The Eye of the Fish

June 29, 2008

Pews on wheels; Heritage on the move

Two events I’ve been privy to this week, David Sington’s 2007 film “In the Shadow of the Moon,” and the arrival of a quiet and dignified letter in the “eye-of-the-fish” post, have surprisingly eery resonances.  Sington’s film presents both an intimate and public view of the astronauts who have landed on the moon.  Its cosmic scale blasts so many of our earthly concerns into insignificance or smaller.

The epistle, despairing of a seemingly trival matter of re-arranging furniture, at first glance presents its concerns at a microcosmic scale.  Yet its modus operandi is equally complex.  It raises wider issues of sustainability with integrity, the limitations of current heritage regulations, and the potential contradictory aims of preservation when a building’s function is struggling to survive.  

Such issues appear to be a particular concern for churches – which have, for much of New Zealand’s colonial history, been a staple of our historical architectural livestock.  … But a recurring question of the late C20th and early C21st remains: how to revive falling congregation numbers (and the very viability of a parish building) and preserve our ecclesiastical heritage with architectural integrity?  Are these two aspirations necessarily in contradiction?

Karori seems a hotspot for such concerns: namely, what to do with a church, or how to rearrange it, for its survival.  Futuna Chapel, just around the corner from St Mary’s, has already had its insides traumatised (its crucifix stolen, the pews dismantled, and its religious purpose exchanged for that of a builders’ store …).  … and of course the shake up of its idyllic context, refashioned into the harsh realities of intense suburbification, isn’t something to write architectural letters home about!  Thank goodness then for the success of the Futuna Trust.  Send your cheque here

The hard lessons learnt from Futuna’s upset insides though don’t appear to have carried that far down the road.  We thought the council too had understood, from its bitter Karori experience, that heritage listings in the District Plan need rigour (and explicit statements) to ensure that an interior,  its fittings, and furniture (those aspects of a building most susceptible to change and fashion – and perhaps the most critical for a building’s heritage integrity), are actually preserved intact.

Margaret’s letter though (printed below) proposes the current conflict over church and pew be stepped up a level – not only, she suggests, should the maintenance of heritage buildings require hearty doses of integrity, but, that we are fundamentally superficial when we don’t consider things at a larger scale.

Dear Sir

Re: St Mary’s Karori.
This church is included in the Wellington City Council’s list of significant heritage buildings. In a world faced with global (and theological) issues like global warming, sustainability and waste, and the West’s relations with Islam, the parishioners of St Mary’s are engulfed in a controversy about replacing the existing pews in the church with chairs.

From the point of view of sustainability, no case can be made for replacing the pews. They are in excellent condition. Many of them carry memorial brass plaques with the names of donors. Built of Australian hardwood, many of them date back to the building of the church in 1911 to a design by Frederick de Jersey Clere.

The argument for replacing the pews maintains that to halt declining numbers and ensure a future for St Mary’s, a more flexible seating arrangement is required in order to accommodate the needs of the young people. But for this or any congregation, it might be that discussion of global issues of concern to people of all ages could provide a focus beside which questions of seating would pale into insignificance and seem like wasteful self-indulgence.

Among your readers will be past as well as present members of St Mary’s who might like to respond with their views.

Yours faithfully

Margaret Alington


[Author of HighPoint: St Mary’s Church, Karori, Wellington, 1866-1991
Unquiet Earth; a history of the Bolton Street Cemetery
(1978); etc., etc.; ONZM] 

George Smith
30 - 06 - 08

Are you people for real?
In a world rent by war, famine and with people in NZ subject to violence, poverty and misery, what is you lot are carrying on about? Pews versus chairs! You obviously do not have enough of importance going on in your lives and no insight into how petty snd dreadful you appear to others.

Human beings are more important than things but it seems none of you realise this.

Further, a building is only relevant while it has a use or a function. If church attendances are dropping off I suggest one of the reasons is skewed priorities like those revealed so starkly here.

