1902 brick church was constructed to replace an earlier timber church of the same name, built in the early 1880s to the designs of S C Farr & Son Architects, at the eastern end of the same land parcel. In 1901 the land was officially transferred to the Presbyterian Church Property Trustees, the replacement church was designed by Robert William England and the foundation stone was laid. At the time of its completion in 1902, it was noted of the new multi-gabled brick church that ‘its outward appearance might not be pleasing to everyone, but that … the officers of the church found that their finances could not justify a spire, so that the architect had to cut his coat according to his cloth. But there could be no two opinions about the internal beauty of the church…’. The interior walls were plastered and had a high panelled dado. The dado, roof and all other interior woodwork was in oiled rimu and the seats were kauri.

In 1904 the church was renamed Knox Presbyterian Church. Many people have been associated with the church, including the Reverend Robert Erwin, who was Minister there for 39 years (1883-1922) and was later elected third moderator of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand. Minor changes were made to the building, including some interior refurbishment in 1990-1, but it remained largely unchanged for over 100 years. However, in the dramatic events of the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010-11, the exterior of the church was badly damaged and subsequently deconstructed to a point where only the original internal timber roof form and columns remained. These were then incorporated within a new design, maximising the views of the heritage interior, by Wilkie and Bruce Architects. The church reopened again at the end of 2014. Knox Church (Presbyterian) was the Seismic Award winner at the Canterbury Heritage Awards in 2014, in recognition of the retention and restoration of the timber interior within a contrasting new exterior envelope.

Situated on a prominent site at the corner of Bealey Avenue and Victoria Street, at the northern end of the ‘Four Avenues’ that define the Christchurch CBD, the church retains the same scale as the 1902 building but now has a completely different exterior. The modern exterior shell is constructed largely of copper sheeting and glass, with post tensioned concrete buttresses and corrugated steel roof cladding. In contrast, the interior comprises original timber features – roof trusses, columns and panelling –and the 1902 Edgar Jenkins organ which was upgraded by the South Island Organ Company following quake damage.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Knox Church (Presbyterian) has historical significance. The place tells the history of the establishment/development of the Presbyterian (non-conformist) church in Christchurch. The more recent dramatic changes to the church building tell the remarkable story of the drastic events of the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010-11 and the church’s efforts to retain and incorporate original fabric at a time when many historic buildings, especially masonry churches, were demolished altogether.

Architectural Significance or Value

Knox Church (Presbyterian) has architectural value as an innovative solution to addressing the severe damage caused by the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-11. While the brick walls were taken down in their entirety following the quakes, remarkably the distinctive interior gabled roof structure remained in situ, supported by the original internal timber columns. These elements, along with wall panelling and some fixtures and fittings, have been incorporated into contemporary reworking of the forms of the original church.

Architect Alun Wilkie took great care to reference the original exterior in the rebuilt version of the church, maintaining the distinctive roofline and buttresses and positioning the windows so that the building is still recognisably Knox Church, despite new materials and a new central entrance on the western side.

Spiritual Significance or Value

Knox Church (Presbyterian) has spiritual significance. It has been central to the religious, cultural and social life of both its Presbyterian congregation and members of the wider community since 1902.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

Knox Church (Presbyterian), remodelled to house original interior features within a modern exterior envelope, reflects an important aspect of New Zealand’s religious and cultural history. The history of Knox Church (formerly North Belt Presbyterian Church) reflects the importance and growth of Presbyterianism from the early days of colonial settlement in Christchurch. The deconstruction and modern rebuild of the exterior, a response brought about by the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010-11, reflects part of New Zealand’s history as a seismically active landscape.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The history of Knox Church (Presbyterian) demonstrate the place’s association with people of note in New Zealand history, including architect R W England the Rev Robert Erwin, and the major events of the Canterbury Earthquakes (2010-11).

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place

The profile of Knox Church (Presbyterian) and the innovative architectural solution to give it a new life whilst retaining key elements of the heritage interior, has been raised in the light of loss of many historic buildings (including churches) through damage and demolition during the Canterbury Earthquakes. The efforts to retain the heritage values Knox Church (Presbyterian) were recognised when it was the Seismic Award winner at the Canterbury Heritage Awards in 2014.

(g) The technical accomplishment, value or design of the place

The post-quake changes to Knox Church (Presbyterian) are significant for creative excellence, innovation and technical accomplishment in design and construction. The new lightweight exterior envelope, sitting on a raft foundation, incorporates the strengthened original interior features and is a bold contemporary solution to the severely quake damaged building. Its tall clear fenestration allows more natural light into the interior and, equally, when the building is lit from the inside, at night it provides a pleasant lighting effect to passers-by. It was considered an engineering feat never to have been done before when the pre-cast, post tensioned buttresses were lifted over the roof of the church and positioned in place before being connected to the existing timber structure.

Summary of Significance or Values

The building has significance as a creatively improvised ecclesiastical heritage survivor following the dramatic total loss of many of Canterbury’s stone and brick historic churches due to the 2010-11 Canterbury Earthquakes. Knox Church (Presbyterian) demonstrates an innovative solution to retaining and strengthening the original celebrated interior following severe quake damage to the exterior. It is considered to meet the threshold for entry on the New Zealand Heritage List as a Category 2 historic place.

