Tolling for peace

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Christchurch has a Peace Bell. In 2007, the pavilion in which it is now suspended scored three design awards — two from the New Zealand Institute of Architects and one from the New Zealand Concrete Society. Dr Kerry Rodgers explores this new “physical and metaphorical regulator of the construct” that hangs, waiting to ring the peace.

 


Background

Christchurch’s Peace Bell was a gift to the people of the city from World Peace Bell Association president Tomijiro Yoshida. The first World Peace Bell was conceived in the aftermath of World War II, the brainchild of Chiyoji Nakagawa, one-time mayor of Uwajima in Shikoku.

 

In 1954, he presented a huge bell cast from the coins of 65 countries as a token of peace to the United Nations. In shape and size it resembles the massive Japanese temple bells. Today it hangs in the inner court of the UN in New York above soil from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

 

This one bell led to the founding of a World Peace Bell Association in Japan in 1982. To date, the Association has donated 22 similar Peace Bells to 18 countries.

 

Christchurch’s bell arrived in 2004. It stands a metre tall and weighs in at 385kg. It is a replica of the UN’s bell and, like that original, is cast from smelted coins and medals donated by 103 countries.

 

The Christchurch City Council agreed to house the gift in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens as the focus of its Asian collection. However, the council made it clear that ratepayers would not foot any costs associated with the installation or housing. The New Zealand Chapter of the World Peace Bell Association was successful in scoring the needed funds from the Linwood-Woolston Rotary Club, the Canterbury Community Trust, Canterbury Foundation and Southern Trust, plus sundry individuals.

 


Crispin’s Pavilion

The award-winning pavilion that houses the bell is the work of architect Crispin Schurr of Christchurch City Council’s Capital Programmes, the group formerly known as City Solutions.

 

The Peace Bell is anchored under a central circular perforation in a cantilevered roof that, from a distance, is seemingly suspended in mid-air. This effect results partly from the cantilever and partly from the roof’s supporting polished stainless-steel columns. In reflecting their surrounds, the columns seemingly merge with the background. Pumice has been employed in the roof’s construction to minimise weight. 

 

Natural lighting of the bell is aided by reflection from a shallow pool located immediately below in the timber floor. The pool contains a gift of pounamu from Ngai Tahu.

 

Crispin’s Pavilion found its inspiration in a modernist interpretation of a traditional Japanese pagoda. “The concept was a poetic description of balance, potential and human traits. The precarious balance of the whole, the massive weight of the slab on a tangled, disorganised array of individual threads, reminds us that in this peak oil, nuclear age, modern civilisation still remains precariously balanced, and that future world peace is still something worthy of contemplation.”

 

The pavilion is an architectural gem. It was recognised as such by winning the Resene Local Award for Architecture and the Resene Colour Award from the Canterbury branch of the New Zealand Institute of Architects.

 

And the New Zealand Concrete Society thinks particularly highly of it. In making their Landscape Award, the society’s judges declared: “This elegant piece of landscape architecture not only required concrete to be used innovatively, but provides a most appropriate setting for celebrating a symbol of peace. Light weight concrete has been formed into a subtly detailed and penetrated slab. Its slender supporting structure impacts lightly on the landscape and avoids disturbing the surrounding areas.”

 

The construction by Craig McNabb was commended by the NZIA jury as having “exceptional attention to detail and materiality”.

 

The pavilion was unveiled on October 3, 2006, when the bell’s first peal was sounded by the then mayor of Christchurch Garry Moore and World Peace Bell Association representative Keizo Ohashi. It last rang on September 21 to mark International Peace Day.