A building that is re-adapted and reused has a hope of surviving. A building that is an empty, pointless monument to something no longer relevant and which cannot be re-adapted, dies. I say thank you to the building company who re-adapted the building in such a way that people can continue to enter and use it.

30 - 06 - 08

My lord George, are YOU for real?? I am gravely disturbed if those are your honest views upon this subject.
Margaret’s concerns are an important reflection upon how we so often mistreat inherited objects of the past, and it is views such as yours that are the reason reflection is required in the first place.

Certainly our world is raged by the woes that you reel off, but I would have thought that in a world so ravaged by problems of great magnitude, it is ever more important to retain and value places of sanctity, solitude, rest, safety, comfort and stability.

You seem to have missed the point of Maximus’ post – the issue here isn’t really about pews versus chairs, but rather a question of cultural values. By only placing value upon “use or a function” we deny very real human sensibilities, leading to a cold inhumane world that can only help foster further violence and misery.

As for the pews: with a balanced approach I am sure there could be a solution that allows for further flexibility within the space without the need to destroy or discard a significant piece of its architecture. If the pews really have lost their function as seating, could they be reconfigured to a new use that allows them to continue providing a feeling of history for the site, without being a hindrance to tis future activities. May even be the terrain of a good artist.

1 - 07 - 08

Yes, it seems that even the DomPost is lagging behind, getting its early morning breaking news off the Eye of the Fish, although I suspect that this is a story that has been bubbling away for some time (the story hit the DomPost on page 4 just a day after Eye posted the article above). The comments noted here since give credence to the rumours that there are indeed schisms within the Anglican church, not just related to gay marriage and women priests, but just as vehemently over the range of furniture.

Still, at least this is nothing like the size of the scandal going on over Anglican architecture in the small Hawkes Bay city of Napier, where the local dean, Helen Jacobi, wants to knock down their (recently) listed church hall to replace it with a car park. Her husband, one Steven Jacobi (and a former regular – if somewhat loopy – correspondent for the DomPost in his position as spokesperson for the Council of Wood), recently pulled some strings to score a half page article in the Dom, slagging off the Historic Places Trust for having the temerity for stopping Napier’s good (and dwindling) Christians knocking down one of the oldest central city buildings in Napier. There was an earthquake of sorts some 37 years ago, that cleared out most of the city, and left nought but the Church Hall still standing. And now the local parish want to wipe the site clean and replace it with tarmac. Surely hardly a good example to do to your heritage?

I’d echo the well put words of Sean when he says it is a “question of cultural values. By only placing value upon “use or a function” we deny very real human sensibilities, leading to a cold inhumane world that can only help foster further violence and misery.” And a carpark instead of a church hall would seem to be the sort of lack of human sensibilities that we should be avoiding just now. Heavens to Betsy, if you don’t want the old Church Hall, just sell it off people, don’t go bowling your heritage in the name of the Lord, just in case he wreaks down Mighty Vengeance upon you, in an Old Testament kind of retribution fashion:

Ezekiel 25:17. The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.

3 - 07 - 08

Some feedback: For those that are interested in following this debate back to the dark places in the Anglican soul whence it came from, refer to the following links: and

But of somewhat more interest to me, is that an Aussie website has inferred that Eye of the Fish is infused with “NZ Public Officials regularly blogging to share information across the government sector”

No: we’re not NZ public officials. Just Wellingtonians, passionate about design and architecture. As can be seen by another link in to us:

We’re always keen for your comments – so don’t just peek – drop us a line. We know you’re watching…

3 - 07 - 08

And of course, even more amusingly, today DomPost regular columnist Rosemary McLeod leapt into print as well, with a total lambasting of the church committee at St Mary’s and their perhaps somewhat foolish decision to ditch the pews.

There’s always room to change your mind you know…. admit you’re wrong, turn the other cheek, and say “Forgive me, I made a mistake”. Just a thought. We’re listening…

Stephen Jacobi
7 - 08 - 08

Thank you for noting my recent article in the Dom taking issue with the Historic Places Trust. Unfortunately I have only just stumbled over your blog. I consider it to be a badge of pride to be called “loopy” by you. I would however draw the attention of your readers to the fact that I signed my article with my full name (actually it’s Stephen with a ph …), unlike your anonymous blog postings. It might also interest you to know that 256 people died in the “earthquake of sorts” as you call it, in 1931 – yes indeed people are more important than buildings.

