10.4.11

Rebuilding Bunbury Cathedral

AJH: ABC last Sunday night featured this story on Compass.  So I highly recommend watching on ABC iView before it disappears.

HG I know you will love this, this architect actually got to design a Cathedral, which is extremely rare on a world scale not just an Australian scale.  Also Robert Juniper was involved in the project too.  Great feel good story.

New St Patrick's (image: still from ABC's Compass)

Old St Patrick's (image: still from ABC's Compass)


New Bunbury Cathedral
Architect: Marcus Collins
Builder: Perkins
Client: Catholic Diocese of Bunbury

I watched this interesting 25min documentary about the rebuilding of Bunbury Cathedral following fatal storm damage in the 2005 Bunbury tornado, and subsequent demolition. 


The public consultation process: The Bishop noted that in more than 400 submissions people wanted something 'that looked like a cathedral' and which was 'contemporary'. As a result I think the building is a bit awkward - to me it looks historicist in form, with the pointed steeple and gable roof detracting from the otherwise monumental brickwork. the original building was intended as a parish church, as the Bunbury Diocese was established later. Retaining the familiar form is no doubt great for people who treasure memories of their moments, but I think it detracts from the power this building could have had as a monument (the building may be more powerful for retaining these association though...hmm). I think it's always interesting to hear people who aren't architects or designers discussing architecture generally, or modernism in particular - listening to Tanya Kavanagh, who was interviewed for the program, I get the sense that to her modernism is a style, one of a number of styles to be chosen at will. To me, modernism is an expression of our society as it is today, with it's economics, culture and construction methods.


Marcus Collins did sound as though he had been at least little reluctant where the historicist form is concerned - he mentioned how the client had asked for a cathedral which looked like the old one on the outside, but had a modern interior, and how modernism really dictates an exterior form based on the "function of the inside", which made this a "difficult task". Collins said "I don't think anyone wanted to pretend that this was a hundred year old building, but they wanted it's silhouette on the Bunbury skyline to reflect a traditional Cathedral, and when I took on the job, I accepted that."

The stained glass windows: by artist (painter, sculptor, ceramics that I know of) Robert Juniper, they are photographic reproductions printed onto plastic, laminated between two sheets of glass, and are done in a very free, abstractly brushed style which have great energy and passion. 

In his 1981 book Looking around Perth: a guide to the architecture of Perth and surrounding towns, Ian Molyneaux writes of the original St Patrick's: 

1920-1967
CATHEDRAL: "ST. PATRICK'S"
R. J. Dannessy (Dennehy)?

Indicative of the late survival, well into the era of the Modern Movement, of the dead hand of Gothic Revival. It acts as a vista-stop to view south along Victoria Street and as a dominating landmark.

So we could have had a 'contemporary' Bunbury Cathedral the first time round.

On a more sour note, there was some discussion in the documentary of whether it was appropriate for an architect who 'wasn't catholic' to be designing a catholic cathedral (though fortunately Marcus Collins has a 'religious sense'), and Robert Juniper who 'isn't an atheist', painting the glass. I think this kind of discussion is disappointing, especially for a building which is partly funded by "state and federal government grants". Can you imagine it being questioned whether it is appropriate for a Catholic architect to be designing a science laboratory?

"You don't have to be religious to paint a religious picture or compose religious music" - Robert Juniper.


edit notes
[edited on 12/4/2011 - added paragraph on architect's reluctance for historicist form]

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