Walking the southern perimeter of Auckland’s Cathedral grounds seven years ago would be an experience of the eclectic arrangement of 100 year old oaks, a beautifully subtle memorial garden, a historic wooden church and an unfinished Cathedral.
The spaces are to the south, out of the sun and away from the street corner frontages and public entrances. They are unoccupied and closed, the unfinished connections to the interior of the main Chancel limestone vaulting boarded up with corrugated tin. But the site is beautiful - the oaks frame an elevated view of the prominent volcanic landmarks of Auckland with the iconic Maungakiekie directly on its southern axis.
The competition to complete the Holy Trinity Cathedral on a prominent ridgeline in central Auckland sought to construct a new chapel, adding further built form to the site and in doing so completing the spatial programme of the original 1888 vision for a Cathedral in the young city.
It could be said that the all Cathedrals should accumulate built response over many generations and that the eclecticism of the Cathedral precinct is apt for a young, rapidly developing and diversifying community.
The chapel design seeks to embrace this approach in a way that transforms the fragmented environment into a unified sense of invitation and connection. The diocese’ brief required a worship, choral, performance and event space for 100. Our approach extends this simple programme to further provide an external terrace, covered porch and stairs that descend into the grassed spaces and low basalt walls of the columbarium garden.
The chapel is laid out in response to the hierarchy of the Chancel to which it is joined. The central space is sited behind the main altar with the flanking ambulatories extended to provide access to the new chapel and allowing a continuous circuit within the cathedral interior. The extension of the ambulatories now provides sightlines to the oaks and garden from deep within this interior and the new floor plane continues either side of the chapel as terraces flowing into the garden.
A cross rendered in a sculptural work by artist Neil Dawson is positioned beyond the internal enclosure, anchoring the space between the built form of the Cathedral and the canopy of the 100 year oaks and emphasising the garden connection.
The enclosure itself is minimal – glazed planes flank the space and define the chapel from its attendant ambulatories. This enclosure is dematerialised and at the same time layered: Saint Mary’s Victorian roof profile and timber detailing combine with the seasonally changing canopies and branches of the oaks reflected on and seen through the transparency. The southern enclosure is also glazed, but in this case the containment can be dissolved, the glass panels sliding away to either side to remove any physical barrier to the garden and the volcanic landscape of Auckland beyond.
The sequence of space, invitation to and from the garden, and inclusion of historic Saint Mary’s is brought together beneath a broad golden canopy, extended as a simple plane from the vertical brick mass of the existing chancel and draped into a form that opens towards its edges – opens to include the gothic timber profile of St Marys, opens to the garden and sculptural presence of the oaks and opens to the Auckland landscape of volcanic cones and harbour.