7 - 08 - 08

Stephen – “taking issue with” ? Your article was a fair bit more than just “taking issue with.” Ripping into them and attempting to slaughter them may be more akin to what your article was about. And yes, of course I know that 256 people died in the ’31 quake – we still travel the country, anonymously or not.

What IS at stake is the church’s attitude towards their heritage property. There can be no excuse for cultured, intelligent people to say “lets knock down the building and put up a parking lot” in this day and age – Joni Mitchell has been singing about that for as long as I can remember. Surely you remember the song too? If you don’t want the building, sell it off.

Stephen Jacobi
8 - 08 - 08


1 Have you visited the hall on any of your “anonymous travels” – only three walls of the original building remain !
2 There is no buyer for the hall – a promiment developer who already owns much of the inner city has said it is not economic to upgrade and renovate. No-one else has approached us to date.
3 The Cathedral already happily maintains another category 1 building – the Ormond Chapel – on Napier Hill and the Cathedral itself is a modernist building of significance.
4 We don’t just want to “put up a parking lot”. As the Historic Places Trust knows (and has consistently misrepresented) the plan calls for using finance from the parking places to build a new hall elsewhere on the site. We need the hall for community gathering.
5 I am glad that you refer to me as “cultured and intelligent” – I feel better about you now.

8 - 08 - 08

I don’t know about Maximus, but I have been there. I suggest that you ask for advice from a good architect, rather than just talk to a developer. Napier is full of fantastic buildings, and as you know, nearly all of the inner city is constructed post 1931. There are very few buildings pre ’31 – of which, the Public Trust, County Hotel, and the St Johns Hall are some of the few. As such, the church is priveleged to have in its possession an interesting piece of cultural heritage, and as such, might look at enhancing that heritage rather than demolishing it.

Stephen Jacobi
8 - 08 - 08


You can’t seriously suggest that the hall is in the same class as the Public Trust and the County Hotel ! It was always a utility building standing next to the original Cathedral. We have had advice from architects about restoration but the the church simply does not have the funding available to commercial owners. Even they say it is not viable. We have spent three years researching the options with little interest shown earlier by the Historic Places Trust. This has not been a decision made lightly.

8 - 08 - 08

I agree that it is not as good looking as either of those two – but the heritage listing recognises that at least part of it is quite old, and has heritage merit. You know as well as I do that the Historic Places Trust is starved of cash, and woefully underfunded – a situation that would also be echoed by the Waiapu diocese I would have thought – and they cannot put their (mainly volunteer) resources onto the case of every deserving building in Napier. Buildings cannot be listed without extensive research being undertaken, which in this case was taken on by a very energetic local author, as I suspect you know. There are many many other buildings in Napier that are also worthy of listing, which are currently unlisted: but are also not currently at risk from demolition. Listing does unequivocally not stop a building being demolished, just mean that it can not happen without a good reason. Making a carpark is probably not classified a good reason…

There is a group called the Architectural Centre down in Wellington who came up with a manifesto for Architecture a few years ago, which seemed to have some good, basic, shall we say ‘commandments’ about architecture :

In it you will note the first point: Architecture must be better than what it replaces.

Stephen Jacobi
8 - 08 - 08


I appreciate your comments because you have quite rightly focused the debate away from whether heritage should be protected (of course it should) but how is it to be protected. The heritage of the diocese of Waiapu comes not from a delapidated old building but from the Cathedral itself and the Ormond chapel which we happily maintain. How can the church be expected to pay for all this – as you yourself say “they cannot put their (mainly volunteer) resources onto the case of every deserving building in Napier” !! The new hall which will build with revenue from additional parking made possible by the demolition of the old hall will enable us to create a purpose-designed, safe building more in keeping with the Cathedral and at a more convenient place within the site facilitating community gathering. In this case we will indeed replace the hall with something much better.

