Hilgendorf Wing: The farewell of a ‘classic brutalist’
Lincoln University classrooms, labs and offices are named after the initial letter of the building name followed by a number. There is an older ‘H’, the Hudson Hall, and the newer one, Hilgendorf Wing. Soon after the university reopened after the February earthquake, the Hilgendorf Building was cordoned off. With its destiny uncertain, it remained like that for almost four years. I have been inside that building just once, but to my eyes its presence has always been of special value in the university campus. Silently I cheered for it to be saved, as if it was a living being – and who would say it isn’t? – I wished I could tell him to respond and to survive.
For some time I taught classes in a neighbouring building, I walked by the side of the ‘new-H’ many times thinking what a big shame it was to see that building isolated. But many would not agree with me. Many times I heard comments of how innocuous or ugly it was. ‘Why do you like it? What do you see?’ they’d ask. What I see is history, material and alive history, I see a time of architecture that intended to change the way we live, work and relate to space and to each other. I see form following function. I see concrete in its early days, when it was an innovative material attempting to change the way we think space and structure. I see Modern Architecture, like this, as a proper noun. It is not ‘contemporary’ history, the one of our time, whatever time we live in. It is Modern, built during the Modern Movement, it is more than a façade makeup. It was a revolutionary way of thinking and creating. It doesn’t really matter if we find it ‘beautiful’, it is material history.
Designed by Trengrove, Trengrove and Marshall Architects and built in 1968, the building has an area of around 10,100m². Its elegant and classic brutalist style has a balanced and rhythmic façade, rehearses a composition of brise soleil, has imponent entrances, and gardens in the rooftop. Its ground level, which has once featured pilotis, has been closed with brick walls to make use of space. Can you imagine that in the MESP building? Despite the changes and additions, Hilgendorf was one of the best exemplars of modern architecture I saw in Christchurch. Maybe because there’s not much left in Christchurch to be seen, and the new-H ended up in the same boat.
The Hilgendorf Wing lost the battle against the 6.3 magnitude earthquake four years ago, and we lost a classic Modern heritage. It will leave a hole in the Lincoln Uni campus, one that will be hard to substitute. For the last few weeks I have been asking about the building plans, its history, its documents, internal photographs. It is surprisingly hard to find these documents, and anything about the building really. Many people seem to think someone else would have, and so far I have found no one who does. I am sure it is somewhere, but considering it is an awarded building (you can read about it here, here and here) it should be readily available. Despite being awarded for its endurance, the new-H didn’t resist the ground shaking, and we seem to be losing twice: its material existence and the memory it should leave behind.
More about the Hilgendorf Wing: