The Coronation Buildings designed by Timaru architect James Turnbull in 1902 provide a firm mass to the heart of Stafford Street north, with a highly decorated touch. This building is the most extravagant example of Victoriana within the CBD. The present ice cream colours enhance the playful façade.
In the late 19th century the ornate Victorian style permeated all of the arts not to mention everyday household goods. New manufacturing processes from the Industrial Revolution ensured that all manner of furniture and bric-a-brac could be smothered with tedious embellishments.
Not long after Queen Victoria's death in 1901, this decorative age came to a rapid end. Perhaps the populace became weary of the pointless decoration? That is one possible explanation. But what is on record is the fact that Germany was flexing its political and military muscles, and its design schools were also becoming restless. A sense of restraint, prevailed. The carnival was over.
With unstoppable artistic and political drive the Modern movement of architecture and design emerged quickly in Northern Europe and a brave new era was born. All decoration was rejected. Indeed some art philosophers linked decoration with the criminal mind.
Despite the post Modern movement in architecture (ie. "anything goes") that gained traction worldwide from the 1970's the underlying ethic of the Modern movement has not ever died.
In Timaru the Coronation Buildings stand as a lasting example of a period when Britain was riding high on the world stage, lending its dominant Victorian architectural style to all parts of the Empire. A future column might discuss this building in more detail.
The skills of some of the very first architects to establish practices in Christchurch are also evident in South Canterbury: Frederick Strouts at Mt Peel Station and other country houses; W B Armson at St Mary's Church in Timaru; and Benjamin Mountfort with much loved churches at Waimate and Esk Valley.
A vast and impressive study of the work of Mountfort was written by Ian Lochhead the pre-eminent architectural historian of the Canterbury region. Mountfort's career did not start well in Christchurch with one or two serious setbacks, but his ability to compose beautifully picturesque arrangements soon cemented his career. He was immersed in deep ecclesiastical dialogue with the Church of England.
Given the task of creating the character of a new city built upon rather dull, flat terrain Mountfort opted for the thrill of sharp gables, peaks and spires. The exteriors are inviting; the interiors are often highly worked and take the visitor to an even higher level.
The Christchurch Modern movement of the 1960's often copied these intricate small scale forms, with Peter Beaven stating later in life that it was the work of Mountfort that always drew him back to Christchurch as his natural home.
St Augustine's at Waimate shows a clever assembly of forms, incorporating the lych-gate, the separate belfry, the gable end of the nave, all leading to the climax of the exaggerated central lantern tower. Inside, the nave is formed by intricate timber scissor trusses, together with (typical of Mountfort's spirit) a change in truss type to hammer beams above the choir. Altogether a tour de force on full public display.
View by date