10 - 10 - 08

Ooooh, guess who’s being a bad vicar then:

“Demolition of Bay hall may block Unesco bid
BERNARD CARPINTER – The Dominion Post | Monday, 06 October 2008
Napier’s chances of becoming a world heritage site could be set back by the demolition of St John’s cathedral hall, the Historic Places Trust says.”

“The city is hoping it can generate a tourism boom by having Unesco recognise the art deco quarter as a world heritage site. The hall is not an art deco building but the Historic Places Trust had given it a category 1 classification and central region manager Ann Neill said there had been a lot of support for its preservation.

“While the building’s heritage value is our primary interest, the wider issue about the hall’s demolition is that it could have implications for Napier City Council’s move to seek recognition from Unesco as a world heritage site,” she said. “Napier is rightly proud of the protection offered to some of its historic places, thanks to the council’s district plan. “However, the loss of heritage buildings in the area that survived the 1931 earthquake could affect the city’s chances of earning this internationally coveted recognition.”

Last week, the council turned down the trust’s request to list the hall as a heritage building, and demolition of the disused building in Hastings St starts today. Mayor Barbara Arnott said the loss of the hall should not impact on the move toward world heritage status, unless people in New Zealand agitated about it. “We live in a city that is dynamic and we have to move ahead,” she said.
Napier is on New Zealand’s short list of places that could be recommended to Unesco for heritage recognition.

Cathedral dean Helen Jacobi said the demolition of the disused hall in Hastings St had been held up for a year by the Historic Places Trust. “We are relieved to be finally moving ahead with this project a year on,” Mrs Jacobi said. “We have wasted hundreds of staff and volunteer hours, and spent a lot of money on professional fees. The cathedral’s ministry has been put in jeopardy.”

After the demolition, the church plans to expand its leased car parking space in Cathedral Lane and build a new, smaller hall. The trust wanted to preserve the hall because it was the only Gothic-style building in the central city that survived the 1931 earthquake – though it was badly damaged and rebuilt – but Mrs Jacobi said it was an earthquake risk. “Two developers had taken a serious look at the building and had declined to make an offer, saying it was not commercially viable,” she said.”


Now I’m not an expert in theological matters Mrs Jacobi, but if your short-sighted requirements for a larger carpark are what is driving this for the needs of your tiny shrinking anglican population, then its not the old hall that is putting your “ministry in jeopardy”. Hellfires and eternal damnation await thee if you screw up the chances of Napier losing its Unesco World Heritage bid.

As one commenter to the Dom Post website says:
“It is unfortunate to hear that Napier will yet again be needlessly losing another of its heritage buildings, under the pretense of ‘moving ahead’.
What undignified defeat to the only Gothic Style survivor of the 1931 earthquake, to now succumb to the hands of the Cultural Vandals. How can it be justified that the loss of a heritage building for the gain of more carpark space is ‘progress’?
Being spellbound by the glamour of the Art Deco buildings should not be any reason for considering non-Art Deco heritage buildings to be any less worthy of preservation. Such irresponsibility has already seen the needless and wanton demolition of heritage buildings in Napier, including the underhanded demolition of the Napier Wool Exchange Building.
When will the Napier City Council step up to the mark, and accept its Statutory Obligation under Section 7 of the Resource Management Act to “have particular regard to recognition and protection of the heritage values of sites, buildings, places or areas”. If the Historic Places Trust is recommending to the Council that a heritage building is worthy of preservation, shouldn’t the Council be listening to such advice?”

13 - 10 - 08

From the HB Today paper, there’s more of the same: from a very well respected local architect, who surely knows more about the architecture than does the local dean:

Architect decries hall loss

Former architect Guy Natusch is “appalled” at the demolition of St John’s Cathedral hall in Napier.

Destruction on the interior of the pre-earthquake hall started on Monday after the Napier City Council granted a demolition permit.

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust also granted an archeological permit allowing the work to proceed.

