Faith-filled engineer saved many church buildings

church buildings

“If it wasn’t for the work of Lou Robinson, Dunedin would certainly look very different and be the poorer for it” Dunedin engineer and heritage developer Stephen Macknight says.

Church buildings are among Dunedin’s many heritage structures which the faith-filled structural engineer has saved.

You could say undertaking seismic structural assessments and campaigning for heritage buildings have been Robinson’s life’s work.

Church assessments

Robinson says churches are the most difficult heritage buildings to assess for safety and seismic strength.

“I’ve done seismic assessments of several churches including Knox Church here and St Joseph’s Cathedral, and First Church in Invercargill.

“They are particularly challenging.”

He explains that church structures usually have “very tall interior spaces and usually have a steeple, which people always say will topple but won’t necessarily, as some of the earthquakes in Italy have demonstrated.”

Saving them when possible is important to him. He mentions St Patrick’s Basilica in Oamaru.

“It’s beautiful inside, because it’s got that honey-coloured patina on the Oamaru stone. It gives the stonework and the building a beautiful soft glow.”

The loss of others he finds distressing.

One church that he still mourns is Christchurch’s Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament – aka the Basilica.

It was the most important building of its kind in the southern hemisphere, he says. But it’s gone now.

“Its assessment was incomplete in terms of remediation, given its prime importance in heritage and ecclesiastical terms.

“The Catholic Diocese of Canterbury made the wrong decision to demolish it, and I’ll be interested to see what they rebuild in its place.”

He feels quite differently about the destruction of the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

“I don’t mourn the loss of it. But they’re going to rebuild it” he says.



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