Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Playing favourites #3: First Church of Christ Scientist

The First Church of Christ Scientist in upper Willis St is one of Ian Athfield's most enigmatic creations. Even if you don't like it, you'll have to admit that it's one of the most extraordinary buildings in town. Perhaps more than any other public building, it exemplarises Ath's apparently incompatible pairing of Mies and Gaudi: crisp glass volumes enveloped by organic forms, colourful glazed ceramics and impossible columns. New Zealand has few (if any) examples of the short-lived fashion for blobby buildings, so perhaps this will have to stand as an example of blobitecture avant la lettre.

On a larger scale this would have been a show-stopping, gobsmacking icon building. As it is, it's an elusive little gem of spatial metaphors, whimsical detail, domestic intimacy and resonant strangeness. It's a glowing white Rorschach test, like Hamlet's cloud "very like a whale". Every time I walk past, I'm astonished anew by the very fact of its existence.


At 3:08 pm, April 20, 2007, Blogger Joanna said...

Is that a scientology centre?

At 3:26 pm, April 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately not.


At 5:41 pm, April 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

shouldn't this one be on the list of the most ugly though?

At 9:04 am, April 23, 2007, Blogger llew said...

That one's always reminded me of the concrete whale in the Picton playground.

At 10:58 am, April 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I noticed that one of the comments regarding the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Wellington's building, featured above, was a query as to whether it was a Scientology Centre.
Christian Science, not to be confused with Scientology, is a Bible-based system of healing, grounded on the works of Jesus Christ.

As for the church building, here is some information that readers might find interesting:
The church design won the NZ Institute of Architects National Award in 1984, and the stained glass windows also won an award.

Three of the applied/decorative arts were used in the building:
*decorative wool weaving for the front of the speakers' podium; *stained glass windows;
*and a ceramic garden/pool wall (integrated into the original design and created by the highly regarded Dr Vera Doreen Blumhardt DCNZM, CBE. She has recently received the Order of New Zealand for her services to Art.)

Apparently the Architect did a lot of research for his design. The pillars in the interior of the church are free standing, as were the pillars in Solomon's temple. A member of the congregation researched the building of Solomon's temple and found these parallels. Solomon's view was that the congregation was the strength of the church, not the physical structure. The pillars in Solomon's temple apparently had a lily design on the top, and you will note that the quirky pillars in this church also have a floral design, so Athfield may well have been quite deliberate in the way he designed the pillars.

I recall some years ago reading an article on Athfield's work in the Dominion Post in which he stated that he had particularly enjoyed designing this building.

Each year, Victoria University's architectural students do a tour of the church as part of their studies. If members of the public are interested in touring the building, they could ring (04) 385-1335 and leave a message. Someone will respond and arrange a suitable time for them to visit.
Ann Haydock
Christian Science Committee on Publication for NZ

At 8:51 pm, April 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have visited this most interesting church and found the members to be very friendly and non judgemental. They do their best to put into practice the spiritual healing methods used by Jesus, his disciples and later Paul, and the prophets in the Old Testament. If you go to a Weds testimony meeting you can hear first hand accounts of healing and how to heal too. http://www.spirituality.com gives you a very good idea of how they use the truths in the Bible in a practical way.


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