Mr Natusch, 87, said the loss of the hall was significant in a wider context for the city of Napier.

“We must protect as much as we possibly can in the interest of heritage … each time we lose a little bit of heritage, it diminishes the significance of Napier’s heritage.”
The architectural heritage consultant tried to prevent the ruins of St Paul’s Church being demolished in 1951. The brick church had survived the 1931 earthquake with only the roof and spire destroyed. However, the ruins were demolished to make way for a church hall.

Now Mr Natusch believes the same mistake is being made with Napier’s only Gothic style pre-earthquake building.

“Expediency is destroying heritage,” he said “It doesn’t matter what they say about it – it’s too good to bowl over … I’m appalled at the demolition.”

Earlier this month, councillors unanimously voted that the hall should not be included as a Category I building protected under the district plan. The NZ Historic Places Trust had given the hall the listing after doing a report on it and finding it to be of historical significance.

Another report by architects Salmond and Reed listed the hall as being of “moderate historical significance” – an assessment the city council agreed with in their analysis of the building.

Napier mayor Barbara Arnott said the hall had only come up as a significant historical building since the cathedral made the move to demolish it.

Cathedral dean Helen Jacobi is pleased the demolition is now under way on the hall which had been vacant since September last year. She said the hall was no longer of use to the parish and two developers had examined the building but both declined to make offers saying it was not commercially viable. The church planned to build a Waiapu Centre but car parks would be installed as an income-earner in the interim.

Stephen Jacobi
29 - 10 - 08


If you think Napier’s World Heritage bid depends on the Cathedral hall you are seriously deluded ! I am starting to wonder if your venom about the Cathedral has really more to do about your own feelings about the church. But be assured you’re not the first person who has persecuted us and you certainly won’t be the last. If you went back to church you might find we are less concerned about hellfire and eternal damnation and more about helping people.


I think Guy Natusch probably does know a lot about architecture but he’s not the one who has to pay for the maintenance of the historic Ormond Chapel on Napier Hill and the Cathedral downtown. These responsibilities are met by the Cathedral community which has voted unanimously to proceed with the demolition of the hall. Mr Natusch and members of the local HPT Committee never showed any interest in the Cathedral hall until the church decided it could not leave an earthqauake risk to continue to stand in the city centre. The church owns property all over the country – rather than continuing to attack and slander us I would have thought those interested in the preservation of heritage would have seen value in dialogue with the church about what the priorities and criteria for preservation and demolition should be.

29 - 10 - 08

Stephen – nice of you to join us again. Happy to say that I have no feelings about the church – it long ago ceased to be of relevance to me, or to most New Zealanders. But don’t mistake that for persecution, or venom: it’s more a case of boredom and irrelevance, rather than irreverance. My jibes about your impending hellfire and damnation are in jest: I don’t believe that stuff any more than you do. In India they burn Christians alive – now that’s persecution. Here, we merely mildly blog about them.

But I do however despair that some of the more important examples of built fabric are in the hands of an out-dated and dying institution. It is not a problem just restricted to St Johns or St Marys either – i’m talking about the world over, not just Wellington or Napier. All over the globe, Christian congregations in developed nations are dying away, with more and more grey heads and bald heads replacing those who would formerly bring children to be indoctrinated. And all over the world, Church coffers are running bare, with not enough to finance upkeep on the Architectural heritage that we all enjoy as a happy side effect of other’s waning religions.

The great lofty cathedrals of Europe, the inspiring domes of mosques across the Islamic realm, fantastic synagogue architecture in Jerusalem and New York, great statues of Buddha in Asia and Afghanistan. All of them cost money for upkeep, and are run on a shoe string in many cases, especially in the West where we have forsaken our founding religion. But what is important to the rest of the secular population is that the architecture remains, long after the religion has faded away. Adaptive reuse of church buildings is a growing and surprisingly creative business – and far better for the continuation of an architectural history than the demolition of an outmoded structure. The actions of the Parish and the Dean in destroying the former church hall are not that dissimilar to the ignorant members of the Taliban who blew up the Buddhas in Afghanistan – they didn’t want the old structure, and so removed it – in much the same way that the removal of the hall will forevermore negate the chance that someone else may ever want it again.