Linksopen/close

Construction Professionalsopen/close

Wilkie & Bruce

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

England, R.W.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Mr W Greig and Son

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

GENERAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Early History of Christchurch

Christchurch and the wider area have a long history of Māori occupation. The vast network of wetlands and plains of Kā Pakihi Whakatekateka o Waitaha (Canterbury Plains) is inherently important to the history of its early occupation. The area was rich in food from the forest and waterways. Major awa (river) such as the Rakahuri (Ashley), Waimakariri, Pūharakekenui (Styx) and Rakaia were supplied from the mountain fed aquifers of Kā Tiritiri o te Moana (Southern Alps). Other spring-fed waterways such as the Ōtakaro (Avon) meandered throughout the landscape. The rivers teamed with tuna, kōkopu, kanakana and inaka; the wetlands were a good supply of wading birds and fibres for weaving, food and medicine; with the forest supplying kererū, kokopa, tui and other fauna as well as building materials. Ara tawhito (travelling routes) crossed over the landscape providing annual and seasonal pathways up and down and across the plains and in some cases skirting or traversing the swamps. Permanent pā sites and temporary kāinga were located within and around the Plains as Ngāi Tahu established and used the mahinga kai sites where they gathered and utilised natural resources from the network of springs, waterways, wetlands, grasslands and lowland podocarp forests that abounded along the rivers and estuaries.

Most of the Canterbury region was purchased from Ngāi Tahu by the Crown in 1848. The Canterbury Association oversaw the systematic European settlement of Canterbury and surveyed the town of Christchurch and rural sections outside of the town boundary.

Canterbury Earthquakes 2010-11

The situation with the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010-11 was summarised by the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission Te Komihana Rūwhenua o Waitaha as follows:

‘On 4 September 2010, at 4:35am, an earthquake of magnitude 7.1 struck Christchurch and the surrounding Canterbury region. The earthquake had an epicentre near Darfield, a small town about 40km west of the Christchurch Central Business District. An aftershock sequence began, which at the time of writing is ongoing. All of the earthquakes were the result of ruptures on faults not known to be active prior to the September event. ….However, many unreinforced masonry buildings were damaged and there was extensive damage to infrastructure. The eastern suburbs of Christchurch and Kaiapoi were seriously affected by liquefaction and lateral spreading of the ground. The September earthquake was followed by four other major earthquakes occurring on Boxing Day 2010, and 22 February, 13 June and 23 December 2011. Of these, the event on 22 February was by far the most serious, resulting in 185 deaths. …’

Severe damage to heritage places caused by the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 has meant unprecedented, rapid loss of items from the New Zealand Heritage List, particularly in Christchurch. Significant historic places have been lost, and many places have been removed from the List.

The Heritage New Zealand response to addressing the high number of formal reviews required in post-quake Canterbury, under Section 78 of the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, has been to adopt a shortened review format report and not cover a detailed historical narrative or land history.

Physical Description

Current Description

Knox Church (Presbyterian) is located on a prominent corner site at the busy intersection of one of the four wide avenues traditionally recognised as marking the boundaries of the central city, and the main arterial of Papanui Road – Victoria Street.

A lightweight interpretation of the church’s original exterior, the modern seismic-resistant shell is constructed largely of copper sheeting, concrete and glass and sits on a raft foundation that extends three metres out from the edges of the building. Large clear windows provide glimpses of the interior ceiling arches. Post-tensioned concrete buttresses are built where formerly the brick buttresses stood. It was considered an engineering feat never to have been done before when the pre-cast, post tensioned buttresses were lifted over the roof of the church and positioned in place before being connected to the existing timber structure. On the west side, fronting Victoria Street, large faceted bronze doors leading into a glazed vestibule, providing passers-by with views of the original timber interior. Within the western gable, above the interior vestibule is a stained glass window made by Graeme Stewart in 2017-18 and depicting the Canterbury landscape, to replace an earlier stained glass window with that theme that was destroyed in the earthquakes.

In contrast to the modern materials and appearance of the exterior, the interior retains its distinctive timber roof form, trusses, and columns. With the wall panelling and some fixtures and fittings, the interior is now all that remains of the original design aesthetic.

A recipient of a New Zealand Institute of Architects Incorporated award in 2015, the Knox Presbyterian Church Rebuild is recognised for its modern seismic resisting elements and contemporary treatment of the new gables which allows more light into the Church and provides better views into and out of the building, reflecting the congregation’s desire to connect more with the community.

Some moveable items within the church have survived, including pews, communion table and honours board. These all add to the historical value of the church but do not specifically form part of its proposed extent.

Construction Dates

Modification
-
Interior refurbishment and extension to entrance porch on north elevation

Structural upgrade
2011 - 2014
Deconstruction of exterior, strengthening and new exterior envelope

Original Construction
1901 - 1902
Brick church built

Construction Details

Copper, steel, timber, glass, stained glass, concrete

Completion Date

5th November 2018

Report Written By

Robyn Burgess

Information Sources

Architecture New Zealand

Architecture New Zealand

Harvey, Justine, ‘Knox Presbyterian Church Rebuild’, Architecture NZ, 1 August 2015, pp36ff.

Tau and Anderson, 2008

Tau, Te Maire, and Anderson, Atholl (Eds) ‘Ngai Tahu: A Migration History – The Carrington Text’, Bridget Williams Books Ltd, Wellington 2008.

Other Information

A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List Report is available on request from the Canterbury/West Coast Office of Heritage New Zealand.

Other Heritage Recognition

Knox Church (Presbyterian) was the Seismic Award winner at the Canterbury Heritage Awards in 2014, in recognition of the retention and restoration of the timber interior within a contrasting new exterior envelope.

New Zealand Institute of Architects Incorporated national award in 2015 Canterbury Architecture Awards Winner.

Disclaimer

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.

Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice.