When Julia Gatley produced her impressive book "Long Live the Modern" in 2008 two Timaru buildings made the cut – the telephone exchange and a house in Park Lane to be discussed in a future column.
Both buildings were inspired by the Modernist buildings of Europe, a movement that began a hundred years ago and developed momentum through the 1920's.
After centuries of tedious repetition of historical styles, emerging architects claimed that a new age was dawning, demanding a new style. Modernism was all about simple forms - relying upon proportion, balance and crisp detailing. The new materials of structural steel, reinforced concrete and glass allowed new technical solutions. Traditional decoration was discarded.
Christchurch architect Stewart Minson designed the telephone exchange in 1957. It is a bold building, smartly detailed on all sides. It takes command of its unusual tapered site while providing a special civic space as a sheltered forecourt.
With the amount of glazing to the north façade comes the inevitable problem of overheating, leading to the attachment of the brise-soleil or sun screen so popular in early Modernist buildings and still common today. A sculptured relief on the east wall is by Russell Clark an exceptional talent in the history of New Zealand art and graphic design. Here Clark's abstract ear remains as a pointer to the science of telecommunications that was about to dramatically change the world. At all levels this building adds richness to the CBD.
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