As Margaret Alington wrote in the original post:
“The argument for replacing the pews maintains that to halt declining numbers and ensure a future for St Mary’s, a more flexible seating arrangement is required in order to accommodate the needs of the young people. But for this or any congregation, it might be that discussion of global issues of concern to people of all ages could provide a focus beside which questions of seating would pale into insignificance and seem like wasteful self-indulgence”

St Mary has voted to replace their pews, and with that, the original architectural coherence is gone for good. The older congregation will soon follow. A new, happy, clappy, replacement congregation, will probably not.

Stephen, we down here in the Eye of the Fish know a lot more about the situation in Napier than you think we do. Our fishing net is cast wide, and people report in to us from around the country. Architects and historians in Napier are appalled at the actions of the cathedral committee. World Heritage Status is a very serious and carefully debated over process, and the cities around the world that have managed to secure such a status have only managed to do so after long and careful deliberation. Any reduction in the heritage building stock is to be avoided in a heritage city – do you think the temples at Ankor Wat should be demolished as they do not have a current use? No: heritage is something not just for now, but for the future.

The infantile action of the Cathedral committee in voting to demolish one of the few pre-Earthquake remains (however compromised it may have been) is a seriously retrograde action, not at all befitting the role of the church in trying to support the local people and the Art Deco status of the city. Napier has a small, but intensely vital collective of heritage buildings from the Deco period, and a tiny collection of pre-Deco city buildings. The Church Hall was, repeat WAS, one of those: and deserved to stay intact, or adapted to a new use.

You may have noticed that at present the world is undergoing a massive credit crunch, and that the exploits of developers all over the world are being curtailed, but especially in small countries in New Zealand. It is no wonder that the 2 developers you say the Parish approached were not interested – and its not their job to be visionaries. If you want to see possibilities and vision, talk to an architect. The decision of the committee to demolish is an ill-informed decision, and will go no way towards the creation of the new church hall you say is necessary. Who, pray tell, is this church hall for? The massive amounts of teenagers that have already deserted the church?

There is no money in the Anglican church for a new youth club at an inner city cathedral. There is no need for additional carparks on a Sunday morning in a city awash with tarmac. There was no need for the petty action in demolishing a disused building, and further cutting off the church from the urban fabric that it so needs to sit among. A church building doesn’t so much belong to the current Dean, as to the people of the city, and as such, the Dean is only a temporary guardian, and should not abuse that trust. The Parish already has a massive empty space – the Cathedral is only full on 2 occasions a year now, so I am told: at Christmas, and on Art Deco Weekend. The rest of the time, it is an empty, soulless void.

Stephen Jacobi
30 - 10 - 08


For someone who thinks the church is irrelevant you clearly do have a lot to say about us ! We thrive on persecution so keep those cards and letters coming ! But to turn to the more substantive part of your comments, first we had our delapidated hall – that no-one in the supposedly well informed Napier architectural or historical community ever took any notice of until now – compared to other properties of significant heritage value both in Napier and around the country. Now we have the hall compared to the Buddhas in Bamiyan and the Angkor Wat ! I hope you are not suggesting that the Cathedral community should pay for these as well ! And that’s the point. The buildings actually belong to the church and we have to pay for them. And no number of architects or heritage know-it-alls in Wellington are going to have to bear that responsibility. (The Historic Places Trust urged us to sell the hall so we talked to the only possible buyers – developers, who told us that it would not be commercially viable for them). We already pay for the Ormond Chapel and for the Cathedral itself and are happy to do so. The Napier community enjoys these facilities. The hall on the other hand is dangerous and its demolition will open up new possibilities not for car parks but for a new community centre more in keeping with the urban fabric. I can assure you there is plenty of support for this move in Napier. And you know what the Cathedral was full on Sunday with three baptisms ! That’s the future of the Cathedral and its faith community !